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Working lives

David Smith, 54, is the chief civil engineer with Bechtel Water. He is based at the company's Warrington office.

Route to the job After graduation I joined the motorway design section of the North West Road Construction Unit, based in Preston. The first decade of my career was spent designing and then supervising the building of motorways, including the M62 and M66.

I spent the next 10 years as a principal engineer with Oldham Council, driving tunnels and building large underground tanks for wastewater schemes.

In 1992 I joined North West Water Engineering in Warrington as a project manager for wastewater network projects. I then spent six months in Thailand, leading a multi-national team in the design of a new wastewater network in central Bangkok.

In 1995 Bechtel bought NWW Engineering.

Exposure through Bechtel to wider horizons encouraged me to put something back into my profession and as well as taking an increasing lead on graduate and technician training, I joined the ICE reviewers team.

My next project with Bechtel was on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and for two years I commuted to London where I worked for Rail Link Engineering. As utilities engineering manager I led a group of engineers in the design of utility diversions for the biggest civils project in the country.

I am now leading the design team for the Moray Coast wastewater project, although I recently spent a month in Tokyo as bid manager on an engineer, procure and construct desalination project.

Expectations The successful completion of the Moray project is my first priority and then, with Bechtel, who knows?

My next decade could be in water or rail, or even somewhere else.

Each new project is different and requires a fresh approach. To quote the winner of this year's NCE civils graduate of the year award - himself a member of the Moray team - 'Civil engineering is an adventure'.

Hopes for the future include a stronger move towards partnering in the industry and individual efforts to sell our achievements and raise the status of civil engineers.

The reality My daily effort is directed at ensuring all on the project have clear objectives and an outlet for ideas and concerns. I have to make sure staff have the appropriate skills, are given feedback on performance and are suitably rewarded. The more tasks I do the less effective I am as a manager.

Advice We all need to encourage our technical specialists. They are the backbone of our profession, which must find ways to encourage staff to follow this path.

In my experience there are many hidden capabilities in civil engineering. Leaders should focus on finding and extending these talents and on giving staff the confidence to reach for their own potential.

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