Elisa Speranza boiled her decades of learning and gleaning advice from my her mentors down to a “Top 10” list that she will present as part of the AWWA ACE Investing in Your Career: Leadership for Young Professionals session.

By Elisa Speranza, President, CH2M HILL’s Operations Management Business Group

Be sure to follow Speranza’s Postcards, where Elisa blogs all year round.

Elisa Speranza will present “Top Ten Skills You Will Need To Be a Future Water Industry Leader” on Wednesday, June 12 at 2:30 p.m. as part of the Investing in Your Career: Leadership for Young Professionals session, during the American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE 13), in Denver, Colorado.  Learn more about CH2M HILL’s ACE 13 participation and technical sessions.

Every year around this time folks in the business of providing clean drinking water—utilities, equipment manufacturers, consultants, contractors, regulators, non-profits and academics—get together for the America Water Works Association’s Annual Conference & Exhibition (ACE). It’s always nice to renew acquaintances, make new friends and get the latest news and information about the water biz.

Mentorship of young professionals in the water industry traditionally has been a keynote of the annual ACE, and this year is no exception.  Numerous presentations and events are included in the schedule to promote networking opportunities among accomplished industry leaders and technical experts and young students and staff just entering the profession.  I’ve boiled my decades of learning (sometimes the hard way) and gleaning advice from my own mentors down to a “Top 10” list. My biggest challenge as I tell stories to illustrate my points is not to sound too old, with references to a time before the Internet and to TV shows from the ‘60s and ‘70s! Here are my Top Ten:

10. Understand your “authorizing environment”. Know who gives you the power to do what you do—your boss, your boss’s boss, the Board, the government—whoever administers the rules of engagement.

9. Choose your battles, and your allies, carefully.  You can’t win every time so be selective when you choose to try and make change. Be diplomatic and try to make your points without being confrontational.

8. Bloom where you’re planted—do the best job you can in the job you have.  While it’s important to be forward-thinking in your career, don’t lose sight of your immediate responsibilities.  Exceeding expectations in your current work is the best way to garner positive recognition that leads to career advancement.

7. Network like crazy—introduce yourself to people you don’t know.  Meeting new people is often the best way to learn about new technologies and strategies and make connections to further your career in the industry.  Use social networking sites like LinkedIn to follow up and stay connected to people you meet.

6. Raise your hand—volunteer with AWWA, at work, in the community. Get involved in volunteer efforts like Water For People, your local AWWA Section committees, special assignments at work or in your community. It’s a great way to develop skills, expand your network, and demonstrate what you can do.

4. Work with integrity—do the right thing, always; tell the truth.  At CH2M HILL, we are lucky to have benefited from the wisdom of founder Jim Howland’s ‘Little Yellow Book,’ a collection of management quotations to capture many of the values on which the firm was built.  One of his simple yet compelling guidelines for determining ethical professional behavior is to ask yourself the question “Would I want to see it in the headlines tomorrow morning?”  If the answer is no, don’t do it.

3. Have a positive attitude—be the person everyone wants on their team.  We all do complex and challenging work that can sometimes lead to frustration.  While everyone has a bad day, it is important not to let negativity take over since nobody likes to work with whiners!  Adopting a positive attitude that promotes problem solving and productive collaboration will make you a sought-after team member by colleagues and clients alike.

2. Be respectful—seek first to understand; focus on intent vs. impact.   It is important to respect the perspectives and opinions of everyone on your team as you work together toward a common goal.  Sometimes it is necessary to challenge the assertions of others, but do it in a way that promotes solutions, not recrimination. Try to get to know the back story—people are the way they are for a reason.

1. Align work with your core values—be authentic.  Think hard about what your core values really are, and adhere to the same set of values in your professional life that guide your personal life.  If you feel that you need to follow a different set of rules at work, you will probably not succeed.

Ms. Speranza has worked on both the public utility and consulting sides of the water and wastewater business since 1985. She directs operations, administration, and client relations for CH2M HILL’s Operations Management Business Group. Her team provides long-term consulting and contract services to public and private sector organizations, including water and wastewater operations and maintenance, public works, and other city services, and facilities management and engineering. In the early 1990s, she was Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and previously was a Project Manager for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. Ms. Speranza is the past Board Chair and an active volunteer of the global nonprofit Water For People, which helps people in developing countries obtain clean water and sanitation solutions. She has served as an officer of the AWWA, the New England Water Works Association and the Massachusetts Water Works Association, and is a long-standing member of the Water Environment Federation.