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You may have read in the media of a resident who had her home acquired twice in two different suburbs! She had lived in her home for 46 years, having moved there when her first home was acquired for the Cahill Expressway.

To help property owners through the acquisition process, the role of personal manager has been implemented in government departments where properties are acquired for infrastructure development. In property acquisition, the role of a personal manager is to get to know the property owner, help them navigate the acquisition process and provide an experience tailored to their unique circumstances.

The role has a focus on “soft skills”. These are the skills that we are not taught in the school syllabus or in our degrees. Often, when it is given, the training of soft skills is methodical e.g.

- give a firm hand shake

- make eye contact

- stand with your shoulders straight

- If you see shoes at the door, take yours off before entering the house!

These techniques are a building block, to avoid offense and to help build rapport in what is often an emotionally charged and highly stressful situation. Those in direct contact with property owners need high emotional intelligence to not only identify and regulate their emotions, but also to identify with and navigate the emotions of the property owners.

Coming into property acquisition as a personal manager, your first job is to listen and ask questions. Through two-way conversation, a personalised experience can be implemented for each property owner. Most property owners are looking for some certainty and a clear way forward for them and their families. Having information readily available and communicating frequently alleviates a lot of anxiety. I had a conversation with an owner, who I expected to be outraged. Instead, he was fascinated by how his neighbourhood had changed since he was a young person. He was excited about the project. I learnt a lot about Sydney from that conversation.

When you understand and feel another’s emotion, you gain empathy. It is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and asking yourself, “How would I feel if this happened to me?” Having a property acquired can be overwhelming for the property owner. The skillset that a personal manger brings allows the property owner to see themselves as separate from the property and with help, plan for their future. Working from a place of empathy brings an authenticity to conversations. While one cannot say, “I understand”, the fact that you do empathise will be felt.

These are the softer skills in property acquisitions that are needed, supported by core communication and stakeholder engagement skills around responsiveness, knowledgeability, conflict resolution and influencing. Having a personal manager as part of the acquisition process removes the need for multiple conversations with different representatives. The owner knows who they can call to have their questions answered and if not, their personal manager will find them the right person to talk to.

Infrastructure is necessary as cities evolve. Most stakeholders agree to the need for infrastructure; they just wish that it was not their property affected.