Tips for managing stress as a planning director

Working as planning director can be very stressful. Like other professionals, planning directors must find ways to reduce the stress of the position.

Managing a planning department can be extremely stressful. Planning departments are constantly required to tell individuals and companies what they can and cannot do on their property. Because of this dynamic, meetings can become tense and potentially violent, depending on the nature of a planning decision. In small communities, the issues may be exacerbated by personal relationships between friends and local decision-makers.

A planning director must walk the line between the political world and the administrative one. She or he must become comfortable with making sometimes difficult and unpopular decisions. In some instances, a decision may make one group happy and another very angry; re-zonings particularly have the potential to appear to create winners and losers. Some may have a stake in the current zoning and are not supportive of any changes, while another group is looking to re-zone a specific district so they can move forward with a new and different development. Pressure on the planning can and often does come from both sides of an issue.

Professionals working as planning directors must develop “thick skins”. They must become comfortable working in an environment that can be highly polarized and intense. The first action such professionals can do to reduce pressure is to understand the master plan and zoning code relationship. Many of the local planning decisions are driven be a well-thought-out master plan that sets priorities for the community.                                                                                

According to Michigan State University Extension, well-written master plans help directors make good zoning decisions. Following the master plan is like following a road map. And the more closely the map is followed, the potentially less stressful decisions can become. Secondly, directors must keep the interest of the community at the forefront of their decision making. The question should always be: “What is in the best interest in the community?”

Although defining the community’s best interest can be difficult as consistency with codes and requirements are a state-mandated consideration. Also, just as important is the need to balance work and private time. Strong personal relationships can be invaluable to reducing the challenges and stresses of high-pressure jobs. A good family life along with decisions that are made thoughtfully and consistently may be the best medicine for reducing professional stress for planning directors.

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