Leading is an essential part of planning. You need to show leadership skills to accomplish the goals that get people into this profession. On the other hand, you need to have the trust of others in the community. Otherwise, you may find yourself out on the street looking for your next planning position!

Planning as a profession seems a little shy about leading. The legacies of urban renewal and exclusionary zoning weigh heavy on our collective consciousnesses. Robert Moses was, for many years, the most effective planning leader in the country. What he did with that leadership, however, was largely destructive.

Jane Jacobs was also an effective leader in planning. However, much of her philosophy was on the concept that planners should just leave things be.

There are better models in our history, though, if you know where to look. Norman Krumholz, the Director of the Cleveland City Planning Commission in the 1970’s, advanced an equity planning agenda in that community through leadership skills. He did so despite changes in the Mayor’s office and, no doubt, the constant distractions we all face.

In my recent book “Leadership in Planning: How to Communicate Ideas and Effect Positive Change” (Routledge, 2021) I look at the nature of leading in the context of the planning profession. One aspect I explore is building relationships.

Leadership in Planning Book Cover

Gaining Traction

A key part of leading as a planner is getting support for your ideas from other influential members of your community. I suggest five steps to doing this well:

  1. Reach out: It takes time to build interpersonal relationships. Doing so may even involve opening up a little bit and adding a personal dimension.
  2. Explain your perspective: As you build relationships, periodically explain what you hope to get done.
  3. Acknowledge your differences: Many people will have different views of the world than you. Tell people that you may disagree on some issues, but you hope you can agree on certain common concepts. 
  4. Respect them: Respect stakeholders’ power. Tell them you are hoping to get them to use their influence to help on the efforts you have in common with them.
  5. Say their support matters: This almost goes without saying but explain why you want – maybe even need - their support to pull off your effort.

An extended excerpt of the book is available on the MIT School of Architecture & Planning’s Medium site at https://mitsap.medium.com/?p=599b2cebbb55

The book itself is available on Amazon as well as directly from Routledge, or, even better, order it at your local bookstore!

Written by:

Jeff Levine, AICP, Levine Planning Strategies

Jeff works to make better communities. After 25 years as a planner in local government in New England, including 15 years as a planning director, he now trains the next generation of planners as a faculty member in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also consults with public agencies and developers on urban planning and development issues.