By: Sivaji Senapathi, P.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE
Associate | Practice Area Leader - Structures
My journey in learning to become an effective leader started at home. I was born the youngest of four children, and my father passed away when I was young. My mother drilled the importance of achieving a good education into us from an early age, and I soon learned the value of hard work, perseverance and integrity in maintaining my work ethic. As a young student, the foundation I had developed at home helped propel me toward getting accepted into a post-graduate program in Ocean Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai, one of the top five universities in India.
During my time in IIT, I was innately an introvert. However, whenever someone asked for my opinion, I was prepared to freely speak my mind. As a result, I was often approached by my colleagues, and my professors slowly gained confidence and trust in me. My professors frequently encouraged me to explore other opportunities in research, which led me to travel to the US to pursue advanced research in structural engineering at Arizona State University. There, I learned that effective collaboration was not only communicating with my team, but also being engaged with the work. By experiencing teamwork on this level, I learned the importance of keeping a broad perspective to manage the team’s direction, while also making sure that I was never ‘out of touch’ with my colleagues' environment. The experiences I gained academically carried over to my professional career when I started working as a structural engineer in 1993.
As I continued to enhance my technical skills through working for leading corporations, I became involved with the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI). This was a milestone in my career, and today I remain a member after 14 years. Through SEI, I was given the chance to interact and learn from pioneers in the engineering field who exposed me to new practices and ideas. Most importantly, I was introduced to new and differing personalities who encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and open my mind to alternative ways of thinking. Being around so many talented professionals gave me the confidence to break down social barriers and become a part of the greater engineering community. After some time, I found myself in a position able to give back to the community by openly sharing what I had learned in my career up to this point with others. During my time serving in SEI, I acted as the co-chair for the 2010 international structures congress, presented a paper on standardizing concrete segmental bridge design and construction, helped create the Speaker Bureau Committee to help find talented speakers for local SEI chapters and served on the SEI Advisory Committee for Continuing Education in order to improve the standards of continuing education for engineers across the country. I am honored to have been a part of SEI. The social skills, connections and insight that I gained has undoubtedly guided me throughout my professional career and has molded me into the person I am today.
In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have gained a better understanding of what it means to not only be a good leader, but to bring out the best in the people around me. To me, one does not need a title to lead, but rather anyone who is able to impact and drive the people they work with on a daily basis through their strength of character, vision and integrity is a true leader. The most important part of a team is the people that make it. Leaders must realize that their level of capability is directly dependent on their ability to recognize and promote the opinions, ideas and potential of their teammates.
It's this realization that has enabled me to bring about the best in the people I have worked with at EHRA Engineering. I am especially thankful for the trust that EHRA has placed in me, granting me the freedom to reach out to other business leaders and take lead in collaborating and cooperating with them to create future opportunities for the company. This relative flexibility allows me to give my full focus to developing my team through mentorship and working to their strengths. My goal as a leader is to create a working environment founded upon open communication, integrity and character—where my team feels that they are working at their best.
I’m fortunate to have worked with some of the most talented minds in the company, and it should be noted that I would not have been able to accomplish what I have so far at EHRA if it weren't for them. Additionally, I want to thank everyone in my career who has helped me in becoming the person that I am, and I hope to continue to improve myself as a leader as I go forward on this journey with my team. When I joined EHRA, I saw its potential and envisioned its future. Going forward, I hope to implement the leadership skills I have gained to help EHRA grow to that potential and take part in creating its legacy.