KNOWledge/ Leadership for Water Security - Where to Start?

by Wouter T. Lincklaen Arriëns, Program Director and Leadership Coach of the International Water Leadership Program


The lack of water security in our world today links together the global and local risks we face from food and energy security and climate change. It has a profound impact on economic growth and human security. Our challenge to increase water security is therefore not just a technical water sector issue, it is a societal one, as pointed out by the Global Water Partnership. Encouraging other sectors to consider water in their policies and planning is the only way to ensure water security. This means a paradigm shift for water professionals, as the need for leadership at all levels is now recognized.


In our paper Exploring Water Leadership, Uta Wehn de Montalvo and I explain how the growing lack of water security has already “prompted high-level attention in governments, board rooms and civil society forums to explore how to lower these risks through collaborative partnerships and by breaking the silo mindsets of business-as-usual improvements within sectors.”


Water is, by and large, still managed in institutional silos. A host of government agencies struggles to collaborate and coordinate their work. The private sector is keen to play a bigger role. Yet the public and private sectors and civil society have yet to synergize their forces at the scale needed. More often than not, government staff lack the knowledge and confidence how to work with the private sector and civil society, and the reverse is also true. This makes it difficult for government-corporate-society partnerships to get off the ground and deliver a new generation of projects that increase water security.


Government and business leaders meeting at recent water summits have agreed overwhelmingly that communication is the main constraint for public and private sectors to work more closely together. Few leaders have bridged these divides to date, so people continue to work in isolation within their own camps. Yet, as we have seen, more than the usual finance, technology and training are needed to make a difference.


“When the world around us is changing, we cannot expect better results from doing more of the same. To lead, we need to transform first.”


Working with a new paradigm to transform first rather than doing more of the same, individual leaders who aspire to make a difference can expand their leadership abilities and discover how to influence people, resources, and results. Team leaders and project leaders can learn how to motivate staff engagement, to trust others enough to delegate tasks based on strengths of the members, and to reach out more effectively to project partners and stakeholders with different views and vocabulary. And executive leaders can learn how to help their organization lean into the future and prepare for change.