Ask anyone, especially those over a certain age, to define the greatest leader of modern times and many will say Winston Churchill, others Nelson Mandela and some Mahatma Gandhi. None was a planner, but all had an ability to inspire people to follow them and do life-changing things.
Leadership in planning is not about telling someone what to do because you are the ‘boss’; it's about inspiring others to follow your aims and ambitions.
That can be something as simple as delivering the local plan to the timetable or making sure the development management team are both timely and responsive to the customers and stakeholders, while meeting objectives.
Leadership is about creating a culture of ‘we share the same aims and we can do this’. It is about recruiting, up-skilling, and ultimately retaining the right staff.
Leadership is about motivating planners, young and not so young, making the effort to find what motivates them and utilising that. Leadership is about being visible and creating a clear vision for others to follow.
It is a balance of soft ‘people skills’ and the right technical knowledge of planning. Leadership is about setting the right example, and enabling others to act without undue interference.
Management and leadership are not the same thing, however. Great managers in planning have leadership qualities, because management is not just about systems and protocols, it is about knowing how to handle people.
Can leadership be learned? I believe it can provided you are clear on what leadership actually is, and you have the personality traits to develop your leadership skills. For example, planners who are so stubborn as to believe their way is the only way are not, in my mind, good leaders.
We live in changing times, and planning, how planners function, and who operates the planning system are all open to change. At such times good leadership is the key to successful planning outcomes and a contented workplace.
Chris Weetman is an independent planning consultant, an associate of Trevor Roberts Associates and a former head of planning.