Our Insights

Pandemic Reflections: Do We Have What It Takes?

May 6, 2020

By Tim Gessner,
Business Unit Director, Environmental

This article was originally published in Currents, POWER’s quarterly Environmental newsletter.

In the environmental field, one might say surprises are inevitable—a sudden non-compliance issue, an unexpected regulatory change or an accidental spill. We’re trained to handle these emergency situations.

I think it’s fortunate that our career choice may have helped prepare us to positively respond to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic currently impacting our world. Now that we have had several weeks to manage our respective COVID-19 challenges, it may be a good time to reflect on how well we responded to this emergency.

What have we learned about our team, organization and ourselves?

Our Team
How did our team react?

When faced with high levels of stress or anxiety, our emotions can go into overdrive, our brain chemistry can be jolted and our prefrontal cortex (the portion of the brain responsible for cognition and decision-making) can be negatively affected.

People handle this phenomenon differently. Some slow down and manage the process, others garner a heightened sense of awareness and some are susceptible to inefficiencies or complete shutdown.

If carefully observed, especially in the hours and days when the pandemic unfolded, events like COVID-19 can help us identify the team members that excelled in this quickly changing environment. It’s a chance to recognize those that were most effective in helping their team.

Positive actions that we observed included: genuine concern for the wellness of others, clearly communicating the support they could offer, responding with empathy to staff and client situations and calm, organized thoughts during problem-solving.

Our Organization
How did our organizations and/or departments handle the situation?

As COVID-19 began to impact every facet of our lives, information was coming so fast and from so many different sources that it wasn’t being digested very well. It’s during these high-stress and fast-paced situations that having quality data is a key ingredient for good communication, and the ability to succinctly communicate is highly valuable.

I suspect there are many opportunities for improvement in areas associated with data management and knowledge sharing. For example, we consolidated important information at the end of the week and reissued a summary to our staff.

Moving forward, we may look to improve our data management processes to consolidate the information and make it more easily searchable.

As an individual and as a leader, how did I respond?

Leadership effectiveness is best measured by assessing whether the leader can motivate their team to positively influence a situation. And while I did my best, I believe there is still room for improvement.

There are a wide variety of skills that could be needed during an emergency and it’s not reasonable to expect that we each maintain the highest competency in all of them.

Therefore, when tested by a situation such as this, taking the time to self-reflect and improve the skills necessary to make a meaningful impact is a worthwhile investment. And, by improving our own strengths, we can better complement the skills of others on our team.

A quick review of leadership literature provides a long and varied list of buzz words and management philosophy. When asked to consider the skills I look for in a leader, I gravitate to emotional intelligence, critical thinking, team problem-solving, trustworthiness, clear communication and intestinal fortitude (they’ve got guts!).

It’s a daunting list but improvement starts with taking one step forward. I’ve picked the skill that I’m going to improve, and I challenge you to pick one, too!

There’s always a silver lining if you look hard enough to find it. We’re not out of the woods yet, but as we adjust to this temporary “normal,” let’s take a minute to reflect and learn from the experience. It may just help improve our teams, our organizations and ourselves going forward.

About the Author:

As a veteran Project Manager and engineering director and manager, Tim has managed projects for the government and private sectors. His core competencies include environmental investigation, property redevelopment, soil and groundwater remediation, civil stormwater management, environmental compliance, wastewater treatment, industrial waste minimization, landfill management, air pollution, and cleanup or prevention projects. Tim has construction experience and has served as the field engineer for large-scale building construction. Got a question for Tim? Send him an email at tim.gessner@powereng.com