The Business of Surveying, Part 1

July 1, 2005
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"He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." - Minister Harold Wilson

The professional status of surveyors has interested me for most of my 16 years of surveying. Early on in my career I discovered aspects of surveying that intrigued me, like digging into historical documents to resurrect the intent of an original deed. This often required the understanding of many federal and statute laws, and also required the ability to decipher intent and to apply geometric calculations-all in an attempt to follow in the original scrivener's footsteps. I learned quickly that, to be a professional surveyor, one must be an intellectual person: someone who can command many different disciplines while holding ethics paramount. And this intellectual person must place higher priority on his professional judgment than the need to make a quick buck. I also came to understand that most outsiders to the surveying profession are unaware of the various types of knowledge it takes to correctly interpret records for the purpose of retracing a boundary. I discovered that a person who commits himself or herself to this profession will have to grasp knowledge in a vast number of categories including mathematics, measurements in space, technology, history, rights of way, easements, boundaries, property rights, legal descriptions, geodesy, riparian rights, photogrammetry, land planning, routes, construction layout-and even the Public Land Survey System, ranchos, land claims and homestead entries. The person I envisioned to undertake such various tasks physically looked much like Sherlock Holmes, with a field suit, pipe and a ready response to his assistant's questions. Indeed, a surveyor works in both the office and the field, must communicate with clients and the general public, and may represent findings in a court of law. To my dismay, this image of professionalism is not what I found in many cases.

At a client relations course at a surveyors' convention, an instructor from outside the profession explained how communicating with her grandchildren had helped her develop ways to communicate to a variety of audiences. She asked a PLS and business owner in the audience what he thought about the concept she was trying to convey. He smiled and replied, "I wouldn't know, I don't sleep with grandmas." Wow, I thought, I'm embarrassed to be in the same room with this guy. And I'm sure others there were, too. While many surveyors harp that they want to be treated as professionals, some are showing the public an unprofessional image. I believe we need to apply some quality control techniques not only to our plats, but also to how surveyors are presented to the world.

Knowing What We Don't Know

After many years of managing surveyors I've found one of the hardest things for people to admit is that they don't know something. This fact first hit home with me when the company I worked for purchased GPS equipment. Having no formal education in geodesy or GPS at that time, I called a GPS professor at the Oregon Institute of Technology for some expert guidance. I scheduled an appointment with him and met him on campus a few days later. As we walked up the steps toward his office, I explained my need for guidance in learning geodesy and GPS to him. He said, "Randy, you're ahead of most of the profession." I gave him an incredulous look and asked, "Why's that?" "Because you know what you don't know," he replied with a smile. I found this remark to be one of the more solid truths I've learned in my years of surveying. Do I command all the qualities required to be the professional I want to be? Hardly. But I know that I don't know it all and therefore, I can continue to grow. We can all learn together but first we have to know where we are. Most surveyors I talk to don't hesitate to tell me exactly how much surveyors know and how little everyone else does.

Unlike many surveyors, however, I don't see a lack of professional status due to a lack of surveying education. Surveyors have no lack of technical skills. Today some states require a four-year degree for licensure and most states have specific statutes to regulate our work. Current curriculums contain a plethora of technical classes to enhance and advance surveyors' competence in surveying. But, where are the courses to teach surveyors how to communicate well with others? John Maxwell, one of the world's top leadership experts, says many educators typically make their subjects too complicated, while effective communicators make complex subjects easy to understand. In one of his popular seminars, Maxwell says, "I put the cookies on the bottom shelf." This means he makes the laws of communication simple and easy to implement in today's world. And he does; he develops excellence through developing simple habits. Likewise, Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Thus, it is possible for surveyors to develop simple habits that will allow them to become excellent and respected professionals.

Learning Professional Traits

Years ago, I began studying what it takes to be a professional. My definition differs slightly from what you'll find in Webster's dictionary. I believe a professional is not only a person who is highly learned in his or her field, but who displays integrity and the ability to lead others. After all, a variety of technical staff and the public look to the professional surveyor for guidance. There are certain characteristics that quality leaders possess. My goal in this series of articles is to identify the characteristics other than surveying knowledge that surveyors need to possess to be professionals. These traits include character, integrity, leadership, and good communication and appearance.

My hope is that each reader will work to personally develop in these areas. Implementing or enhancing these traits will show the outside world what being a professional surveyor is all about. In my mind, a professional surveyor is not only knowledgeable about surveying's past, present and future, but also combines the character, and communication and leadership skills to respectably serve the public. Our profession has a proud heritage of great leaders who were also surveyors. Many a surveyor points out that greats such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were surveyors, but I think we miss the fact that these people were not only surveyors but also great leaders. The real obstacle that prevents us from developing along the paths of these icons is believing we already know it all. Well, guess what? We don't. Once certain admirable and desired characteristics have been identified, I will focus on how each of us can interweave them into our own practice. With that, we can help others develop and grow, and give what we've learned to the next generation. My ultimate goal is for these articles to raise our awareness of who we are and how we can become what we want-not by educating the public about the nuts and bolts of surveying, but by portraying what it is to be a professional and a surveyor.

This is an introduction to a six-part series to be published in future issues.

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