Meet our Emerging Leader Award finalist - Justine Quinn

As a Technical Director for Freshwater Science and Ecology at Tonkin + Taylor, Justine has led and supported teams of engineers and scientists to successfully deliver projects that have an emphasis on protecting the environment and have broad community benefits. She is also passionate about providing mentoring and technical leadership within and outside of her organisation.

Justine has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a focus on ecology and natural geography, a Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science and a Masters of Legal Studies in Environmental Law.

One of our three ACE New Zealand Emerging Leader Award finalists for 2022, Justine shows that leadership can take many forms. Driven by the value of her work and an authentic vision for the industry, Justine has demonstrated leadership can be powerful outside of direct lines of management.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

I love consulting. I’m really passionate about helping our clients find the best solutions for them, while also recognising limitations around environmental impacts and resource management constraints.

A key part of my role currently as Technical Director is to support and help our junior staff and intermediates grow. I provide mentoring and technical leadership within the organisation and that is something I am equally passionate about.

Tell us about some of the Resource Management reforms you have been involved in

I’m a scientist by training, but became interested in policy early in my career working at Auckland Council. Working with the Resource Management Act, I was told that while the science may say ‘x’, the rules and regulations allow ‘y’. I wanted to understand the jargon and application of them both better, so I went back to University and did a Masters in Legal Studies (Environmental Law).

In my current role, I have been leading and/or contributing to submissions on the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020, on behalf of our ecology team, professional organisations and clients. I have also been preparing white papers with colleagues, to share our thoughts on the changing face of ecological practice and what we think is working or not.

What role do you see for consultants regarding influencing policy and decision-making?

The reforms coming from national government are substantial and the work is being undertaken at pace. It’s important that the industry communicates from an ‘on the ground’ perspective what is and isn’t working so we can all play a part in providing for reforms that benefit the environment and our communities.

I actively encourage my colleagues to get excited about policy. It’s shaping where our work will go. As ecologists, I see that we have careers, rather than jobs and I think that if you want to be truly successful, you need to look beyond the immediate science. It’s not just about going to the field and collecting ‘critters’, it’s about understanding where does that information go, what does it mean, and how can we make it more useful for people? Understanding our work in the context of policy is important. I want the people I work with to see their role in shaping the policies that will impact their future work and our environment.

What do you see as one of the key challenges for your sector?

One of our biggest challenges is the lack of experienced practitioners.  Climate change, biodiversity decline and water management have come to greater awareness in recent years, meaning ecological expertise is now in greater demand globally.

We don’t have enough experienced people to keep up with the current workload, let alone the demand that is coming. There are some amazing graduates coming out of university who are passionate about ecology, but it takes time to get up to speed and to understand the real-world challenges.

This drives my passion for developing talent in New Zealand. Every interaction has the potential to be a learning opportunity - I like to provide opportunities and space for people to learn and to always be available to share my knowledge and experience with them.

What are the opportunities for the consulting sector?

A lot of our ecological work is governed by the rules and direction of relevant local and national government. The standard of work that consultants deliver, sets the bar for what should be expected by clients. If consultants are doing the absolute minimum and are competing for the lowest price with the lowest quality work, we’re not going to solve national and global issues like biodiversity decline. Consultants can do more and set the bar a little higher. We can give clients the opportunity to think about the environment they want to leave behind.  We can help lead the way, not just enable people to meet the bare minimum legislative requirements. It requires having open relationships with our clients so we can have conversations identifying and offering different solutions.

I also think a shift in the procurement process, away from tenders that have consultants competing on price, would go a long way to opening up conversations and enabling bigger picture, more holistic approaches with benefits across social, cultural, economic and environmental facets.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership to me is about being there for the people around me and helping them find their way forward. I think that leadership requires different skills, at different times and in different situations. And sometimes it can be leading from behind and sometimes leading from the front.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m open and honest, authentic and approachable and I prefer a lead-from-behind style -  I mean I like to help people find their own way.  I’m happy to share my knowledge and help others at any level of the organisation.

I believe my leadership approach has been shaped by the different jobs and experiences I’ve had and the different people I have interacted with. Any experience you have today will shape the ‘you’ of tomorrow. So, I think all of the good and the bad, the hard and the easy come together to create a version of you at any given point in time – meaning you’re constantly growing and developing.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I really enjoy what I’m doing now, so I hope that in 5-10 years’ time I’m still doing this. I like being on the ground and working with clients and colleagues to come up with great solutions for projects. I do hope that I am in a position where I am able to shape industry policy and still leading our people to be the best that they can be.

I also hope I have the opportunity to shape graduates coming out of universities. I think that we have an upcoming resource and skills shortage in our industry in New Zealand, and if there are opportunities to support the universities that would be something great to be involved in. 

Why did you apply for the Emerging Leader Award?

I participated in a fantastic leadership course through Tonkin + Taylor which taught me a lot about what leadership is and coming out of that gave me more confidence to be a leader. I was encouraged by people in my organisation to apply for this award, and when I saw what the award involved, I did think it would be a useful opportunity to reflect on where I have come from. It was quite interesting revisiting some of my earlier career development opportunities and seeing how I had changed my leadership style over time.

There’s that saying, “do something every day that scares you” and this terrified me. However, it has been a really worthwhile experience and I’m genuinely surprised and delighted to be a finalist.

What advice would you give others thinking about applying for the ACE New Zealand Emerging Leader Awards?

I wouldn’t have applied for this award if I hadn’t been encouraged to by those around me. But now that I’ve been through the process, I think it’s been really worthwhile. Think of the application process as being a chance to reflect on your achievements to date. You get to step outside of yourself and think about the things you can do now, that you couldn’t five or ten years ago, all those mistakes that you’ve learned from to make you a better leader. Taking the time to pause and reflect on where you’ve come from is not something people generally make time for – so take the opportunity!

Justine is one of three finalists for the 2022 ACE Emerging Leader Award, the winner of which will be announced at our Awards gala dinner on 2 September, as part of Conference 2022. Keen to celebrate with us? Find out more here

The ACE New Zealand Emerging Leader Award, sponsored by Tonkin + Taylor, recognises individuals who have a passion for leadership in the consulting sector, show a commitment to developing themselves, and demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities in their work and in their communities.