Pulse of the City

Richard Kirby, CPEng, MIPENZ
Assets Group Manager, Manawatu District Council
Fielding, New Zealand
INGENIUM President

  Sailing on Auckland harbour (photo courtesy of Tourism Auckland)

The Association of Local Government Engineering New Zealand (INGENIUM) held its 2006 Annual Conference in Auckland, the "City of Sails," 8-10 June. The theme was "Pulse of the City" and this report outlines the key messages embracing this theme and puts them in the context of managing infrastructure within New Zealand.

Pulse of the City
Over recent years it seems that the pace of life is increasing. There are greater demands on our time, our skills and our relationships. Stress levels frequently peak and our energy levels increasingly drop. There comes a time when refreshment and revitalisation are needed. The conference theme "Pulse of the City" certainly invoked thoughts of energy, enthusiasm and activity—things that are important to us even though they are not normally personified in engineers! Despite this the exciting and varied conference programme gave all delegates an opportunity to be extricated from the rut of routine and revitalised with a new passion by allowing their energy levels to be raised, the dwindling embers of their enthusiasm reignited and the blurred images of their vision refocused.

Although the conference included technical papers outlining recent local government engineering projects undertaken within New Zealand it also focused on coaching and the softer and more emotional issues related to health and relationships. Engineers can be very stoic and divorced from their emotions, so these sessions provided motivation and inspiration.

Coaching is more about asking the right questions
Sir John Whitmore, motor racing champion, successful businessman and one of the founding fathers of coaching addressed the conference as a keynote speaker. Sir John's insight into coaching was a tremendous inspiration to all. He identified the two key principles of leadership as awareness and responsibility, and that the skills required by leaders were effective questioning and active listening.

Sir John outlined the difference between a leadership coach and an instructor. "The definition of coaching is a broad one," he said. "The behaviours of coaching will be somewhat similar because they are drawing out of the person the potential and the capabilities that that person has, rather than putting some in from the outside which is what an instructor will do."

This difference was aptly demonstrated in a short video clip comparing Sir John's coaching style with that of a professional golfing instructor. Both had beginners who hadn't played golf before and, while the instructor utilised the traditional "command and tell" approach to coaching, Sir John utilised a style that simply involved asking questions of the beginner each time the ball was hit. The outcome was astonishing as the latter learnt much more about her abilities as a golfer in a natural and encouraging manner, compared to the awkward and unnatural manner with the traditional "command and tell" approach. To confirm the power of this new style of coaching, Sir John revealed that although he had coached golf, he confessed that he didn't like the game and had never played a round.

Sir John went on to say that leaders must have four qualities and that these qualities are extremely important. All of them come from within and therefore not quickly learnt; they are more about who you are rather than what you know:

  • Values - standards that you live by
  • Vision - the ability to see further down the road than those around you
  • Agility - able to move quickly; flexible
  • Authentic - genuine; possessing integrity

Hurricane Katrina — an overview of damage to infrastructure
Mr Bob Freudenthal, President APWA, gave a very insightful address on Hurricane Katrina's impact on infrastructure. Bob had recently visited the devastated area with the APWA Executive Committee and gave a brief overview of the devastation and recovery. The presentation included very graphic images of extensive devastation some six months after the event. The scale and extent of the devastation could result in some areas not being recovered—very sobering for us New Zealanders. The main lesson that we learnt from Bob's address was the clear need for resilient infrastructure, which can only be achieved with ongoing investment to counter the effect of deterioration. Although there would still have been significant damage with an event the size of Katrina, it is evident that prior investment in levees and infrastructure may have minimised the impact and extent of the devastation. Thanks Bob for the salient reminder in the importance of infrastructure!

International Delegates
The conference was notable for the number of international delegates. Presidents from three organisations attended:

  • Mr David Abbott, President of Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA)
  • Mr Bob Freudenthal, President of American Public Works Association (APWA)
  • Mr David Hutchinson, President of The Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT), United Kingdom

There were also delegates from Australia, Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. The following papers were presented by international delegates:

  • Patricia Bugas-Schramm, Portland, Oregon: "Asset Management in Portland, Oregon: Moving from Measurement to Strategic Management." Patricia attended the INGENIUM Conference as recipient of the APWA Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Programme.
  • Ric Robertshaw, Region of Peel, Canada: "Canadian National Water & Wastewater Benchmarking/InfraGuide."

ese international links have certainly added a new dimension to INGENIUM annual conferences and it is our hope that in the future more links will be made with kindred organisations around the world.

The Challenges facing Local Government Engineers
The presidential address focused on the main challenges facing local government engineers now and into the future. The three key challenges are:

  • The first challenge is in the governance/management role where the different personality types create tensions that, if not managed, could detrimentally affect the long-term sustainability of infrastructure. We have people of preference who have no fixed opinions and ride on populace thinking and thereby make short-term decisions. Their decisions are easily swayed and they generally cannot distinguish between emotion and the key issues. On the other hand we have people of principle who do have opinions and are willing to listen and distinguish the issues within the emotion. People of principle are much more likely to make good leaders because they are generally secure in themselves and decisive.

  • The second challenge is with the capacity of local government. Insufficient funding in some Councils combined with the shortage of engineers pose a huge challenge for the sector. Insufficient resources to gather relevant information will seriously compromise the integrity of decision making. Consequently, under-investment will continue to compromise the long-term delivery of infrastructural services.

  • The third challenge is procurement. It is imperative that the local government sector increases its smartness and capability to clarify its needs and then to specify and procure resources to meet those needs. The consulting and contracting sectors have confirmed that as clients, many Councils lack the in-house intellect and professional expertise needed to procure efficiently and effectively. It could also be said that the same deficiencies occur with in-house management of staff in achieving outcomes. A challenge for everyone.

The "Pulse of the City" conference certainly was inspirational and refreshing. The programme had variety; there was technical content, social content and motivational content. Most delegates took the opportunity to be extricated from their rut of routine, they were revitalised with a new passion, their energy levels were raised, the dwindling embers of their enthusiasm reignited and the blurred images of their vision refocused. We all look forward to the INGENIUM Conference 2007 which is to be held in the southernmost city in the world, Invercargill.

Richard Kirby is the President of INGENIUM and was elected to the position June 2005. He is currently the Assets Group Manager for the Manawatu District Council. Kirby's engineering career in Local Government spans over 20 years and he is currently responsible for roads, water supplies, wastewater schemes, stormwater and solid waste activities. From 1999-2005 he chaired the NZ National Asset Management Steering Group, which has been responsible for the development of several guidelines that have enhanced the management of asset infrastructure in New Zealand, Australia and around the world. He is a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng), Member of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (MIPENZ), and has been a member of the INGENIUM Board since 1998. He can be reached at

Cultural Proverbs

"A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense." - American Proverb

"Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?" - Benjamin Franklin

"The hammer shatters glass but forges steel." - Russian Proverb

"If the metal is not good, you cannot take it out on the blacksmith." - Ekonda Proverb

"A forest cannot be cut with a broken axe." - Bantandu Proverb