Industry leader Kelly Churchill started by working in a goldmine, and she’s now Fulton Hogan’s National Performance Manager. She shared with us her insights on leadership, asset management realities, and what’s next in her journey.
What makes a great leader?
When I look back at my first leadership role about 12 years ago, managing a national design team, I can see how far I’ve come. We’ve worked so hard to get here – women especially. There can be worries about keeping the position as a woman, and you can feel vulnerable. But it’s not a gender thing at all, I’ve learned. A great leader is someone that looks for strength in people. Leaders promote their team members and give them opportunities to develop, beyond their career aspirations. Empowerment is so important.
How do you develop as a leader?
It’s important to be self-aware. Being a good leader doesn’t come naturally to everybody. Sometimes people are technically proficient, and we can make the mistake of putting them into leadership roles, even if they don’t have great self-awareness. If you can find your blind spots, you’ll want to grow in those areas. Growth is key, and when you know what skills to strengthen, you can then develop. So firstly, it’s vital to be self-aware.
Developing as a leader means being open-minded to experiences that challenge you. Recently, I was asked to speak about procurement on a conference panel, and I was very nervous. I even said to my manager several times, “I don’t know if I’m the right person to do this”. But he helped me believe in myself. I had initially thought people there were much more experienced and senior than myself. But it all depends on how you look at things. I had tunnel vision to start with – but once I started opening my mind up a little bit, I realised I knew a lot more than I thought and brought a different but valuable perspective.
After that, I reflected on how much growth I got out of that experience. We’ve got to take those scary opportunities to advance. Look at how you can develop your skills. Then you can effectively guide your team into the future.
What is a key challenge in infrastructure asset management?
The reality is we’re a funding-constrained environment. This underpins asset management. We need to be truly innovative about making that money go a little bit further. Sometimes we get trapped into doing things the way we’ve always done them. And fearful of doing something differently, because of risk. However, we need to think about better ways to create more value out of every dollar we spend.
Why get into infrastructure asset management?
The truth is, there will always be maintenance work to do, but not always the big new projects. We need to give our younger people greater insight into the variety of work that exists within maintenance. Until they find their passion and niche, we should offer them space to explore their range.
What’s next for Kelly Churchill?
I’m a here-and-now kind of person. While I have a blue-skies mind, I’m not long-term strategic in terms of my own career planning. I’m more “What are we doing in the next one to two years?”
I’ve worked with governance boards for the last seven years and this is an area I’m interested in. I’ve recently been named for two alternate board member roles. One is for our CEO of the Wellington Transport Alliance, and the other one is for our combined NOC (network outcomes contract). That’s where we have a governance board for four of our NOC contracts. And I’m now an alternative for our Fulton Hogan member on that board.
I’ve booked in for my Company Directors Course in April which will build on my on-the-job experience so far. I’m looking forward to this chance to do more formal learning around governance and applying that, as well as the networking opportunities that will come with that.
Thank you for being an inspiration, Kelly!
With the IPWEA NZ Emerging Governance Scholarship, Kelly will be completing the Institute of Directors Company Directors Course, valued at $10,000.