Top 5 skills planners need to succeed in 2021 and beyond

Written by: Harriet Allan
Published on: 12 May 2021

Penguin Recruitment

Harriet Allan at Penguin Recruitment reveals the top five skills she thinks are in demand in town planning right now.


Are you an effective communicator? Can you make tough negotiations and solve complex problems? Here’s a roundup of the hottest skills in town planning that will set you apart from the rest.

1. Communication skills

Strong written and verbal communication skills are top priorities on every job description we receive. They’re also the main skills that clients focus their feedback on following a candidate interview.

Whether you’re a junior planner or director, being an effective communicator is essential within the planning industry. Liaising with clients, planning officers, colleagues, developers and members of the public, is a daily part of the role, and having the skills to constructively stand your ground when needed, or negotiate a compromise, is high on most employers’ priority list.

Many junior planners we speak with feel they learn and improve their communication skills by being in the company of more senior members of staff – whether it be listening in on their phone calls, reviewing reports or accompanying them on site meetings. This seems to be a key driver for many of our clients wanting to get staff back into the office (at least on a part-time basis).

2. The ability to multitask

Typically, planners are juggling numerous projects, clients and internal conversations simultaneously. The past year has shown that this is one of the most vital skills employers will look for moving forward. Working from home has not only changed the way we work but has brought challenges which highlight the importance of multitasking. Whether you’ve been balancing work with home-schooling, trying to do a zoom call with wifi dropping out or make that important phone call with the dogs barking (this one is a personal challenge), the ability to effectively multitask has never been more important.

With home working is likely to continue, at least in part for most, employers will be looking for staff who can prove that they’re able to effectively manage their time more than ever.

3. Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is a key skill that seems to be overlooked by some. I’ve lost track of how many times feedback from a client has been along the lines of: “They interviewed really well and are technically excellent, however, their commercial knowledge was lacking”. Having an up-to-date familiarity with what’s going on within the planning world (especially with the changing legislation) is something that could set you apart from others.

There are a few ways planners can improve their commercial awareness (if you’re reading this on Planning Resource then it’s likely a good start) but also attending planning events and conferences organised by the RTPI will give you the opportunity to discuss all things planning in a relaxed environment.

4. Project management skills

Being able to deliver projects successfully for clients within the necessary time frames naturally involves a lot of planning, especially for larger scale or strategic projects. You need the skills and foresight to objectively analyse the information available. You need to clearly set out the parameters and timescale for each stage of the project, while allowing time for potential hold-ups, such as objections from members of the public. This is all essential for managing client expectations.

5. Problem solving skills

A key part of any planner’s role is to problem solve. Being able to analyse any project objectively to identify any potential issues or problems and come up with innovative and creative solutions is a skill that most employers will value highly.

Those members of the team who regularly come up with solutions are typically the ones that get noticed by employers and move up the ranks.

Overall, many employers will look for a well rounded planner who can show that they are proactively working to improve their skills. Some development will naturally come with experience, however, some will need to be worked on especially if you’re looking for that promotion or new role.

Find your next town planning job with Penguin Recruitment