#WomenExcel, Impact

As AECOM’s Paula Nelson nears retirement, she reflects on lessons learned and shares her view on the attributes that lead to success.

I have been influenced by many extraordinary people in my life and career.  When I think of successful people and those I respect, the following attributes come to mind:

1. Work hard and keep learning

In my early career, I learned that taking assignments to better understand the business is a must.  The experience I gained from taking assignments to work in the field on a construction site was invaluable.  In the engineering, procurement, construction business, missing this element is a huge skill gap.  My recommendation to young professionals is to look above you, see the backgrounds of leaders you admire, and understand the path they took to get there.

2. Respect your colleagues

It is important to be a good team player as well as respect other’s views and the differences on your team as they usually help prevent a blind spot when solving problems. After all, this respect is expected from professionals, and your reputation is built one day at a time and very difficult to repair. Ensure that you always create an open atmosphere, fostering dialogue and ideas as well as avoiding judging, and be an equal-opportunity offender — meaning when constructive criticism is needed, be straightforward and honest.

Being one of few women in my profession during my early career, I always tried to fit in. Now, I realize that this was not the best route.  I believe everyone is unique.  The uniqueness we bring to a team — whether it is solving complex problems, building a power plant or developing a strategic plan — ends up producing a better product.  As business leaders, we must allow all team participants a voice and equal contribution.  No one should feel intimidated to speak up.

3. Have fun!

Have fun and create enthusiasm about what you do each day. We spend most of our waking hours working with our colleagues. People are attracted to positive, high-energy, folks at work and in their private lives. I learned to use humor to diffuse difficult situations and sometimes, to make a point. One time, I was leading a very difficult contract negotiation, and a legal position between the company and our client was at odds. The attorneys tried to convince each side why the position was needed, and all that did was further isolate the two teams. I used an analogy that got everyone laughing and diffused the contention.  We ended up solving the issue shortly thereafter.  When you enjoy what you do, you will succeed 90 percent of the time!

 4. Give back

Remember to look behind you and help less-experienced colleagues grow; this is your ultimate legacy. As I have been blessed in my life journey, I have made it a point to give back.  For example, my husband and I had three college students living with us while working during summers as interns for AECOM.  These have been young, talented women whose careers we’ve helped drive.  I keep in touch with most of them to this day.  We need to help others if we want change and help our firms grow.

When I started working in AECOM’s legacy URS power group, I was the only woman.  Today, I am pleased to say, this group is 40 percent women across all stages of their careers.  Notwithstanding their gender, they are tops in the business!  And as I am close to retiring, I look at this and smile because we have come a long way since 1978 when I started.

Comment below to share your top four attributes to success! Be sure to use the #WomenExcel hashtag when you share this post on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.


Paula_HS_BW_89x100Paula Nelson (Paula.Nelson@aecom.com) is vice president of business development in the power business unit of AECOM’s energy, infrastructure and industrial construction group. She has 37 years of experience in engineering, construction, management and business development, and has received a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts and an MBA from the University of Denver.
LinkedIn: Paula Nelson


Originally published Mar 9, 2015

Author: Paula Nelson