Heather Benfield, Project Manager of the Month, on Managing Complex Environmental Projects in California
Heather’s leadership fosters a culture of learning, excellence, and safety, ensuring outstanding project outcomes.
David Bohmann, Unit President
Heather Benfield is Tetra Tech’s April 2023 PM of the Month. She has over 27 years of professional experience with expertise in remedial investigations, feasibility studies, human health risk assessments, remedial action design and implementation, and regulatory compliance.
She has built a consistent reputation since starting her career as a staff engineer at Tetra Tech 27 years ago. She currently manages environmental consulting programs for the Port of Los Angeles, Port of Long Beach, and a Hollywood studio, and manages Tetra Tech’s environmental consulting and engineering design contracts for NASA/JPL.
Heather earned a Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Economics from Vanderbilt University. Heather is a registered Professional Engineer in California.
“Heather’s exceptional project management success and commitment to excellence are truly remarkable, which is apparent in the performance on her 60 active projects and her list of very satisfied clients,” said David Bohmann, Unit President. “Her meticulous attention to detail, proactive approach, and dedication to continuous improvement set her apart. Heather’s leadership fosters a culture of learning, excellence, and safety, ensuring outstanding project outcomes.”
What impact do your projects have on the environment and communities you work in?
Although the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach are industrial complexes, they are in coastal environments, so our environmental assessment, risk assessment, and remedial design projects help protect human and ecological health and the Pacific Ocean.
We incorporate Port of Los Angeles and California Air Resources Board (CARB) air quality requirements into design specifications to reduce air emissions from heavy equipment. We require soil stockpiles and offsite hauls of impacted soil to be covered to reduce impacts to neighboring communities. We have implemented in-situ remedial technologies, which are less energy intensive than other alternatives. We utilized a solar power generator to power a Tetra Tech field office instead of a diesel-powered generator. For a JPL project, we designed a tortoise fence to protect desert tortoises from entering the construction zone and becoming injured.
What is your approach to managing a successful project team?
Routine and clear communication with the project team and the client are key to managing successful projects and programs. I routinely spend time teaching junior staff by not only providing a workplan but also providing the project rationale. Successful project execution requires the team to know not just the “what” and “where,” but the “why” to understand the project on a higher level: what are our client’s goals, why the work is important, and how our work will be utilized. Whenever possible, I bring team members to meetings and give credit to the team in front of the client. Finally, I prioritize safety for all my project teams, not only for field programs, but for the office as well, especially during our recent department relocation.
How do you maintain client satisfaction across a variety of complex projects?
In my experience, maintaining client satisfaction is based upon three main qualities: trust, communication, and on-time, within budget, high-quality deliverables.
Building trust takes time, and I am fortunate to work with many clients I’ve known for over a decade. I’ve always viewed our role as consultants as providing solutions and helping clients, so when a project has a hiccup, my number one rule is to immediately communicate and discuss potential solutions with the client. Our clients have their own management to answer to, so it’s crucial that they know I have their back and that I’m in the “trenches” together with them. Trust and communication are linked. To build trust with a client, you must proactively and honestly communicate with them.
Meeting the client’s schedule, costs, and providing high-quality deliverables is key to client satisfaction. It’s not an easy task, but it starts with communication during the scope and budget development to find out what’s most important to the client. Clients know that I’ll take a deep dive, thoroughly reviewing the work product for accuracy and completion before it gets into their hands. Not only do I review the summary, conclusions, and recommendations, but I also verify that the drawing scales are accurate and read the title sheets word for word on engineering design projects before submittal.