Emerging Leaders



Stephen Parker , AIA

Stephen Parker, AIA













As we gear up for AIALI’16 we take a look at how model leadership programs develop leaders.  Stephen Parker highlights the Emerging Leaders Program at SmithGroupJJR.

There are numerous leadership programs at firms large and small, especially as the firm leadership of the present sees their future in the young men and women they employ. At SmithGroupJJR, the Emerging Leaders Program lays out a plan for the firm’s future by forging a path forward for aspiring leaders. 

At SmithGroupJJR, the nation’s oldest, independent architecture and engineering firm, this two-year program is intended to better train and equip the next generation of leaders from within the firm’s ranks. Applicants are associate level (Architect 3, Engineer 3, Planner 3, etc) or higher and must seek the support of their office leadership. This is intended so that applicants can take the lead in their own future and gain support for the path they chose. The program links up the 15 selected candidates with mentors of their choosing, either from within their office, practice, discipline or beyond if they choose. There are three sessions per year that are hosted at different offices across the country, which helps the cohort of candidates broaden their network while forging bonds with one another. This is one of the best benefits of the program according to Brenna Costello, AIA,ACHA, EDAC, principal and medical planner at SmithGroupJJR. 

"Not only does the program introduce you to motivated colleagues across the company (each with such diverse strengths), it really opens your eyes to personal and team growth!  There is a confidence and camaraderie built among the group that you feel you could call each classmate for answers in the profession”.   

“The program fosters a safe space to discuss challenges among peers in a unique environment not always possible in the midst of project deadlines,” according to Diane Syer, Director of Talent Development at SmithGroupJJR.  

The program’s first year dives into business acumen, providing a deeper understanding of not only how a project is profitable, but how financial information is used to guide decision making at the studio, office and firm levels. The second year encompasses learning to lead, beginning with a thorough self-assessment and greater self-awareness of how one leads. Knowing one’s strengths and those of others is one of the basics of team building. This broadens into how to lead others, develop client relationships and ultimately, how to lead the firm. Participants develop emotional intelligence and strategic leadership skills.  

A hybrid, advanced path exists for established leaders who already have a firm grasp on business acumen and proven leadership at some scale. In the future, the Emerging Leaders Program will further diversify from a management-focused leadership program to include design and technical leadership. As leaders develop with differing passions and capacities in the diverse professions the firm represents, this will help develop a leadership culture throughout the company. 

In the final year of the program, candidates complete a capstone project, modeled on the 100 Day Challenge. They work in teams, paired with an executive sponsor within the firm, to help them research a strategic initiative and prepare recommendations to present to the Board of Directors. In the same manner that the firm has invested in their future, candidates are investing in the future of the firm.