“In order to create change, a leader must be strong in the technical aspects of sustainability, as well as a strong diplomat, effective communicator, sincere networker, inspiring speaker, creative author, savvy salesperson, and more.”
The Bethesda, Maryland-based national construction firm counts on Kocak to be the “boots on the ground” implementer of green buildings and LEED certification. Calling herself a change agent and evangelist, Kocak says, “A successful leader in sustainability is not just an expert in one facet of their work but a well-rounded professional. In order to create change, a leader must be strong in the technical aspects of sustainability, as well as a strong diplomat, effective communicator, sincere networker, inspiring speaker, creative author, savvy salesperson, and more. A successful sustainability leader reminds me of a modern day Renaissance man, someone whose expertise spans technical, social, financial, and environmental subjects.
Kocak began her career in operations, “in my hard hat and steel toed boots,” she notes. From there, building relationships was her true strength. “My network is composed of people at various states in their careers, including students, new graduates, senior mentors, and decision makers. Networking must always be approached as a two-way street.”
She is a fan of rapid change. “I admire the US Green Building Council’s success in transforming the building market worldwide in a very short period of time. Leveraging the LEED Rating system, USGBC made a strong business case around green buildings. As building professionals, we all learned how to incorporate sustainable solutions in our work as a norm in less than a decade.”
Five steps that Kocak offers for women looking to develop leadership skills: Build your network by volunteering. Understand operations inside out. Discuss organizational priorities with peers and senior leadership—listen, do not assume. Learn what sustainability costs and when it will pay back. And don’t wait for a sustainability position to happen to you; instead, do things to build experience.
She met Native American families at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation (Montana) building a straw-bale literacy center as part of her graduate studies. Their culture and spiritual beliefs inform her work.