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Rebecca Hanley

Managing Director, Laing O'Rourke Australia

"Trust is having faith in another person's intent. It leads to stronger relationships, more exciting innovations and...more trust."

Rebecca Hanley is the Managing Director of Laing O’Rourke, the international engineering and construction company that delivers state-of-the-art infrastructure solutions for clients in the UK, Middle East and Australia. Rebecca brings a strong strategic and financial skillset to the role, as well as broad sector experience from previous roles in resources, oil and gas, advisory and private equity. Rebecca previously worked in strategy for Anglo American plc and in financial leadership positions. She is a Chartered Accountant with an MBA from INSEAD in Paris.

For Rebecca, trust is having faith in another’s intent and being able to predict how they will behave


Expanding on this definition, Rebecca extols the benefits of trust. “It relaxes you, allowing you to focus on more value-added items, moving beyond the transactional nature of things into co-creation. This means more fulfilling relationships, more exciting innovations and more outcome-oriented solutions.”

Major infrastructure requires a unique web of trust with disparate participants coming together to achieve complex engineering outcomes, often without the certainty of knowing exactly what’s in the ground or what’s down the track. Every significant project involves multiple partners, suppliers, community stakeholders and often government. Rebecca acknowledges that while trust is critical in construction, a lack of trust has been the norm.

“Historically the relationship between partners is contractual, which means when something goes wrong – and it inevitably does – you consider the complexity and unpredictability of long construction, all parties descend into a finger-pointing defensive position, and everything can deteriorate.”

Many misconstrue trust as “nice and fuzzy’, according to Rebecca, which compounds the problem.

“In truth, trust anchors integrity, allowing the difficult conversations, knowing you share the same intent with what you’re trying to deliver – and no one is trying to undermine anyone in that space.”

When the going gets tough, the tough start trusting


Rebecca is not alone with her ambition for change. The Australian Constructors Association has been working hard with the largest industry participants to engender trust across the supply chain so difficult conversations can be had and partners can find a solution together. This means better engagement with clients, more effective use of public funds and more success in attracting the best and brightest.

What stands in the way? It’s all about risk.

Projects can cost billions of dollars, take years to construct, and there are a host of unpredictable factors like geotechnical understandings, complex ground conditions and even climate change.

A lot can go wrong when tunnelling under a city; buildings can collapse, lives can be lost, and when a crisis hits companies can go under. Risk in an environment that lacks trust becomes something to avoid, or offload.

Since these unknowns are always present, rather than a ‘hot potato’ strategy, Rebecca believes parties should come to the table early, better understand the complexities, and talk openly to build trust and mitigate risk.

The Australian Constructors Association, supported by leaders like Rebecca, is looking at other ways to build trust for everyone’s benefit. This includes work safety so people can know their well-being is a priority. Another is liquidity in the market to free up cash to help remove friction in the payment cycle.

“We really want participants to be able to pay each other more quickly. People should trust they have a paycheck, that they can pay the next bill and there are easier ways to manage the lumpy nature of financing construction.”

10 years behind. Exciting tech ahead


Smoothing payment cycles is one of many challenges that the burgeoning investment in construction technology hopes to solve. According to Rebecca, construction tech is 10 years behind manufacturing. But the future is exciting in terms of robotics, modular manufacturing, autonomous earthworks, and greater certainty through predictive analytics, which is often the pressure point for trust.

“80% of mega projects suffer overruns, either budget or cost. So, we're trying to lean on technology to use predictive analytics to achieve better certainty, so when you set a plan, you know you're using the right parameters."

Like any industry, the age of digital brings greater scrutiny on data. For Rebecca it’s less about bots and filters and more about understanding what sits behind the numbers. “It's so important to never lose the curiosity and the analytical thinking that allows you to make the right decisions.”

Trusted decisions


Making those decisions is not about gut instinct or feeling. For Rebecca, it needs rigour and process.

“We have a ‘responsible decision-making framework’. Think of it as a balanced scorecard approach to assessing decisions in business. There are five or six lenses including a financial lens, a client lens, an environmental lens and an ethical lens. We then apply all to a challenge like a client dispute or an employee matter, and everyone involved in contributing towards the decision presents their views in an open, unguarded discussion.”

This framework encourages a ‘what if?’ curiosity, liberates people from their specific roles, and celebrates different perspectives while trusting everyone to have the right intent.

“Trust is often broken because people misperceive, miscommunicate or don’t say what needs to be said. Too often, people leave rooms with preconceived ideas about others' motives. If you can clear all that away, conversations improve substantially, and you can achieve amazing outcomes.”


The framework has created a trusted process which in turn aligns to a higher purpose: to leave behind a positive legacy and push the boundaries of service to humanity. Rebecca cites examples like not pursuing thermal coal projects, or donating fees from the bushfire clean-up to charities help rebuild communities, as decisions that didn’t just feel right, they were strategically and culturally prudent. The process and rigour of the decisions ensured everyone was comfortable. 

From two brothers to a family of 14,000


When reflecting on the company’s heritage, Rebecca talks about its strong family history and how this has encouraged employees to bring their whole selves to work. While the idea of a ‘family’ seems ambitious for large organisations, Laing O’Rourke may have a better claim than most. Formed by two brothers, this family business continues to strive to follow the values of care, integrity, and courage.

Rebecca’s leadership is all about continuing this ambitious journey which means protecting and nurturing the trust between co-workers, celebrating cultural and cognitive diversity, recognising that every voice matters and even ensuring psychological safety.

“Psychological safety wellbeing really looks at human performance. We've adopted elite sports methodologies into our executive development programs that look at how people manage their energy and how they bring their whole selves to work to be the most productive they can be.”

This focus on meaningful programs, initiatives and working policies builds trust. Rebecca references recent studies that workplaces with higher trust see a 100% improvement in energy at the workplace, improved engagement and productivity scores. “This means better retention, better engagement, better work outcomes.”

The organisation’s focus on trust reflects external ambitions. Rebecca and the team are motivated, even driven, to establish trust in the industry.



“Our strategy is to be the recognised leader for innovation and excellence. But for us to succeed, the whole industry must succeed with us. We trust that if we achieve our objectives, the whole industry will be a better place for everyone to work. It's a very different mindset to competitors in the industry, but it's that halo effect that fundamentally the industry has to change.”

Given her success so far and the energy Rebecca brings to Laing O’Rourke, an energy that radiates out to the broader industry, change is coming and trust is building. 

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