Emily Kosmalski oversees a team of project managers at Terracon, where she manages the company’s national telecommunications program and several of the company’s largest national accounts. She is a senior associate, environmental/NEPA group manager and national account manager.
NEPA is short for National Environmental Policy Act, the 1970 law that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions. The procedure is referred to as “the NEPA process” or “the environmental impact assessment process.” FCC licensing is the federal hook that requires the telecommunications industry to comply with NEPA. An environmental, materials testing and geotechnical firm, Terracon has 4,500 employees in more than 140 U.S. offices. The company has performed work on thousands of cell sites.
The daughter of a police officer and a mother who worked several part-time jobs to make ends meet, Kosmalski grew up in Cleveland. In high school and college, she worked multiple jobs to provide for herself. She earned a bachelor’s degree after having studied in the geography program at Ohio University, and stayed for a master’s degree focused on environmental planning and impact assessment, working as a teaching assistant and as a research assistant. She graduated magna cum laude in 2006.
“Shortly after graduating, I began my career at Terracon as an entry-level environmental scientist, performing due diligence assessments on proposed cell tower sites,” Kosmalski said. “During my first several years, I said yes to virtually every opportunity that came my way. I did not turn down any chance to learn a new skill set or work on a new project.”
When Terracon’s NEPA manager left in 2012, Kosmalski’s work ethic, wide range of project experience and education earned her the position.
“I became the contact for the majority of our telecommunications clients and began overseeing a staff of project managers,” Kosmalski said. “I also became responsible for one of Terracon’s largest national accounts. With just six years of experience, I was one of the youngest staff members to be given such responsibility.”
When she became pregnant with her first child last year, Kosmalski said, many people told her that she would never be truly happy unless she left her job— that achieving work-life balance as a new mother in a high-performance consulting job would be impossible. “I was told to just forget it — I might as well quit for a few years and come back later,” she said. “This feedback only fueled my desire to prove everyone wrong.”
How She Did It
In the months leading up to maternity leave, Kosmalski detailed every aspect of her job and chose a team to take over her various roles based on their talent and work ethic and her positive experiences working with the team members.
“When the day of my departure came, I was fully confident that all aspects of my job would be covered,” Kosmalski said. “Not only did my team deliver, they far exceeded expectations. Having a successful replacement team on the job meant I could ease my way back into work when I returned and take on my old responsibilities back as my capacity allowed. Without this team in place, my departure from and transition back into work would have been painful at best and disastrous at worst.”
Kosmalski’s university, personal and working lives intertwine with her husband’s. The two joined forces and dominated every class together almost immediately after meeting during their freshman year of college, she said. They took the same undergraduate and graduate classes and worked several jobs together. At Terracon, they are co-group managers, with offices just doors from one another.
“My husband played a vital role in the past two years while I was pregnant and during the first year of raising our child,” Kosmalski said. “I cannot imagine the struggle of a single mother trying to raise a child and put food on the table. Having a partner who could help take care of things at home was invaluable. One of the reasons I was able to successfully return to work. I am fortunate to have such a partner in both business and life.”
The single most significant barrier to female leadership is the lack of affordable day care, in Kosmalski’s view. She said that the more children a woman has, the less chance there is that she will return to work. “Even a single child can result in a woman staying home if her earnings don’t outweigh the cost of day care,” she said.
Kudos to Mentors
Numerous famous women inspire Kosmalski, she said, but withAGL Magazineas a telecommunications publication in mind, she named Robin Haeffner, a now-retired NEPA compliance leader with Verizon Wireless, as a source of inspiration throughout her career.
“Robin was a strong leader,” Kosmalski said. “She knew the regulations backwards and forwards, worked hard and stood with the best of industry’s regulators and stakeholders. When Robin led a meeting, there was no question who was in charge. But most important, she commanded respect for all the right reasons. When she opened her mouth, you knew she was the smartest person in the room, and it made people sit down and listen. That is what I aspire to be in my career. When I speak, I want people to view me as a knowledgeable resource who can provide trustworthy guidance.”
Throughout her working career, Kosmalski said, she has witnessed many powerful female role models in the telecommunications industry who gave her a snapshot of exactly the woman she wanted to be. She cited the guidance and mentorship of those who came before her as absolutely invaluable. “I am fortunate to work in an industry with so many inspiring leaders,” she said.
“When you are receptive to others, you’ll find that every person in your work journey can be a mentor in one form or another,” Kosmalski said. “I have learned as much from a college student fresh out of school as I have from a 30-year industry professional. My employees and teammates are often my greatest sources of inspiration. It’s important to seek out knowledge and perspective anywhere it is offered and not discount someone based on age or experience.”
Kosmalski said that she has found that many people often are afraid to open themselves and their careers to outside help. She said it appears that they feel a need to be the one who is needed and not let anyone else help. In the case of women, this can sometimes be attributed to an element of fear that there is only so much room at a table of men, and thus, women have to fight for their place, she said. As a result, she said, instead of building up others around them, some spend time only building up themselves.
“What I have found is that a far richer career is based on lifting up those around you,” Kosmalski said. “When you provide opportunities and welcome outside involvement, you are not just making your own life easier, you are enriching the careers of others. You are providing opportunities and allowing people the chance to achieve their own success.
“This is how a trustworthy team is created. Work-life balance as a working mother in a fast-paced industry like telecom can truly be achieved when you have a fully functioning, dependable and successful team in place,” she said.
Q: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
A: I try to give employees freedom and latitude to make their own decisions. The idea is to give people a larger framework of rules in which they must operate, but give them great freedom within that frame. This enables a more creative thought process.
Q: What are characteristics that every leader should possess?
A: Leadership and failure are fundamentally connected. Learning to embrace failure as a positive step toward growth is a defining characteristic of leadership. An iconic quote from Michael Jordon really hits it home: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Q: What is a behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
A: Ego and anger.
Q: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
A: The continuous setting and achieving of new goals is key for growth as a leader. A current career goal for me is to obtain my American Institute of Certified Planners designation. To that end, I am reading books, studying materials and immersing myself in the current trends of environmental planning.
Q: What do you like to ask other leaders when you get the chance?
A: I am interested in how other leaders start their day. So when I can, I ask “What is your “morning routine?” Morning routine is a simple defining characteristic of leaders. It has been found through numerous studies that great leaders all have a consistent ritual that helps them start their day on the right foot. The routine itself differs, but having one seems to make all the difference.”
This article ran in the June 2019 issue of AGL Magazine.