How do they do it? Barbara Cummins

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 10 Nov 2014

Barbara Cummins

Barbara Cummins graduated in geography from Queens University of Belfast before gaining a postgraduate diploma in town and country planning from Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh.

She is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), has a masters in business administration and joined Historic Scotland in 2009.

Before joining the agency, Cummins spent 18 years in local government, including spells at Falkirk and Stirling councils. Until 2009, she worked in the City of Edinburgh Council’s planning department where she led the team responsible for the city centre and listed building applications.

Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them? 

Historic Scotland is responsible for safeguarding the nation's historic environment and promoting its understanding and enjoyment. My role is to help deliver policy and advise on all aspects of the historic environment. As an organisation we have national performance indicators on objectives such as the reduction in number of listed buildings. In terms of formal peer reviews, this is an agency of the government, and I don't have one as such.

Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives? 

A Don't be afraid of failure. You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. We live in a very risk-averse society but just because it's a scary prospect, failure is something you can learn from and should not put you off trying something new – it just might be successful.

Learn to build relationships. Planners often forget the people dimension of their career and get wrapped up in buildings, places and spaces. Maintaining good relations with the people who use those spaces and buildings is one of the strengths of good planning. Even the angriest person often has something to add to the debate.

Never be afraid of learning new skills. Good planners don't always make good managers. I trained in geography, then town planning and then in business administration. The planning profession is very broad and it's a good idea to continually add to your skills sets.