By Philip Reed

In May, Environmental Protection Specialist Andrea Severson received the Emerging Leader Award from RMEL in Denver, Colorado.

“The Emerging Leader Award recognizes and honors RMEL members who are high potentials in their company and have five to 10 years of experience in the industry, establishing significant contributions within their organization and have demonstrated the potential for leadership and continuing service in the electric utility industry,” said RMEL in its press release. “In the seven years Andrea has been with WAPA, she has established an excellent reputation within the organization as a leader in environmental compliance innovation and has made significant contributions to WAPA by streamlining, while also improving, environmental compliance and positively affecting major WAPA business decisions.”

RMEL is a not-for-profit energy trade association that has served the electric utility industry with a variety of education and networking services since 1903. Previously known as the Rocky Mountain Electrical League, the association officially became RMEL in the 1990s to better reflect a membership base that spans the entire country.

“Andrea is a critical part of the Rocky Mountain Environment team and routinely identifies solutions for problems that affect every department in RM,” said Environmental Manager Jim Wood, who nominated her for the award. “Andrea is also a great teammate and regularly volunteers to help others inside our group as well as staff in other departments.”

His praise did not end there.

“Andrea routinely goes above and beyond in her current role and, as a result, has received some of the highest performance ratings of RM employees in the past seven years,” he said.

Closed Circuit sat down with Severson to discuss the award.

Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m originally from Vernal, Utah, and I’m a second-generation federal employee. Both of my parents worked for resource management agencies and I knew from an early age that I wanted to follow a similar path. 

After earning my degrees from Utah State University and Kansas State University, I started my permanent federal career as a natural resource specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation in McCook, Nebraska. Because the office I was in was very lightly staffed, I ended up wearing a lot of different hats and had exposure to a wide array of resource management, environment and emergency response topics. 

It was fun to be exposed to so many things, because this helped me recognize my strengths and my interests. I was also able to grow a diverse professional network and learn about WAPA from some of my Reclamation colleagues in Denver, which ultimately gave me the motivation to apply to WAPA.

Can you explain your role at WAPA?
I’m a natural resource specialist and I’ve been in this position since 2015. My primary roles and responsibilities are completing National Environmental Policy Act reviews, Endangered Species Act consultations and overseeing RM’s Avian Protection Program.

I am part of the Environment team that ensures all of our maintenance and construction projects comply with federal environmental laws. I work with Environment, Lands, Maintenance and Construction colleagues in RM, Headquarters and other regions. We develop solutions to issues that may arise, such as reliability concerns from nesting and roosting birds, the need for project modifications to protect threatened and endangered species and helping educate federal land and resource management agencies about WAPA’s mission.

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
I’ve been part of some high-profile accomplishments at WAPA, and those are definitely exciting, but the accomplishment that I’m most happy with is helping to build a stronger working relationship at RM between Environment and Maintenance. 

It’s great when colleagues in Maintenance or Construction contact me with questions or issues they’re looking for my assistance with. I’ve helped Maintenance address wildlife damage issues, brainstormed ways to minimize environmental disturbance from projects, negotiated with other federal and state agencies to reduce timing restrictions on projects and done numerous other small things along the way that have helped to build trust, respect and confidence. These are the accomplishments that keep paying dividends over time.

How does it feel to be recognized this way by RMEL?
I’m so honored that my manager, RM’s regional manager and RMEL all saw fit to recognize someone in the environment field as an emerging leader. It feels great to bring awareness to some of the work that is done behind the scenes to help bring projects to fruition. 

What has been your experience with RMEL?
The Management, Engineering and Operations Conference that I was invited to attend to receive my award was my first interaction with RMEL. I really enjoyed the different perspectives that came together at the conference and the warm and welcoming atmosphere. 

I would highly recommend future RMEL offerings to others at WAPA who haven’t previously considered this resource. It’s a great opportunity to be a student of the industry, no matter what role you fill at WAPA.

What is your definition of a good leader?
My definition of a good leader has evolved over time, but currently I would define a good leader as someone who recognizes that everyone has something valuable to contribute, and is able to help others bring those contributions together to benefit a common goal.

As I have been exposed to more leaders and leadership styles, there are many attributes good leaders may have, but that is one key commonality. 

What is one piece of advice you have for WAPA employees wishing to grow and develop as leaders?
Recognize that there’s always more to learn. Leaders never stop growing and developing.

If you pay attention, there are opportunities every day to listen, ask questions, reflect, challenge yourself and help others do the same in a respectful, constructive way.  

Are there any other thoughts you would like to share with readers?
I’m a big believer in Brené Brown’s message of staying “awkward, brave and kind.” We can learn and accomplish so much by staying present for the awkward moments, being brave enough to ask questions and being kind to those around us. 

WAPA has given me many opportunities to do all of those things, and I know that I’m surrounded by people who are willing to do the same and keep moving WAPA forward in a positive direction.

​Note: Reed was a public affairs specialist.

Andrea Severson accepts award

Last modified on September 12th, 2023