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7 Ways to demonstrate Leadership in EIA

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EIA Leadership – The ‘Warthog Sessions’

There is a growing need for professional EIA leadership training and short management courses amongst EIA professionals to ensure that they meet increasing EIA regulatory demands in the UK and internationally for an EIA ‘competent person’.

In May 2018, Leading Green held the first of a series of international workshops to discussand identify key aspects in Leadership in EIA.   This first inaugral workshops took place at Mpila Camp within Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  These international workshops have brought together influential and internationally recognised group of EIA and SEA practitioners and researchers from across the world.  The prescence of wild warthogs, running around and underneath the tables, during the workshops has given rise to thier subsequent workshop nickname – the warthog sessions!

Warthogs are known for thier toughness and inquitiveness

The initial observations and comments have now been supplemented by qualitative data from other Leadership in EIA sessions that have identifed the critical areas within which EIA practitioners exert the greatest leadership and influence.  As practice is closely related to Large Infrastructure Development projects (transport, power, water, mining projects, etc), the results highlight where the focus of all EIA practitioners should lie in exerting the greatest influence and contribution in terms of sustainable development and CSR in many of the world’s largest on-going infrastructure developments.  The following 7 headings identify the leadership areas where experienced EIA leaders believe they can deliver the greatest added value to the client and the wider engineering/project management team.  The points are aligned from highest rated to 7th valued contribution across the quantitative rankings. 

1.   Influential in promoting environmentally inclusive design

The promotion of environmentally inclusive design (EID) is repeatedly regarded as the No.1 contribution that Leadership in EIA delivers.  Linking the EIA’s awareness raising of sustainability issues and how EID can benefit project’s ultimate success is regarded as a key professional leadership trait. The promotion of EID informing the Project Management Team about the importance of designing large infrastructure project  that meet the needs of the people and the environments that they inhabit, with minimum residual impact.  Many of the workshop EIA Practitioners’ belived that EID was central to the EIA leadership role if they were to contribute to a fair society that had any chance of a sustainable future.

Designing developments to fit their receiving environments, rather than retrofitting environments to take development”

Heikki Kalle, Estonian Environmental Institute

The crucial EIA leadership skills that contributed to EID were identified as a good baseline in environemntal & ecological engineering practices, internal and external stakeholder management, influencing skills, visioning, ecosystem service analysis, with a technical understanding of investment risk benefit analysis.

2.  Embedding Sustainability thinking into the Project Team’s decision-making

Experienced EIA Practitioners act early to exert thier influence within a project’s leadership group. It is clear that many EIA practitioners sought to enable all EIA and wider Project Team members to participate in and solve the likely sustainability challenges the project raised.   Enabling strategic project insights to be assessed through a varity ofg disciplines into ‘How’ the project will interact with the receiving environment’.  They all recognised that EIA leaders had an important central role in participating in enginneering debates, as these debates were the critical interface between the Design (How to provide a  solution to a technical problem) and implementation of a Sustainable Development (What formms an optimal solution to all members of the team and their respective interests).

EIA leaders play a significant role across all the world’s leading infrastructure projects

Promoting Sustainability Approaches in Engineering

  • Helps the team considers the whole ‘(eco)system’ in which the development will operate, rather than just considering the priamry enginneering objective (ie road) or process (oil refinery);
  • Places on the project table synergistic options that considers both technical and non-technical issues, enlarging the strategic debate from just the technical challenges;
  • Raises awareness of how the development could interact with wider sustainability issues or problems (globally and locally) rather than solving an immediate risk concern (flood risk);
  • Considers the local ecosystem services and community context, as opposed to focusing on an engineering context (i.e. how to cross a river);
  • Instills within the Projects’s decision-making leaders an acknowledgement that they have a responsibility and accountability to implement more sustainable solutions, rather than assume it is the role of the Client or Regulator

The crucial EIA leadership skills are through communication approaches based upon a sound sustainability mindset that allowed them to creates new opportunities, to deploy creative (visioning) and problem solving skills within the Project leadership team as a proactive as opposed to reactive approach early within the team’s establishment, as well as dealing with challenge.

Project meetings are the perfect place to display EIA leadership

3  Holds courageous conversations when EIA elements are impacted on

Ultimately the purpose of EIA is to bring to the decision-maker attention issues of environmental or social significance attached to a proposed development.  In most models of global EIA this statutory responsibility lies with the consenting or approving regulator.  Experienced EIA professionals fully recognise that if these facts are left too late in the project, subsequent decissions can make the process valueless.  Instead they raise the issue as early as possible in project decussions, placing them in terms of opportunity (ie easier consenting, local agreement, stakeholder relationships) and as the most efective way to avoid, reduce or remediate ‘show stoppers’.

The EIA budget is often regarded as a small element of the entire budget – <0.25% during financing and <4% during construction delivery, yet its contribution to outcome is ultimately critical to success:

  • No statutory approval – No Project!
  • If the project is pushed through by governments for political reasons, the objection of its citizenry and the verification of adverse environmental impact can still terminate the project on appeal.
  • Even when they are pushed through regardless, the life and efficacy of the asset can ultimately be compromised – e.g. siltation behind dams, reducing energy production, secondary impacts to other national industries and interests, reductions in agricultural productivity, etc can all mitigate against the ROI.
  • At risk from Climate Change  – Expensive Retro-fit
  • Unsustainable – Future stranded asset!

It can be difficult for individuals working closely in a project team environment to go against the ‘groupthink’ mindset that often develops.  No one wants to go against group consensus or be the bearer of bad news.  Enginnering or Technology Project groups are also adverse to hearing news that threatens their preferred or agreed design.  Especially designs that have already recieved significant project input, and have been proposed and costed for the client – before evaluation of the recieving environment.   The old gospel of ‘Time, Cost, Money’ can also be an encouragement to groupthink mentality  when EIA-related time delays, risks or added stakeholder objections arise late in the process or when the initial engineering appraisals and EIA timelines are ill-considered.

Experienced EIA professionals talked openly about how they often had to raise and lead on difficult project centred conversations on issues that impacted on wider social, environmental or sustainability issues.  Issues that on occasion other project team members did not wish to consider or raise up to the client.  They knew that they needed to have it, that what they had to say need to be said, and they knew that they were taking a risk at times in their relationship with other senior project team members we.  In mitigation they sought to use emotional intelligence and situational awareness to prepare, assess and gauge what the reactions might be and how these conversations could end.

The crucial EIA leadership skill was communication, in particular being assertive in their message, ensuring that they were focused (ie clear on what they were trying to achieve) by holding the conversation, and what gave them the leadership right to initiate the conversation.  These required preliminary preparation, making sure that their information was accurate and backed up by fact.  They are prepared to discuss the “undiscussable” or ‘disloyal’ but also clear about how the issue effected them personally, the work that they were responsible for delivering and how the issue if unaddressed would impact ultimately on.   Many were fully aware of the Emotional Intelligence skills that were needed to manage relationship conflict and used these accordingly – they were raising the issue because they couldn’t deal with the problem alone, it needed a group approach, the issue was too big for it to be ‘parked’ and left.  They also understood the emotional reactions that such a conversations could result in and tried to prepare accordingly to handle the expected push back, challenge and alternate perspectives..

4.  They ensure that the voices of the EIA team are heard

In addition to managing the EIA team and ensuring the agreed deliverables outlined in contracts, many are active in ensuring that the EIA team is well-integrated into the project team’s other disciplines.  This often undertaking a systems based approach to the anticipated environmental and social impacts and aligning them with particular disciplines and arranging for the EIA and the respective engineering / design / procurement specialists worked together on the issue to resolve matters.

They also acted as a ‘direct voice’ into the senior project team to ensure that issues were raised and addressed (see above).  They all clearly understood the linkage between leadership and leading a team, as opposed to managing the EIA process, often required them to practice strong negotiation, assertiveness and problem solving skills.

5.  Safeguarding Client & Stakeholder interests

Stakeholder consultation in EIA is often regarded as a time-consuming ‘cost’ in infrastructure development.  Pressure is often placed on EIA project managers to limit activity to a minimum.  Its value was fully appreciated by many of the experienced client-employed or consultant EIA leaders as a invaluable risk management tool.  The process was essential in addressing and avoiding potential risks early in the design process, and in safeguarding the projects repurtation.  Utilised as a design tool as well as a statutory obligation, it was deemed cost beneficial to the project by reducing delay, re-design, loss of stakeholder confidence.

Most considered in some detail the design  & form of an external  stakeholder management or consultation strategy to increase the support and minimize the negative impacts of these community, environmental or governmental stakeholders.  A successful stakeholder management or consultation strategy when carefully planned and followed accordingly was strongly believed to identify issues early, address concerns through transparent action by the design team, raise confidence in the projects communications and build stronger working relationships with external parties.  Anticipating issues in advance of the proposed design allowed for adaptive management, mitigation, access to critical views and information available locally and allowed discussion regarding trade offs.

Few however had considered the benefits of developing an internally focussed stakeholder strategy aimed at the client organisation, seeking to directly consult  with the Client Organisation’s Sustainability Manager, CSR or Environmental Director seeking to bring:

  • their input & influence into projects, or
  • or to understand the dynamics within the client organisation’s CSR goals or SDG objectives?

This was surprising as 80% of Project Managers know how their projects align with the company’s business strategy, and is a valuable tool in bringing influence for sustainability, social and environmental policies to the Project table.

The crucial EIA leadership skills often demonstrated revolved around stakeholder management, strategic thinking, communication, and engagement skills

6   Leads thinking regarding operational and decommissioning phases

It can be a risk in project engineering teams that they focus solely on the design and construct phase of a development.  Forgetting or lacking a design brief to consider the operational  and eventual decommissioning phases.

Life cycle analysis is an important component in EIA philosophy and implementation and EIA practitioners often take a systems based approach to considering the wider changes in environmental and social interactions during subsequent downstream phases.  These often include but are not limited to:

  • Utilities.  The material costs of Water, Electric, Natural Gas, etc, and their subsequent efficiency or contribution in respect of the developments carbon footprint and contribution to climate change.
  • Future Operational parameters including maintenance needs, repair and retrofit design accessibility.
  • The environmental and social impacts of eventual demolition or asset disposal, notably in respect of sustainability and the risk of ‘stranded assets’.
  • Pollution remediation systems and their resilience in respect of future statutory developments, energy policy and environmental risk.

The environmental professionals were aware that the Operational phases of a development can be up to 3x the cost of construction, with management costs equating to 60-80% of a development’s life-cycle costs.  Having such a profound impact on a developments financial outlay and environmental life-cycle, many recognised that it was important that operational and environmental management considerations were discussed by the project team during the design phase and before construction designs became fixed.  Increasingly they felt responsibility for leading project group discussions on ways the team could optimize the life-cycle of developments.

Core skills demonstrated and flagged up as essential for success were a sustainability mindset, visioning, appreciative inquiry, facilitation skills and systems thinking.

EIA leadership involves supporting the project team’s decission-making

7  EIA Leadership influences PM decision-making

Building a strong working relationship with the Project’s Leading project manager was identified by many as an important leadership skill.  It was accepted that the EIA project manager often had a more holistic and wider worldview of how the project integrated within society, communities and their environments.  EIA project managers often worked across a variety of projects during their careers often being intimately involved with a Project Manager who could spend several years overseeing the design and construct of a development project.  This exposed them to a wider range of project scenarios within specific sectors and adaptive approaches.

This made them adapt at spotting potential pitfalls early in the design phases of projects and mentally mapping geo-environmental, social and natural environmental impacts as potential constraints.  However, the skill seemed to lie in:

  • presenting these issues or problems in terms of ‘solutions’ to project managers.
  • identifying non-technological or low tech solutions rather than relying on increased engineering or higher construction costs, whilst recognising their own engineering limits
  • Helping project managers thinking through short-term and long-term impacts
  • Presenting scenarios and the decisions that they would have to make offline and outside the pressure of project review meetings
  • Mentally mapping statutory delay and presenting it is a structured form for reflection and consideration, clearly highlighting the timeframes, gateways or decision nodes which decisions had to be made in respect of adverse social and environmental impacts
  • Alerting the project manager to significant enviro-social impact findings early (supported by sufficient data for verification) and the pro-actively identifying the next possible steps.
  • Help in selecting ‘optimal’ (solves many problems) as opposed to an optimum solution in terms of buildability, cost and even environmentally preferred.

The key leadership skills identified as important were creating positive relationships, building influence, holding leadership conversations, and problem solving.


Remember, that for any EIA scenario you encounter there are always multiple perspectives to the issue, so be empathetic of how other professions and project managers will view the problem.  A key influencing skill is to retain an open and unbiased curiosity about how they see the situation and be aware of how your own worldview with its associated judgments and prejudice may impact on what you observe and how you act.  One of the great strengths of a mature project management team is the diversity of experience, and the different perspective that exist within it.  When seeking to drive greater sustainability in design, better stakeholder relationships, risk adaptation and overall project vision, it is clearly advantageous to appreciate personal and professional decision-making through the eyes of fellow team members, allowing you to take a more focused, strategic and informed decision-making approach to issues of note to the EIA and sustainability agendas.


Leading Green offer a bespoke series of SEA and EIA Leadership training courses gpt consultancy, industry, government and public organisations.  Follow this link for further information and details

Courses that address specific CPD leadership and team development issues. Our courses seek to incorporate the sustainability practitioner goals and CPD requirements of the UK’s Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA), and the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA).

Contact us at www.leading-green.com or email ross@leading-green.com to discuss your particular needs.



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