Behind the scenes: a planning manager’s world
We spoke to Lisa Hughes, interim development manager at Boston Borough Council, to find out about the typical role of a flexible planning manager.
What is involved in the typical day of a planning manager?
A typical day, if there is one, involves prioritising key actions that need to be taken. For example, these could include determining planning applications, responding to councillors’ queries and any complaints, checking that any items for committee are identified early and reports are written as early as possible. It also involves anticipating issues where possible and responding to them either by actioning them yourself or delegating.
Knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial. Listening to conversations going on around you can be useful to help spot when colleagues need mentoring or assistance when dealing with an issue.
When someone is off sick, it is necessary to assess their workload to establish if applications need to be determined with reports written or meetings rearranged.
Other responsibilities include supporting staff with any work or personal issues, as well as encouraging them and giving praise when deserved.
Why did you decide to embark on a career in planning?
I fell into planning having started a career in banking where, as a support officer, I listened to the planning officers and wanted to have their knowledge. I applied for a job as a senior planner knowing I wouldn’t get it, but wanted to demonstrate my aspirations. The rest, as they say, is history.
What is the best bit about your day?
Seeing a member of staff realise they have more knowledge than they thought, and their confidence growing from there. Plus seeing someone I’ve mentored gain a promotion.
And what is the biggest challenge?
Dealing with a member of staff who is under performing, especially when workloads are incredibly high and there is a need to reduce the number of cases so more attention can be given to each of their proposals. This can trigger resentment between colleagues who are left to take on more work.
How do you think the planning sector is embracing flexible working, if at all?
I think more home working is now available. The level of flexible working varies between one authority to the next and is often dependent upon IT systems and network availability. I currently work compressed hours, enabling an extra day to focus upon my dissertation. As a manager, I work one day from home and three in the office.
What makes a good local authority contractor, in your opinion?
Someone who is able to adapt to different policies quickly, as well as IT systems. Listening and responding to the differing processes of the authority so that complaints are prevented. Working hard...and of course, making lots of tea and coffee for everyone!
What advice would you give someone thinking of getting into the planning sector?
Take every opportunity that comes your way. Try and gain experience within both the public and private sectors and work in different authorities, ideally with a time in both urban and rural authorities. Find someone you respect and try and emulate them.
How have you found contracting, as opposed to working on a permanent contract?
This is my first contract so I have limited experience. I had some reservations as to whether there would be work available within a travelling distance that would give a good work/life balance. So far, things have started well. It is also good to know that if the job doesn’t suit either party then it is possible to complete the contract and walk away. I love planning and trying to do the best I can for the team and public. As a negative, knowing the contract might be temporary is frustrating as I might not be able to finish a project.
What makes a wonderful workplace in your eyes?
Somewhere that is friendly, willing to share ideas and support each other.
What advice would you give someone thinking of becoming a contractor?
Don’t hesitate. It is worrying when you’re thinking about taking the plunge but there are so many jobs out there. As long as you’re willing to work hard whilst you’re at work, you will be appreciated and more than likely, they’ll want to keep you. Plus, you will gain a good reputation as everyone knows everyone in planning.