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Lea Adams Takes the Helm at Hydrologic Engineering Center

Posted on May 6, 2024

Introducing Lea Adams, appointed Director of the Hydrologic Engineering Center (HEC) on April 1, whose career trajectory reflects a steadfast commitment to growth and leadership. As a senior hydraulic engineer at the Sacramento District, Ms. Adams recognized a need for new challenges and embraced opportunities in management. Transitioning into leadership roles, including Chief of the Water Resource Systems Division at HEC, she navigated the complexities of leading teams with diverse expertise. A noteworthy experience included spearheading the National Nonstructural Committee, where Lea honed her ability to influence and collaborate effectively. With a passion for continuous learning and a dedication to her craft, Ms. Adams embodies the values of integrity and excellence that define HEC’s legacy. The following interview explores the journey and insights that have prepared her for this pivotal role at the forefront of hydrologic engineering and what she envisions for the future.

Q: How do you envision your leadership impacting HEC’s mission and objectives?

Lea: We have a tremendous team of staff and managers at HEC. I was extremely fortunate to inherit such a high-performing organization from Chris Dunn, the former Director of HEC. My immediate goal as the new Director is to work with the management team to identify a 5- to 10-year vision for our organization, then develop a plan to execute on that vision and move forward. The specifics are yet to be determined, though many initial thoughts have been expressed by both management and staff. My goal is to help us work through the potentially challenging process of defining and getting buy-in to a shared vision for the next generation of HEC excellence.

Q: Collaboration often drives innovation in the field of hydrologic engineering. How do you plan to foster partnerships and collaboration within the center and beyond?

Lea: I completely agree that collaboration is a force multiplier – I’ve learned this through direct experience and studying leadership approaches. And I think it has the side benefit of making work more enjoyable; for me, there’s nothing better than achieving a shared goal with a team. HEC recently increased its emphasis on greater internal collaboration, an initiative that started four years ago. I strongly support this direction for the Center and will encourage the team to continue to expand internal collaboration efforts where possible. HEC already has an extensive network of external collaboration partners, and I will look to both sustain those existing relationships and expand our partnering network. One aspect of successful partnering relationships is the strength of interpersonal connections, and HEC staff excel in this area.

Q: In what ways do you believe the Hydrologic Engineering Center can adapt to emerging technologies and methodologies to stay at the forefront of the field?

Lea: We strive to support a culture of innovative problem-solving at HEC – innovation is a foundational part of our mission. Many of our staff were drawn to work at HEC because they are inherently curious and creative, and we have a deep bench of innovative folks.

Several years ago, the staff provided feedback that they wanted management support to perform small, independent research projects. These internal projects are intended to explore methods and tools that hold promise for improvements in our software and engineering approaches.

The part that is the most exciting for me is the translation of an innovative idea into a practical application. I love great ideas, but I love great products and real-world approaches even more. One of the most challenging aspects of innovation at HEC is the need to constrain ourselves to only the highest priority items; we always have more interesting and promising ideas than we have time and funding to work on.

Q: The Hydrologic Engineering Center has a rich history of impactful innovations. Are there any particular areas, programs, or projects you’re eager to explore or enhance during your tenure?

Lea: Exploring what is possible for the next generation of software development is at the top of my list. The current versions of many of our software tools are more than 20 years old. HEC can best serve our customers by adopting useful industry practices and creating tools that are increasingly powerful and intuitive. We’ve been dedicated to modernizing our software development processes for four years, and I want us to keep pace with industry innovations going forward to the extent possible. This includes evaluating web-based applications, managing big data and the hot topic of the moment, Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence. The goal is to leverage relevant technology advances to create new tools and workflows to respond to USACE’s and the nation’s most pressing needs.

The other focus area for me is working with the management team to find ways to keep our workload manageable and reduce stress for our staff. In many ways, this is a more daunting goal than continuously improving our software development methods and products. It involves multiple factors: number of staff, matching staff skills to needs, sustainable funding sources, not over-committing on volume and timing of work products, multi-year workload management strategies, and more. Our careers are a marathon, not a sprint, and I want to make sure HEC has an environment that supports our staff in contributing at a high level over the long haul.

Q: As the new Director, what are your thoughts on fostering a supportive and inclusive environment within the Hydrologic Engineering Center for diverse perspectives and talents?

Lea: As the former Alternate Chair of IWR’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Council, I learned a tremendous amount about diversity and inclusion in an organizational environment, including the many reasons why those are worthwhile organizational goals. I am very supportive of investing effort into finding and hiring diverse candidates, though I’ve recently learned that fostering inclusivity is equally, if not more, important than diversity in hiring. Staff with a broad range of perspectives and backgrounds need to feel welcome and accepted so they can bring their best efforts to work. The great news is that the HEC managers have already been on this path for a long time. In my former role as Division Chief, I observed my peers making an effort to increase diversity in HEC’s staff. Is there more we could do? Yes, there always is, but HEC staff and management have demonstrated their commitment to diversity and inclusion and my goal is to continue those efforts.

Q: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the Hydrologic Engineering Center under your leadership? How do you hope to leave your mark on the center’s legacy?

Lea: 2024 is HEC’s 60th anniversary, and we have a tremendous legacy of excellence. Part of maintaining our reputation for excellence going forward will depend on our ability to adapt to change. We are heading into a period of change at HEC, and one of my goals is to ensure that the organization emerge even stronger on the other side.

I hope to leave my mark through the people and the culture. I want the organization to embrace the values of mission focus, teamwork, integrity, and kindness. I believe that the staff are the heart of HEC, and they deserve the best work environment we can create as a team.

In closing, Lea Adams’ journey and insights offer a glimpse into the dynamic leadership shaping the future of the Hydrologic Engineering Center, which is located in Davis, California. Her unwavering commitment to continuous learning, collaborative innovation, and fostering an inclusive environment underscores her vision for HEC’s continued success. As she embarks on this pivotal role, Ms. Adams’ passion and dedication set the stage for a transformative era, where HEC’s legacy of excellence is not just preserved, but elevated to new heights.


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