Lihy Teuerstein, CEO of IDE Water Assets.
When it comes to large-scale infrastructure projects, regardless of industry, leaders face many obstacles and challenges on their path to success. Whether it’s supply chain shortages and rising prices, community concerns, stakeholder challenges or navigating regulation, it takes a delicate strategy and approach to gain support and achieve success.
The design, construction, development and operation of any new infrastructure facility is accomplished through many moments of uncertainty and re-evaluation, but these projects have long-lasting, significant results. Before tackling the thousands of timely tasks and the hundreds of critical deliverables, it is vital to understand key leadership best practices for large infrastructure projects. Whether it’s a seawater desalination plant or a major bridge, I’ve found that any major undertaking is easier to accomplish when leaders do the following.
1. Build trust within communities.
Large projects are usually a concern for local communities. To reduce their hesitation, community leaders should maintain an open line of communication while providing a safe space to discuss pressing concerns and timely questions, explaining their methods and means of achieving a trusting relationship with the project provider. Those impacted by the project should be well educated on why this project is happening, what the project will solve, the expected cost and timeline, and how the community will benefit once it is completed.
Fostering relationships with community stakeholders and voters allows all parties to work toward a common goal with a level of well-earned trust and common understanding. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and the community should see a glimmer of hope for a better future.
2. Familiarize yourself with local and regional regulations.
Every project comes with unforeseen hurdles, but with proper pre-project research many of them can be avoided. No matter what country, city or state the project is in, it is necessary to navigate the local and regional regulations to get the project to the finish line. Planning ahead, learning the terrain and working with the decision makers are further steps on the ladder to the goal line.
For example, in the case of desalination projects, leaders must navigate many pesky regulations. How the water will be treated, to whom the water can be sold and where the water is discharged are conversations that all project leaders regularly have. Since policies can vary dramatically between states and countries, leaders should have open conversations with authorities to ensure their project meets critical criteria. For example, some US states have parameters for which entities can purchase water, while others can offer it through private sale.
3. Understand the market and various supply sources.
The headlines say it and the project managers feel it: the pandemic, the geopolitical conflict and other global economic events Lots of pressure on supply chains and resources, but also on personnel. Supply chain delays have become a global problem since the onset of Covid-19 and have increased further due to geopolitical unrest, making it more difficult to plan infrastructure projects. Supply chain issues create shipping challenges, labor shortages and fluctuating costs, compromising the ability to complete a project on time. This highlights a clear need for a thorough understanding of the market and various supply sources and for careful planning from day one.
For example, in my company’s industry, we’ve seen some costs go up drasticallywhile average total project costs have increased more than 25%with almost all of these increases being a result of the changes in our economic environment.
By working with local suppliers, choosing flexible suppliers, understanding the market opportunities of raw materials and using logistics creativity, timelines can become more realistic and expectations can be managed appropriately. Each geographic location has different challenges, so it’s essential to do your homework before firming up locations and deadlines for the project.
To get a project all the way to the finish line in a productive and courteous manner, it is essential to start with sharp leadership skills. The pre-project groundwork, as well as strong collaboration and communication with all stakeholders, will have an undeniable impact on the ultimate success for the community and the project.