My last blog post offered ideas on how planners can gain credibility, influence, and power. It suggested that those elements build in a sequence and that, once acquired, power should be used with a light touch.
I later discussed it with colleague Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, AICP, who served as planning director of the City of Miami, Florida, during the preparation of the Miami 21 form-based code and is now a consultant and educator.
She said that trust is an essential element of gaining credibility and influence. I agree. I asked her to comment on how young planners can gain the trust of supervisors, clients, and decision-makers.
Open Communication and Honesty
Gelabert-Sanchez emphasized the importance of open communication.
"Trustworthiness requires an open and sincere line of communication," she said. "Its essence relies on ... honesty to agree or disagree with an idea and its implementation. I appreciated and valued when a planner was providing open and sincere input on proposals we were considering."
In reflecting on that comment, I agree that effective planning managers want honesty and a team-based work environment.
Of course, planners should gauge whether their supervisor wants honesty. In some work environments, planners should be guarded and modulate their input. Understanding the work setting requires a planner to read the organization's culture and the supervisor's style.
Assessing Your Supervisor
I then asked, "How can a young planner assess whether their supervisor is trustworthy?"
Gelabert-Sanchez suggested the following, "A supervisor is trustworthy when they value your ideas and give you credit for what you have done or helped achieve, while at the same time supporting you when things don't work as expected."
"We always had a discussion followed by the 'tweaking' of the idea where we all adjusted our thinking, provided input, and then formed an agreement on how to move forward," Gelabert-Sanchez said of work processes at the City of Miami during her tenure.
"Consensus was desirable but not required. Many times decisions were made without unanimous agreement, but this took place after all professional inputs were considered."
I then asked what junior planners should be to do to build trust.
"Trust requires being part of the team," Gelabert-Sanchez replied. "It requires respecting the work of others and supporting the goals of the group, even if at times we don't agree.
"Sometimes we may need to be flexible and understand that we are not the only ones with brilliant ideas — others' perspectives and experiences may provide something to be learned."
Teamwork and Patience
Gelabert-Sanchez further emphasized the importance of teamwork.
"As part of an organization, we need to understand that, if we work as a team, we will be able to advance our ideas faster and have greater impact," she said. "It is important to keep in mind that it is all about furthering the greater goals for the improvement of the community and not about furthering the advancement of an individual."
She counsels that planners should have "patience, to wait, to listen, and wait our turn (pay our dues) while retaining a belief in the positive change that we can achieve with our ideas. We need to be aware of all the pieces that need to be moved to implement our goals. While the timeline may seem exceedingly long, the final result will be more solid."
Trust Underlies Effectiveness
Gelabert-Sanchez's insights help clarify that trust is a prerequisite to credibility, influence, and power. Mutual trust underlies effectiveness. That trust is built over time, over good times and bad, as your supervisor assesses your work and how you participate in the organization.
Building trust does not mean that you don't disagree with your supervisor, of course, but rather that you find a way to disagree without rancor.
If your supervisor trusts you, their loyalty follows because you allow them to focus on the important work of the organization.
Top image: Getty Images photo.
About the Author
Richard Willson, FAICP, is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona. He has also served as department chair, interim dean, and independent planning consultant. Willson's research addresses planning practice and parking policy.