It's essential to push ourselves outside of our envelope of comfort - with Amy Patterson-Horner

2020 ACE New Zealand Emerging Leader finalist, Amy Patterson-Horner is the Business Group Manager for GHD Hawkes Bay. We caught up with her to get her thoughts on leadership and in her role as a manager in the consulting industry.

Amy Patterson-Horner

Amy Patterson-Horner

What prompted you to enter the ACE Emerging Leader award in 2020?

I was strongly encouraged by my managers to place an entry into the awards. Initially, I was a bit reluctant to enter as it's not something I've done before and put myself in front of the industry made me feel a little uncomfortable. I think engineers traditionally don't like to raise their heads above the parapet. However, I believe it's essential to push ourselves outside of our envelope of comfort to develop as individuals, teams and an industry.

How did you start the process?

I began putting my entry together in my COVID-19 lockdown "office", a motorhome parked in our driveway. It was a busy time as I juggled my day job with the challenges presented by lockdown and keeping my children entertained. However, I'm happy that I did it because it allowed me to reflect on my leadership journey over the last five years. I guess most of us don't deliberately take the time to review and reflect on that journey seriously, but the entry process gave me time to pause, reflect and unpick the good, bad and ugly things that had happened during my career. That helped make the entry process interesting and also allowed me to consider how I was tackling some of the leadership challenges I was experiencing at a time when so many things were changing due to the COVID lockdown. It was also helpful in kick-starting my thoughts on how I was leading my team.

What has COVID taught you about leadership?

You can't overcommunicate!

When you're using technology to interact with your team, you need to put more effort into your meetings and ask more questions because you can't always see non-verbal cues to the same extent as you can in face-to-face meetings. Meeting online with staff helped me realise just how important it is to make sure they feel safe and secure and are confident that you will put their best interests first. I was able to develop trust within my team, and I think they did phenomenally well during lockdown. We continued to deliver for our clients, met all our business KPI's and had some fun along the way. We came together as a team during that period and communicated in a more deliberate manner.

Has that style of communication continued now you're back in the office?

The lockdown taught us all some important lessons around communication. Leaders must continue to have more regular catchups with all team members as I think we are still operating in a bit of a hybrid situation. Our communications are more deliberate than they were before lockdown, and we spend time focusing on where the team is collectively heading. We continue to maintain high levels of comfort and security amongst the team because these are still reasonably uncertain times. By that I mean COVID-19 may be around for a while yet, while within the industry, substantial changes are pending with the water reform and an increasing need for our industry to respond to complex problems with many competing drivers.

Do you have any mantras for your leadership?

During the last couple of years, I have developed a couple of personal taglines as a reminder of how I should be going about my business as a leader. The first one is "Lose the cape. You're not superhuman so stop trying to be" and the other one is "Bury the ego because leadership is about leading your team and the results come from what the team can achieve." Putting aside your ego is critical to being an effective leader.

What prompted you to take on engineering as a career?

I got into engineering by accident. When I left school, I didn't envision myself being an engineer. I joined the Royal New Zealand Navy and began training as a logistics officer and started a commerce degree. Unfortunately, that didn't quite work out the way I thought it would as I was medically discharged from the Navy as I suffered a stress fracture in my shin. So, at the tender age of 19, I had my first catastrophic career failure, but quickly realised it was an excellent opportunity to move on and pivot in a different direction. I did continue with my commerce degree for a while but soon realised that I wasn't enthusiastic or inspired by that career path. At about that time, a family member, who is an engineer, gave me an opportunity to study and work in the engineering industry. That was 15 years ago, and I have since been involved in a wide range of projects and developed my skills to understand the breadth of the industry. I find my current role very enjoyable, as I lead and work with a team of people who have diverse technical backgrounds. While dealing with clients takes the majority of my time, I do have an opportunity to place a lens on our overall business and take a holistic view on what we contribute to the industry.

What is your role with GHD?

I am the Business Group Leader across Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast and have a range of responsibilities to balance, including client relationships, staff, business commercials and project delivery.

What are your favourite roles and projects?

My favourite roles are directing and managing projects that have multiple disciplines and stakeholders. I like being the glue that brings all the pieces together and helping combine moving parts and competing objectives to create an outcome that meets our clients and the community's aspirations. My favourite technical projects are in the infrastructure planning sphere, where we deal with a range of stakeholders and work collaboratively with our clients. It allows us a significant input into the direction of the project from very early in the design process. During the last 12 months, I have worked with the Napier City Council developing their Wastewater Network Masterplan. We brought together modelling with engineering and considered resilience, optimising existing infrastructure, the level of service required and the community's expectations. It was fantastic to bring all those pieces together and make a start on developing the Council's infrastructure management plan for the next 30 years.

What is your advice to anyone who was thinking of entering the emerging leader award?

Do it, because you have nothing to lose. I would recommend putting time aside to reflect on your leadership experiences. I'll encourage you to tweak your leadership objectives, and it's a fantastic opportunity to expand your network. The awards allowed me to re-establish relationships with people that I had lost touch with over the years. I found it a brilliant learning experience, and as a leader, you'll never be done learning.

What are your interests outside of work?

I have two young children and, like most people with preschoolers, home life is generally guided by their interests. I'm family-focused, and while work takes up a lot of time, I try to achieve a decent work-life balance. The children love the beach, so we'll spend time there over summer, and recently the focus has been on planting vegetables and building race cars. When I'm at home, it's less about me and more about being able to participate in the children's fun. I do sneak a bit of 'me time' to make the most of living in Hawke's Bay, with all our excellent wineries and cycle trials.

Connect with Amy Patterson-Horner on LinkedIn

Next steps

Apply for the 2021 Emerging Leader Award