Dharshan Kesavanathan, Project Manager of the Month, on Creating Sustainable Water Supplies for First Nations Communities

Tetra Tech CEO Dan Batrack created our Project Manager (PM) of the Month award to honor PMs who demonstrate excellence in supporting our clients and perform projects to the highest standards of quality and fiscal discipline.

Dharshan Kesavanathan is Tetra Tech’s December 2021 PM of the Month. He supports water infrastructure projects for the First Nations communities in Canada. Despite unique project challenges, such as accessing remote working locations, Dharshan’s leadership has been key in meeting the communities’ needs, resulting in long-term repeat business with his clients.

“Dharshan puts client satisfaction at the forefront of his work.”

– Emile Shehata, head of Tetra Tech's Canada infrastructure and environment operations

Dharshan has more than 20 years of experience in water and wastewater planning, design, and construction management. In the past 10 years, in addition to First Nations work, he has managed various water and wastewater infrastructure projects in the mining, nuclear, and municipal sectors.

Dharshan has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Guelph and is a graduate of Tetra Tech’s Leadership Academy, which prepares PMs to better manage their projects and employees, as well as enhance their leadership skills to better serve their clients.

“Dharshan puts client satisfaction at the forefront of his work,” said Emile Shehata, head of Tetra Tech's Canada infrastructure and environment operations. “He also is an excellent mentor to his team, and his performance speaks for itself.”

“Thank you very much for this award,” Dharshan said. “Since joining Tetra Tech, I’ve had the privilege of managing several fulfilling projects, many in remote First Nations communities where our infrastructure development projects have a direct and meaningful impact to community members.”

We talked with Dharshan about how his work is bringing clean, sustainable water supplies to remote communities.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Bushe River Water System for the Dene Tha’ First Nation.
What impact do your drinking water projects have in the First Nations communities you work with in Canada?

Many First Nations communities are relatively remote and scarcely populated, and as a result they are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to reliable and safe drinking water. In a few instances, we’ve worked with communities that have been on drinking water advisories spanning multiple years. The lack of this basic service results in myriad issues, ultimately affecting the health and well-being of the community members. The positive impact of the provision of suitable and sustainable drinking water infrastructure from our projects can’t be overstated. Often, our role supporting First Nations comes after members of the community spend many years lobbying and advocating for change. As such, these projects represent a significant milestone and achievement.

What is your approach to managing a successful team when working on remote or logistically challenging projects?

For our teams, we bring together the best specialists from throughout our One Water practice, so not only are we remote from our northern project sites, we’re also often working in different offices. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to adapt our approaches to incorporate chat and conferencing software to make sure our teams stay connected. I work closely with and delegate to each of my assistant project managers so I’m always aware of the status and technical details of each of my projects while providing growth opportunities for my staff. The project team knows I’m always available to troubleshoot any issues and find creative solutions for any concerns. I also support our teams to identify risks and scope variations so we can take immediate action. Communication is key in keeping a team motivated to provide results on our projects.

Condition assessment of a water treatment plant at Garden River for the Little Red River Cree Nation.
What is your approach to maintaining positive stakeholder relationships on these complex projects?

Just like the key to running a successful project team, the key to working with multiple stakeholders on complex water infrastructure projects is communication and the development of trust. Close collaboration with all level of a Nation’s administration—from the Chief and Council to public works staff to plant operators—at the earliest stages of the project has proven critical. When key stakeholders are involved and have buy-in, they work towards making sure that the project stays successful. Ownership is an essential component.

As a project’s timeline progresses, the community’s needs may change, so I communicate frequently with them and work to find a balance between providing cost-effective timely solutions and responding to their needs. Our clients know they can count on us to provide the highest quality solutions that always take constructability and logistics into consideration.