Linea Laird oversees the state Department of Transportation’s $3.1 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. She took over last fall after Ron Paananen, the longtime project director, left for a private-sector job.
Laird already was intricately involved in the project, including overseeing procurement and development of the $1.9 billion deep-bore tunnel — a critical and risky part of the project. Digging is scheduled to start next year underneath downtown Seattle.
She’s the topic of a Q&A in this week’s Puget Sound Business Journal (subscription required). But here are some questions for her focused on management style and coping with a high-pressure job:
How would you describe your management style?
Style’s a funny thing. A style is really hard to change, but you can certainly learn about your effectiveness and behavior. The good thing about this project is it’s got a very talented and strong management team. So, this project does not run on a one-person show. While I am the program administrator, we do a have a core staff of leaders. We meet fairly regularly, a couple of time a week, as a check-in to share information.
Have I learned? Sure. Every day you are working is a learning moment in this environment.
I am probably more collaboration. But I can draw a really hard line when I need to; it’s kind of both. I collaborate really well to a point to where I am just saying no. A decision has to be made. I have a tendency to jump to decisions somehow, because you can’t afford to wait. Sometimes a non-perfect decision is better than delaying a decision. That is one thing I have learned on managing a project like this: It’s better to move on the best information available than to wait until you know everything you need to know to make it. You will be behind the game. With that said, you then analyze what you did, what could have been done differently, was there something else we should have been looking at or doing. We are always looking at that. But sometimes you make the decision on the best information at the time.
How do you unwind from a pressure-cooker job like yours?
My husband would say I don’t unwind, and when I unwind I’m asleep. My job is tiring, exhausting, it’s stressful. Having a good cadre around you of people you can depend on is really important. Having good leadership support takes a lot of pressure off of you if you can go to other folks and share. You also need to just step away a bit and rethink things.
I go to Hawaii, where I can step back and unwind. I like family time. I also like gardening. It’s a bit physical but you can also think about other things when you do it.
I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on getting more girls and women interested in science and engineering.
I actually am seeing a lot more women involved. It’s kind of funny, because I have two daughters and neither one is interested in engineering. I have one who has a master’s in accounting; another is a nurse. My son, he’s interesting in engineering Both of my daughters were good in math and science but it wasn’t their love. I think you can create the opportunities. You should start back in high school. I think you still need to stay strong in math and science, and you never are going to get away from those programs needing to be there.
And I think it is a matter of encouragement. I have never seen a barrier to a woman in this job.