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Public Roads - Jan/Feb 2009

Jan/Feb 2009
Issue No:
Vol. 72 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Internet Watch

New Tool Introduced by the Environmental Competency Building Program

by Alicia Sindlinger

Developing and maintaining the knowledge and expertise of transportation and environmental professionals is essential to delivering environmentally sustainable transportation programs. With this in mind, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) created the Environmental Competency Building (ECB) Program to support professional development opportunities in the transportation and environmental disciplines. In line with its mission, the ECB Program recently released the Competency Navigator, an online resource designed to assist transportation professionals in identifying recommended competencies for key environmental and technical areas and linking them to specific tools and resources related to those competencies.

The Competency Navigator was developed by a Steering Committee of transportation and environmental stakeholders, including representatives from FHWA and State departments of transportation, private environmental and transportation consultants, and other Federal agency liaisons. Working from core competencies identified by FHWA, the committee looked at a broad audience — from top-level managers to staff working in the field — to determine the range of competencies that come into play.

According to Committee Chair Lamar Smith of FHWA's Office of Project Development and Environmental Review, the group focused on identifying the skills needed to ensure that workers are equipped to handle the demands of their positions. "There was recognition that training and professional development at a personal and institutional level are extremely important, and that college does not always provide the training needed to do the job," Smith says. Further, he adds, the committee sees the tool as a means to point out areas where training and development are needed and to help influence the marketplace to fill those gaps.

Environmental Competency

Environmental competency refers to the knowledge and skills needed to perform specific technical or legal obligations in the transportation planning and delivery processes. Delivering a sustainable transportation program involves a range of knowledge for transportation planning, from ecology and biology to historic preservation. The degree of competency required often varies by discipline and professional role.

The Competency Navigator helps individuals in different disciplines find tailored recommendations for the degree of proficiency they should strive to achieve. Specifically, the tool customizes its recommendations around nine disciplines or roles in the transportation and environmental professions, including senior level managers, project managers, environmental specialists, planners, right-of-way specialists, design engineers, construction and maintenance staff, legal staff, and civil rights professionals.

Using the Competency Navigator

When a user selects his or her profession, the Navigator generates a specific list of environmental competencies recommended for that role. The competencies then are sorted into three levels of understanding specific to that profession. The levels of understanding are (1) awareness, or a general familiarity with the subject area or skill; (2) general understanding, or the ability to apply broad knowledge to situations likely to be encountered and to recognize significant deviations; and (3) technical proficiency, or demonstration of a high degree of knowledge or skill in a particular area. Recommendations for technical proficiency are reserved for the competencies that are most critical to the role of the user.

Classification by level of understanding tailors the opportunity for professional development and discipline-specific resources and information to individual users. For example, if a project manager were to use the Competency Navigator, he or she would find that it recommends awareness of issues such as coastal resources and sampling techniques and procedures, general understanding of issues such as community impact analysis and land use, and the most critical technical proficiency for issues such as context sensitive solutions and interagency contact and coordination.

In addition to helping professionals identify key areas of environmental competencies important to their jobs, the Competency Navigator serves as a centralized source of up-to-date resources and information organized in a user-friendly manner. Currently, the Navigator includes more than 1,100 listings of trainings, seminars, workshops, research materials, and other Web-based resources, and will be updated continually with new information. "The Navigator is a mechanism, a resource, and a way to assist us in meeting the overall goals of the ECB Program," Smith says.

FHWA encourages environmental and transportation professionals to explore the tool and provide feedback on its functionality and format, and the quality of information available. According to Smith, the committee is relying on the transportation industry to "help us build it, maintain it, and keep it going."


The main page of the Competency Navigator features graphic icons representative of various positions.


To use the Competency Navigator, visit For more information on the ECB Program, visit or contact Lamar Smith at 202-366-8994 or

Alicia Sindlinger is a contributing editor for Public Roads.