From construction to energy, Prue Crawford-Flett has built her success on robust leadership and strong relationships.
For someone with a passion for building things, Prue Crawford-Flett could not have chosen a more fitting career.
She has built everything from roads to electrical infrastructure, and, as General Manager at Downer Group, she is currently focused on her most satisfying project to date: building high-performing teams to meet the demands of Australia’s rapidly evolving energy industry.
When Crawford-Flett began working in energy, power rarely hit the headlines. Today, fluctuating energy prices, advances in renewables and the debate over Australia’s energy future is putting power on the front pages.
“It’s more exciting now than it was when I started out 18 years ago,” she said.
“There’s much more complexity to it, which helps if you don’t want to be doing the same thing every day.”
A world of opportunities
It was this desire for variety — plus a natural flair for maths and science — that drew Crawford-Flett to study civil engineering at RMIT.
“It presented such a wide scope of opportunities and there were so many industries that I could go into,” she said.
“I wanted to be able to actually see what I had worked on. Today, if I drive past an energy transmission line, I say to my two boys, ‘Mum did that’. For a while, they thought I was physically building them.”
Crawford-Flett’s work in the building industry included roles at Fletcher Construction and CSR. After completing a Master of Business Administration, she went on to apply her management skills in the energy industry, working as head of CitiPower and Powercor’s national design and construction business.
During just over a decade in this role, she increased revenues to around $100 million and delivered services to key clients in the fields of electrical transmission, distribution, transport, telecommunications and renewable energy.
Crawford-Flett joined Downer in 2016. Among its key projects are the Ross River Solar Farm in Queensland, which will deliver 148 MW of renewable energy to the Australian market, and the Ararat Wind Farm, which generates electricity to power 120,000 Victorian homes each year.
“The challenging projects are always the most complex ones, or they’re ones where we have new technology, new delivery methods or new clients,” Crawford-Flett said.
“When they’re a new client, you need strong stakeholder management because relationships are key to everything.”
Beyond the fundamentals
While practical engineering skills will help graduates launch their careers, Crawford-Flett said more is required for long-term success.
“You need to be able communicate your ideas, speak to clients and to teams,” she said.
“It’s not a job where you can go off on your own.”
While engineers are known for problem-solving skills, Crawford-Flett said graduates must learn to expect the unexpected.
“Engineering and project delivery is not linear,” she said.
“You can plan for everything, but there will always be something that comes out of left field that we need to be able to process. You have to work logically through issues, problem-solve and not be afraid to seek advice from the wider team or business.”
Crawford-Flett’s experience working as both a service provider within construction and as a client in utility firms gives her a unique perspective on both client expectations and team challenges.
“Coming from a customer side, I had plenty of partners, contractors or delivery people telling me what they can do, and what they would do,” she said.
“There was nothing worse than having to sit there for half an hour listening to someone telling me how good they were without them even asking what we actually needed or wanted. You have to understand what the customer wants. At the end of the day, this business is all built on relationships.”
David MacKenzie, Downer’s Executive General Manager of Power, Gas and Communications, said that this customer-focused approach makes Crawford-Flett a standout leader at Downer.
“What impresses me about Prue is her ability to provide leadership and control to a fast-growing business with a large number of complex projects across Australia,” he said.
“It’s this deep relationship that Prue has built with our customers that continually sees them come back to her for trusted feedback and advice.”
Ben Woodman, General Manager of Infrastructure — Energy and Mining at AusNet Services, has worked with Crawford-Flett on a number of electricity transmission projects, including lines, stations and grid-scale batteries.
He said her commitment to understanding the needs of AusNet Services has ensured a successful partnership.
“Prue has the ability to put herself in my shoes and see things from my perspective,” he said.
“She’s a straight talker and her clarity is a real advantage, particularly when working through negotiations or conflict.”
In an industry largely built on repeat business, Crawford-Flett believes you’re only as good as your most recent project delivery.
“I make this clear to everyone in my team,” she said.
“Whether you’re the lone worker out in the field or the project manager, your role, in essence, is about business development, as you’re helping us to get the next opportunity.”