How do they do it? Elaine Kinghan

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 15 Jul 2014

Elaine Kinghan

Elaine Kinghan is chief commissioner of the Planning and Water Appeals Commission in Northern Ireland, which is an independent non-departmental public body. She has overall responsibility for the delivery of appeal decisions on planning and environmental matters. Kinghan gained am MSc in town planning from Heriot-Watt University and before joining the commission 15 years ago, worked as a planner with Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.

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

I have to ensure policies, procedures and resources are in place to deliver a fair appellate service. As an independent body, the commission works at arms length from government but has a memorandum of understanding which sets out responsibilities on business planning, governance, finance. I set targets for performance on casework and quality of decisions while a business plan sets out measures we have to meet in customer service, staff development and value for money.

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

A People are your most valuable resource.
Without teamwork you will not achieve objectives. Your team needs to know you are accessible and in touch with the workings of the organisation, meanwhile individuals need to know their contribution to the team is valued.

Key to success is preparation, preparation, preparation. No task is too difficult if you're well prepared: appeal and inquiry work can be daunting but preparing carefully has a remarkably calming effect when it comes to conducting proceedings and writing complex decisions. 

Confrontation rarely delivers results. Working constructively to achieve outcomes paves the way for better understanding of differences and achieving sensible compromise - it also fosters mutual respect where compromise is not possible.