Spotlight on LEAD Alliance: Reflections of a Planner seconded as a Community Liaison Adviser (CLA)


Last year, Woods’ Planner Nathan Saluni was seconded to the LEAD Alliance. In this blog, Nate reflects on his experience over the last 12 months working as a Community Liaison Adviser for the LEAD Alliance.

It’s no easy feat switching from an office-based Planner to putting on a hardhat and hi-vis and working on the ground as a Community Liaison Adviser (CLA). But that’s what Woods’ Urban Planner Nathan Saluni has been doing for the last 12 months.

We asked Nate to share some reflections about his experience in the role change, the challenges he faced, how he overcame them, and the lessons he’ll take forward in the future.

Related: Woods’ involvement in the LEAD Alliance

Related: What’s it like working for the LEAD Alliance?

What on earth is a CLA?

A Community Liaison Advisor (CLA) is the ‘middleman’ between the construction and design teams, and the stakeholders who live, work, and go to school in the neighbourhoods where works are taking place. CLA’s are the eyes and ears on the ground and are an essential part of the work that LEAD Alliance does in upgrading infrastructure and readying land for Kāinga Ora to build new social, affordable and market housing across Auckland.

Over my 12-month period with the LEAD Alliance, I was a CLA for two neighbourhoods, Ōwairaka and Waikōwhai in the Roskill South precinct.

Out of the office and into the construction site

After four years of working in an office environment, one of the biggest adjustments was adapting to the ever-changing nature of a construction site. In an office environment, the variables are more controlled.  On site however, the weather, the availability of labourers, operators, contractors, suppliers and of course Covid disruptions are all variables which can impact the works program. Add to that a neighbourhood of residents with their own personal schedules which you must be aware of, and you can begin to see the complexity of the role and how critical it is to be adaptable as CLA. If the works program changes, it always needs to be communicated to those affected.

Questions, questions, questions.

Part of overcoming the ever-changing nature of a construction site is always asking questions and having all the information. As a CLA you have to know absolutely everything that is happening on the ground so that you can filter it down and communicate it clearly to the stakeholders in a timely fashion. Even if you know 90% of what the construction team is doing, it's always the 10% you don’t know that's going to create issues.

From being in project meetings through to walking the site daily – it was just constantly assessing things and making sure that I was being filled in and up to speed on everything.

The soft skills of a CLA: Empathy and Relationship building

There is a lot of back and forth between different parties which is why CLA’s are pivotal for making sure the rollout of work on the ground runs smoothly. Relationship building is not optional as a CLA, it is the role. Building rapport and trust is critical, especially with the residents.

The empathy element of the CLA role is also so important and can’t be understated. You can't just inform people that something is going to happen and pitch the benefits. You have to understand that there are residents living and working in these neighbourhoods, day in and day out, and stresses can build up if you’re not communicating the works with them and hearing them out.

Communication is the Cornerstone

I believe communication is the cornerstone of any job. It’s something I already held to as a Planner, but in my role as a CLA this was engrained tenfold. No two people are alike. Whether it’s the stakeholders, or the site team you are working with.  

As a CLA, this meant learning that some people would want to be constantly updated, while others just wanted the major updates. Some wanted to stop and have a good chat, about the works and about life, while others… didn’t. Taking the time to learn and understand people’s communication styles and preferences allows you to work much more effectively with them.

‘He waka eke noa - We are all in this together’

If you look at the bigger picture of the work that LEAD Alliance does on behalf of Kāinga Ora, it ultimately comes down to people and their wellbeing. A well-known Māori proverb encapsulates this vision:

‘He aha te mea nui? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.’

What is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people.

I had a little slogan on the whiteboard above my desk at our site office that said, “Bring them on the journey with us.” I wrote that to remind not only myself but our team, that the work that we were doing was not being done in isolation. While this state-owned land is getting developed, and infrastructure is being upgraded in these neighbourhoods, residents, school kids, teachers, and small business owners were all around us, so it was our duty to bring them on the journey with us, not to think of them as an afterthought.

LEAD Alliance: An amazing opportunity for career development and growth

It’s a huge opportunity for your career. LEAD Alliance offers you exposure to large-scale residential, urban renewal work at a scale and complexity that I personally believe no other company or alliance in New Zealand can offer… period.

There's no beating around the bush. Working at LEAD Alliance will challenge you and put you out of your comfort zone at times. However, the amount I've learned in these last 12 months has been invaluable.

I’m grateful I jumped on this opportunity early in my career and I’m looking forward to bringing the experience I’ve gained back to Woods and applying it in my role as a Planner. Watch this space!

Nate Saluni - Graduate Planner