Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For making the right connections—and growing from them

After a decade at telecom giant Telstra and now as a leader at National Australia Bank, Andrew Walters has become convinced of one simple truth: Projects are all about people. Whether the task at hand is a stubborn deliverable or helping others reach their potential, the one must-have skill, he says, is the ability to forge strong relationships: “Regardless of the rate of technology change, we’ll always be working with people.” Here are three core strategies that Walters has relied on.

  1. Be first in line.

    “It’s important to look for new roles and skills in the workplace. Finding and building those is often a case of raising your hand and being the first to step up. For example, straight out of college while I was working in England, I was really keen to get into workshop facilitation and training. So I shadowed the current trainer, learned how to do it and then got to the stage where I would say, ‘Can I take this module?’ ‘Can I take this half of the day?’ And gradually the other person learns that you can do it and begins to rely on you. It’s about being really proactive—both in regard to identifying what kind of skills you want and figuring out how you can get them. If it takes extra hours or having to really bust your gut, well, so be it—because it will pay off down the track.”

  2. Know thyself.
    “Early in my career, I reached out to an experienced colleague who had an amazing career, working for a big, multinational corporation. I wanted to chat about career direction and what would be the best MBA to earn. We had a coffee, and it was fascinating because I had expected her to recommend, ‘Do this MBA’ or whatever. Instead, she tried to get me to understand myself first—what I’m about, what I want to achieve and what personal challenges I had to work through. That helped my career more than anything. She totally changed my whole trajectory.”

  3. Stir the networking pot.

    “A lot of people think networking is about making friends or having beers or coffees. But you want to build a genuine working relationship, not just a social one. It’s about making the effort to meet people and finding a way to demonstrate how you can help them deliver on an outcome. It’s also important to mix it up so your network and mentors change over time. As you build new skills and experiences, your network and mentors should evolve and grow as well.”

“Regardless of the rate of technology change, we’ll always be working with people.”

Q&A: Andrew Walters on relationships, coaching and remote working 

What project most influenced you personally?

The internet—say no more.

What’s the most influential project you've worked on?

A program to help young people to build skills and gain employment in West London.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Coaching and helping others to achieve their goals. A lot of people have helped me over the years, so it’s nice to help others in return.

What is your mantra for leading projects?

Develop and support your people.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

Project teams and individuals will be even more comfortable with remote working.