By Philip Reed
In May, Civil Engineer Rebecca Afsar received the Emerging Leader Award from RMEL – formerly the Rocky Mountain Electrical League – in Denver, Colorado.
“The Emerging Leader Award is RMEL's opportunity to recognize new talent in the industry from RMEL's member companies," said RMEL Executive Director Richard J. Putnicki in his announcement. “The award honors RMEL members with five to 10 years of industry experience who are making an impact through significant contributions within their organization and the electric energy industry."
“In just a few short years, Ms. Rebecca Afsar has become a 'student of the business' here at WAPA and embodies what it means to provide excellent customer service to our internal and external stakeholders," said Vice President of Asset Planning and Management Chris Lyles, who nominated her for the award. “Her excellent customer service is derived from her leadership skills and the ability to see an organizational opportunity for improvement and to actively develop solutions using a collaborative approach."
His praise did not end there.
“She is a true leader, as she is emotionally intelligent and leads with empathy and compassion," Lyles continued. “Her passion for WAPA and our industry can be witnessed in any project or initiative she is leading."
Closed Circuit sat down with Afsar to discuss the award.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Before WAPA, I worked as a hydraulic design engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. I performed hydrologic hazards analysis for dam and canal overtopping scenarios, designed instream salmonid habitat for cold water refuge, studied the impacts of climate change on irrigation cycles and helped develop their asset management's Major Rehabilitation and Replacement Database.
I also participated in the Federal Asset Management Working Group, where I met WAPA's Asset Management program managers.
Can you explain your role at WAPA?
I am a civil engineer in Asset Management who specialties in transmission line risk assessments and asset criticality analysis. My work focuses on engineering analysis to evaluate transmission infrastructure performance and provide tools to prioritize capital investment and improve maintenance practices.
I make sure that decision makers have the information and tools they need to measure and assess equipment performance, improve maintenance practices and develop capital budgets.
How does it feel to be recognized this way by RMEL?
I want to thank RMEL for the award and Chris Lyles for nominating me. I feel honored to receive the RMEL Emerging Leader Award, and I hope to continue to grow in my leadership skills at WAPA.
It has been a pleasure working within Asset Management, whose leadership team has allowed me to take on many challenging initiatives. I also want to thank my teammates who have helped me be successful in many of our projects.
What has been your experience with RMEL?
Before WAPA, my experience was in the water industry; therefore, RMEL has been an excellent organization to learn more about power utilities.
I have participated in the Fall Conference, learning more about asset management. In March 2019, I presented at the Transmission Planning and Operations Conference. In April 2019, I presented at the Electric Grid Security Conference on Developing Graduated Physical Security Protection Levels at Substations and Communication Sites.
At these conferences, I have been able to interface with many colleagues within the industry and have learned a lot.
What is your definition of a good leader?
I believe there are so many qualities that make a good leader, so here are just a few of my top ones. First, I think they need to have the ability to recognize and understand the feelings and emotions experienced by their team. A good leader's actions are motivated by a genuine desire to help others.
Second, a good leader must imagine the future and reconcile it with current realities. A good leader will know how to bridge the gap between where the team is and where they want to be.
Finally, I believe that a good leader can bring others together for a common purpose. They help create a sense of belonging on a team and help others feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. In essence, they develop a sense of community for their team.
What is one piece of advice you have for WAPA employees wishing to grow and develop as leaders?
My advice is to find a volunteer organization where you can begin your leadership journey in a low-stress, low-stakes environment.
I was elected president of my Toastmasters club. Our goal was to maintain and improve the club environment for individuals to practice and grow in their public speaking and leadership skills. I had a team of six volunteer officers to help achieve these goals. During this experience, I learned how to communicate my vision, develop a strategy and collaborate with six individuals to set goals and achieve success. I learned how to lead meetings, assign tasks to leverage others' strengths and how to motivate others to accomplish a common goal.
It was a critical environment because it was low stress and low stakes, but it taught me so many valuable lessons. It helped me understand that I like being a leader and that it might be something I pursue in my career.
Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist.