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AECOM Director Rachel Harding discusses psychological safety

AECOM Director Rachel Harding discusses psychological safety

 June 28, 2023

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Header image credit: State Government of Victoria, Australia

AECOM celebrated International Women in Engineering Day by interviewing women engineers who are dedicated to the campaign theme, #MakeSafetySeen. These women demonstrate strong safety principles in their work and deliver a safer world through their engineering expertise.

For AECOM Technical Director, Rachel Harding, #MakeSafetySeen is about prioritizing psychological safety for project teams - encouraging members to take risks, speak up, admit mistakes and bring their whole selves to work without fear. 

Meet AECOM Technical Director Rachel Harding

Rachel has worked on various major projects in Victoria, Australia, including the Metro Tunnel Project, Level Crossing Removal Projects, Geelong Fast Rail, and the North East Link. Rachel is the design delivery manager for the North East Link – North Package.

The North East Link program is building Victoria’s longest road tunnels, overhaul the Eastern Freeway, build Melbourne’s first dedicated busway, complete the Ring Road and build a North East Trail with more than 34 kilometers (21 miles) of walking and cycling paths. The project is fixing a missing link in Melbourne’s freeway network, changing how people move around the city and taking around 15,000 trucks off local roads daily. Rachel's role is to ensure we deliver the hundreds of design packages on time and on budget. During the design phase, Rachel's team are ramping up to 300 full-time equivalent employees.

"What I love about this role is the opportunity for AECOM to partner with the engineering and construction teams across other collaborating companies to deliver a quality design solution that solves complex design problems and achieves best-for-project outcomes. I love being a part of city-shaping projects and seeing something my team has designed be built," explains Rachel.

"Major projects involve mobilizing a team of hundreds of designers and sub-consultants across different companies, backgrounds, and skills - many of whom haven’t worked together before. It’s vital to bring them together as one team and create a culture where each of us can thrive. These large-scale projects are challenging, complex and fast-paced, and I thrive on this, but the construction industry can also be tough, with mental health being a challenge for many professionals. This is a cultural problem that needs to be addressed," adds Rachel.

Psychological safety creates successful projects 

When Rachel thinks about the International Women in Engineering Day theme #MakeSafetySeen, the aspect that stands out to her is psychological safety. For Rachel, this is fundamental to the success of a project.

Rachel defines psychological safety as the ability for team members to bring their whole selves to work, take risks, express their ideas and concerns, speak up with questions, and admit mistakes - all without fear of negative consequences. 

"When team members are psychologically safe, they are more engaged and motivated because they feel their contributions matter. We make better decisions because people are more comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns, and we hear and consider a more diverse range of perspectives. We also create a continuous learning and improvement culture because team members feel comfortable sharing and learning from their mistakes," adds Rachel.

Embracing vulnerability, weaknesses, and mistakes

Rachel does her best to create psychological safety by ensuring everyone has a voice in meetings, openly admitting her mistakes, seeking input from others where she needs it, and encouraging open communication.

"I don’t always get this right! Some people think psychological safety is about everyone being ‘nice’ or ‘polite’ or making everyone ‘comfortable’, but it’s not. For me, it means being vulnerable and pointing out my mistakes and weaknesses when I would rather hide them. It also means I need to have honest and uncomfortable conversations with individuals and teams about attitudes and behaviors damaging to the team. It means that I need to welcome difficult news and feedback myself. But the results are totally worth it. I wake up every day to a project that I am thrilled to be working on, a team in which people have each other’s back, and a team where I see people grow, flourish and feel empowered to take risks and try new things," comments Rachel.

Be empowered in an AECOM engineering career

From flexible work options that help employees balance the demands of work and life, to learning and growth programs that advance their career and the potential of working on projects around the world, the opportunities with AECOM are virtually limitless.

Working within a global community of technical experts and professionals, employees create relationships that support their development and a career path that their goals.

Explore the latest engineering job opportunities with AECOM.


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