Infrastructure leaders not mentally ‘fit’ for their game

Infrastructure leader fitness

Executives in the infrastructure sector can literally design their way to success. But their language and actions reveal that they don’t believe this to be true. This is despite real evidence to the contrary. Until they display the humility to test their basic assumptions, many millions of dollars will continue to be squandered. Investors must be attuned to this situation to avoid the associated risks and capitalise on the opportunity.

Private and public infrastructure owners are struggling to deliver better infrastructure outcomes. Billions of dollars are being wasted, with costly social and economic consequences. This is a cost that shareholders and society cannot and must not continue to bear.

The public narrative reflects an assumption that more money and private sector involvement will go a long way to resolving our infrastructure problems. Yet poor governance of infrastructure planning and delivery is recognised as a major contributing factor. But contrary to many reports, it’s not the root cause. Rather, it’s a function of our leaders – in government, boardrooms and executive suites – that are ill-equipped to navigate our current and emerging operating environment. Furthermore, their denial or incapacity to recognise this fact is the reason that our problems persist. Their mental models, which shape the way organisations are run and infrastructure assets are developed and managed are at-best out-moded, or at-worst simply wrong.

Mechanistic changes can be made in the processes that guide planning and investment in infrastructure, if the political will exists to do so (and this remains a big ‘if’). Without shifts in mental models these changes risk being thwarted, too slow or sub-optimal.

Fortunately the experience and evidence exists to prove shifts in thinking and practice are readily achievable. Significantly, better results can be achieved often with net short- and long-run reductions in cost and risk. Systems-based, customer-focused and collaborative design practices can achieve infrastructure breakthroughs with a compounding affect that can sustain success and growth.

Today, amazing things are technically possible. It seems, however, they are often not humanly possible. This is what we must and can change. Any failure to engage with this opportunity is likely to serve as further evidence of leaders being ill-equipped and unsuited to leading the institutions that shape our infrastructure and the prosperity of our society. Infrastructure leaders must change, or be changed.

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Nicholas Fleming

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