Dr Rocio Bona

24 June 2014 — My journey in the built environment industry as a sustainability professional has taken me to a number of countries to work on different project types, in different sized companies, with different cultures and under different regulatory frameworks. Today, I sit back and take a moment to reflect on what makes a sustainability professional successful. No matter where I have been or what the economic environment has been like, there are three indispensable qualities that are key to making an impact.

Ability to listen

It must be acknowledged that a sustainability professional is, first and foremost, an agent of change. We are always looking for new ways to improve project performance, to communicate with stakeholders and to demonstrates corporate social responsibility and sustainability across business activities. Needless to say, this is not a simple task.

In order to be successful you need to genuinely value the business you are working in – understand and relate to the organisation’s vision, and learn how business is done and what drives operations. This can only be done by listening.

The listening quality cannot be stressed enough. We all have different views about implementing change and innovation. However, trying to impose a new way of doing things without seeking buy-in is a sure way of getting nowhere.

Sustainability professionals need to be able to understand and work within the system if they are to be successful.

Investing in developing leadership skills

Very few disciplines out there need to engage with as many people as sustainability professionals do. To do our work, we must liaise with numerous stakeholders, including different levels of management, business departments, agencies and communities.

To be able to do this successfully, you need to develop leadership skills: know yourself and identify how best to influence others. Build on your strengths and harness stakeholders’ power to drive your unique leadership style.

Worth keeping in mind is that not everybody will understand the many areas a sustainability professional touches – the social, environmental and economic – and hence may fail to see the value we are required to place on training and research. However, I can assure you that building your leadership skills is an investment you will never regret.

Engendering ownership

As agents of change our job is to incubate ideas and then identify the best project, the best team, and the best place and time to plant that idea. And sometimes, this idea or approach takes off effortlessly; in other instances, we have to try three, five, ten times…

However, everything is worthwhile when suddenly the idea takes shape and you see it grow and become an essential part of the project.

Next thing you know, somebody else is taking credit for the whole thing. Inevitably, you go “Arrrgh”.

What should you do? Here is my suggestion:

Stop, take a deep breath, grab a glass of good wine and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Because engendering ownership of that idea to somebody who can grow and deliver it is exactly what we need if change is to happen.

Dr Rocio Bona is a sustainability professional who has worked with numerous organisations within the built environment, most recently at Mirvac. She will be strategic asset planning principal at Curtin University from 1 July.

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  1. While I don’t doubt that it’s important for sustainability professionals to engender ownership in the change we are advocating, I wonder if your advice to ignore somebody else taking credit for your work is perhaps influenced by societal gender roles?

    My preferred approach would be to ensure that the change is owned and acknowledged as a team, with me as the leader/instigator of that change.

    I refer you to this recent article on gender roles in communication – https://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/10-words-every-girl-should-learn_b_5544203.html

  2. Agree with these, but I think perseverance is also a trait sustainability professionals must possess. The ability to continue in the face of opposition and maintain traction and energy and innovation when confronted by barriers and challenges – usually presented by misperceptions, lack of leadership, resourcing issues.

  3. Good article, well articulated thoughts and I agree completely.
    I notice the article mentions to be successful, it’s best if you can basically keep your ego in check (eg. when someone claims as their own the idea you proposed)….so true of any discipline and life generally in the longer term and so hard for most of us to genuinely do!