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Optimistic Leadership Sparkles in the American Water Works Association

 Optimistic Leadership Sparkles in the American Water Works Association: An Insight into the 2023 State of the Water Industry Report

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) recently released its 2023 State of the Water Industry report, a reflection of the perspectives of 4,123 North American water professionals surveyed between October and November 2022, the highest response rate in the survey history. 

The findings showcase an optimistic outlook among water professionals, 5.0 on a scale of 1 to 7, about the current and future water industry. 

This year marks the 20th edition of the State of the Water Industry survey, and responses continue a general six-year trend of increasing optimism about the water industry, both now and in the future. 

On that scale of 1 to 7, The current regional health of the sector, as rated by respondents, is 5.5; looking ahead to five years, the anticipated regional soundness of the water sector is 5.3. This slightly higher local optimism is likely driven by a better understanding of the water systems in the areas where water professionals work, the element of control, and the ability to support and improve those systems.

"AWWA members always amaze me," said AWWA CEO David LaFrance. "It seems like the harder the challenges get, the more confident and optimistic our members become. It's clear there are some significant hurdles in front of us – from infrastructure replacement to resource challenges to new contaminants to cybersecurity concerns – but water professionals never blink, they simply find ways to solve the problems in front of them and keep providing the world's most vital resource to their communities."

Infectious optimism is the key to effective leadership in the 2020s: inspiring and tapping into the optimism of those around you. 

As a Board Member of Yarra Valley Water and Vicwater, witnessing such optimism among our North American water industry peers is a joy. 

The resilience reflected in the report is a testament to the optimism of those in the water profession. It indicates that these professionals are aware of the water industry's challenges and are optimistic, hopeful and proactive in seeking solutions. Their optimism is not based on denial or ignorance of the problems at hand but on a solid foundation of knowledge, skill, and the belief that these challenges can and will be overcome.

Long-term drinking water supply availability, financing capital improvements, and watershed/source water protection are among the top-ranked issues facing the water sector in 2023. However, as utilities work towards more resilient, sustainable systems and operations, utility personnel feel more prepared to meet long-term water supply needs. More specifically, 54.7% are either very or fully prepared, and 29.5% are moderately ready. Utilities also signalled that they are prepared for both standard and climate-related risks, with 88% of respondents indicating they have implemented or are implementing emergency response plans, and 60% have implemented or are considering implementing a climate action plan. In a testament to this climate preparedness, Yarra Valley Water, where I serve on the Board, has been named the top-ranking water company on the prestigious Financial Times Climate Leaders list for 2023.

Furthermore, the report reveals intriguing findings from Canadian water professionals. Canadians are even more optimistic than their USA counterparts about their water sector's current and future health, awarding respective rankings of 5.4 and 5.7. 

This optimism, underlining the resilience and hopeful vision shared among Canadian water professionals, further contributes to the overall optimistic and bright tone of the AWWA report. 

In conclusion, the 2023 State of the Water Industry report shines a spotlight on the prevailing optimism in the water sector. 

Amidst challenges and obstacles, water professionals, whether in North America, Australia, or globally, are optimistic, resilient and hopeful. This optimism does not merely exist in isolation. It's shared, contagious, and influences the teams and communities these professionals serve, shaping a future that's possible and desirable.

In many ways, the 2023 State of the Water Industry report is more than a set of data and trends. It is a testimony to the spirit of water professionals worldwide, who strive to improve the world, one drop at a time. It also underscores the need for leaders in every industry to foster and harness the power of optimism, recognizing that it is a crucial driver of innovation and progress. The success of Yarra Valley Water and the optimism reflected in the AWWA survey emphasize that optimism, coupled with proactive planning and action, can genuinely lead to significant, positive transformations.

Australian Optimistic Water Leadership

In addition to the Financial Times recognition, in the last two weeks, my spirits have been buoyed by the joy and optimism evidenced in the VicWater Director Masterclass, the Intelligent Water Network's Annual Conference "The Power of Positive Disruption" and Vicwater's 2023 People Summit.  

I was particularly chuffed when the Chair of VicWater asked me to conclude my keynote speech with "Laughter Yoga." I had presented at his company's HQ on The Power of Optimism", and our concluding laughter had left an indelibly positive mark. Laughter and joy always pick up the spirits!

So too, at the VicWater People Summit, I opened with a reflection on the music of Tina Turner, who had died the night before the commencement of the Summit. We picked out the optimistic "Simply the Best", which permeated the rest of the Summit, and "Simply the Best" was included in many reflections on social media afterwards,

My fellow water industry friends, continue to let your optimism sparkle. It is a beacon that guides our industry, inspiring your peers and the communities you serve. This optimism is the key to overcoming challenges and ensuring a sustainable, resilient future for water. Keep believing, keep optimistic and keep striving to make a difference.

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