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Developing a career development pathway for leaders of complex infrastructure projects 

14 January 2021

Recommendations to radically change the way infrastructure is delivered call on ICE to develop a pipeline of leaders with the “breadth and adaptability” to thrive in a complex and technology-driven project environment.

Developing a career development pathway for leaders of complex infrastructure projects 
A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery is an eight-step model which places emphasis on agile, adaptable leadership

In March 2020, ICE launched a review into why a number of recent signature projects have been delivered behind schedule and over budget and to explore whether a more systems-focused approach could help. The review steering group, made up of key industry thought-leaders, was asked to assess the impact of accelerating technological change and the different approaches taken in adjacent industries to address these changes.

Between April and October 2020, ICE carried out more than 30 interviews with project practitioners from the infrastructure, aerospace, defence, oil and gas, and technology sectors. A detailed literature review was also conducted with the help of Professor Andrew Davies, one of the UK’s leading academic specialists in systems integration and complex projects.

It quickly became abundantly clear that continuing as we are is not an option. Big generational challenges, such as the UK’s commitment to a net-zero carbon economy, are adding further layers of complexity to what we do. Technology in areas such as communications, transportation and power generation, distribution and storage is evolving at such a pace that it's forcing a change in how we design, integrate and commission infrastructure systems.

It also quickly became clear that increasingly the functionality of infrastructure is sitting in this technology suite and in the digital twin of the physical asset.

The review concluded that, quite simply, the dominant leadership and delivery model for infrastructure projects has not evolved to reflect these profound changes.

Delivery remains in the hands of traditionally trained engineers working within organisations using long-established construction industry methods. The review concluded it's this conservatism that's driven the increasing number of signature project failures.

A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery

The main output from this review was, therefore, a new model, “A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery” (SAID).

SAID is an eight-step model for applying systems thinking to project delivery, with each step made deliberately easy to visualise, with catchy descriptors such as “Think Outcomes not Edifices”; “ “Think Shovel-Worthy not Shovel-Ready”; and “Data Oils your Projects”.

It's already been welcomed enthusiastically by industry leaders, and a second phase of the review will now work with industry clients and bodies to develop and test the model. This is clearly a crucial next step.

Developing a new career development pathway

But in parallel with this work something equally crucial will begin. ICE’s knowledge team will begin devising a career development pathway for leaders of complex infrastructure projects: a key recommendation of the review.

The review makes clear that the infrastructure sector needs to develop a pipeline of leaders with the breadth and adaptability to thrive in an ever more complex, technology-driven project environment.

It also makes clear that leaders of these projects need capabilities that are over and above those gained through formation in any one of the individual professions that make up the UK infrastructure workforce, and to that end ICE will be engaging with other relevant professions in developing this career pathway. It must be targeted at talented individuals from all professional backgrounds.

This is a hugely important programme and will be developed alongside other programmes in formation, such as ICE’s Carbon Champions programme, and a programme to ensure ICE can support civil engineers wishing to become project Design Champions, as now mandated by government in its recently published National Infrastructure Plan.

There's clearly much to do. But it's truly exciting. If you're inspired and interested in getting involved and connecting with ICE’s growing network of civil engineers and professionals collaborating to build on our project leadership skills, please contact us.

Get involved

  • Mark Hansford, director of engineering knowledge at Institution of Civil Engineers