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Many make allowances for decision makers, saying some are “faking it until they make it.” However, this is the wrong default position to take when communicating with decision makers. Instead, the probabilities will be on your side if you assume they are more qualified than you.

Take, for example, the Board of Mount Pleasant Waterworks in South Carolina. It is comprised of several successful business owners, a member with expertise in risk management and financial management, an environmental consultant with a PhD, a former, long-time employee of the agency, and three current or former elected officials. The asset management program actually started more than 20 years ago at the direction of a former chairman who was experienced in medical facilities. There may be differences of opinion, but there are no weak links in the decision-making chain.

Likewise, the 15-member North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC), the official environmental rule-making body for the state, currently consists of 11 members with advanced degrees, including four engineers, four attorneys and one physician, all 15 members have advanced technical certifications, four have private sector executive management experience, five have local government leadership experience, and all 15 have credible experience in their field of practice. Some of the most recent members to complete their service include a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ), a former assistant secretary of the NC DEQ, the former general counsel of the NC DEQ, and a 20-year member of the NC General Assembly.

It is often surprising to see the number of staff doing their reports before these various commissions, overtly expressing they are “simplifying things for us.” As if somehow commissioners have all gotten dumb when they were appointed the position! No, commissioners may not always agree with staff, but they certainly understand.

So, the next time you appear before a decision maker, their inner circle, or a decision-making body, remember that it is about them and not about you. Assume the decision maker is capable of understanding – after all, somehow you are presenting to them for their approval (and not vice versa). Most decision makers are far from stupid. You may be a poor communicator. Or they may simply disagree with you.


Crosby, Rick. MPW Board Chair. “Workshop B: Getting Your Staff to Understand.” 2022 Utility Management Conference, Orlando, Florida.

State of North Carolina, Environmental Management Commission. EMC Member Bios (, accessed April 2022.

JD Solomon

JD Solomon, PE, CRE, CMRP, is the founder of JD Solomon, Inc, a company focused on project development, asset management, and facilitation for facilities, infrastructure, and the environment. His technical expertise includes probabilistic analysis, root cause analysis, risk management, and systems engineering. JD's past senior leadership roles include Vice President at two Fortune 500 companies, Town Manager for a unit of local government, and Chairman of a state environmental rulemaking commission. JD is the author of the book “Communicating Reliability, Risk, and Resiliency to Decision Makers: Getting Your Boss’s Boss to Understand.” His new book, “Communicating with FINESSE,” will be released in the Fall of 2022. JD’s education and technical credentials include a BS In Civil Engineering, an MBA from the University of South Carolina, and a professional certificate in Strategic Decisions and Risk Management from Stanford University.

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