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Know Yourself: James Rowe – self-development and personal growth challenges


In this second chapter of a seven-part series on the characteristics of effective leadership, South Australian IQA member and Groundwork Plus director James Rowe recounts his experiences of developing leadership credentials in the quarrying industry, as told to mentor Mike Cameron.

In my book The Emerging Leader, I offer the following brief explanation for Know Yourself:

Confident leaders apply their strengths judiciously and work on their personal growth and development. They appreciate the value of life-long learning and self-discovery.

The Seven Core Characteristics of Effective Leadership

As previously mentioned, the Institute of Quarrying Australia has invited me to present a monthly story or practical example, based on one of the seven core characteristics of effective leadership (see Figure 1).

Rather than write all seven of these scenarios, I have chosen to invite a number of people from a diverse demographic, and a number of industries, to write about their experiences. I hope you will find these stories both enlightening and of real interest for you personally, regardless of your current role and future career aspirations.

The second scenario comes from James Rowe, a Director of Groundwork Plus, based in South Australia, who has selected Know Yourself for his story from the earliest stage in his career to his current position as an effective leader.

Although James Rowe hails from a lineage of quarry managers, he believes it took him nearly two decades to fully realise that his career also lay in the quarrying sphere.


I was lucky enough to be “born” into the extractive industry with both my father and grandpa holding Quarry Manager certifications in South Australia and the Northern Territory in past generations. I remember my early childhood days were spent playing at the sand quarry at Rowland Flat (formerly Monier, Amatek, Rocla and now Hanson). As kids, we were able to play on sand stockpiles, ride motorbikes over the hundreds of acres of land and swim in the various silt retention dams! (Yes, I know how that would be seen in today’s world by both our industry regulator and the multinational corporations.)

After finishing school I worked at the very sand quarry mentioned above but I wasn’t sure of the idea at the time.

In the decade that followed, I chopped and changed many positions while working in wineries and on the vineyards prior to mining luring me back to the extractive industry in the mid-2000s.

I was working in the Kimberley, Western Australia, at that time, and was loving being back on the machines as a general operator. I got to know more about myself and really began to appreciate what I wanted to do in regard to a career in quarrying and/or mining.

I moved back to the Barossa Valley where I took on the role of a machine operator at Penrice Quarry & Mineral, prior to being approached to join their drill and blast crew. I thoroughly enjoyed this position since science and maths were back in my life and I was challenged. This was weird because as a teenager I hated study and study didn’t really like me! However, I took every opportunity to learn from this point forward.

After successfully completing a Certificate IV in Surface Extraction Operations at Box Hill Institute (BHI), in Victoria, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to further my studies through BHI’s year-long Diploma of Surface Operations Management program. Mike Cameron, who was the course facilitator, certainly challenged us all from a technical standpoint, due to his past quarry management experience and the expertise associated with shot surveying and design, drill and blast detonation, bulk explosives and the “rock on ground” initiative through ICI Explosives (now Orica).

I gained accreditation and was appointed to manage Penrice Quarry and Mineral which, at its peak, employed 67 staff and extracted about three million tonnes of rock per annum.

While studying throughout 2012, I was given the opportunity to attend the IQA’s Young Members Network tour of Hong Kong and China. It was an awesome trip, with like-minded people who loved our industry and who strived for ongoing training and their own development. Some of these people have become life-long friends and, as a result of the trip, I was introduced to the Groundwork Plus family through Tegan Smith.

In 2014, I began a phase of serious career growth and development, as a result of being invited to join Groundwork Plus, with my working focus being on South Australia. I had an office, a car, a laptop and a phone but no clients. However, although I was very scared of my own future and the company’s prospects, I was confident that together we could build something special.

Wind the clock forward to early 2021 and we now have 10 staff in South Australia and we have opened an office in Victoria. So we now have the opportunity to further grow our business, with the support of our growing staff members and the actioning of additional training and development plans as, once again, we take on the new challenges that each opportunity will bring.

Why have I related this story – and what does it all mean? I was asked to review one of the seven core characteristics of effective leadership. I have chosen “Know Yourself”. I hated school, I was not a scholar in any shape or form and it took me nearly 15 to 20 years after I left school to really work out what I wanted. I needed to get to “Know Myself”.

Today, as we (Groundwork Plus) build our business and invest in our employees, we appreciate that some staff may not yet have quite found “Themselves”. However, we now have an opportunity to assist and encourage our employees to look outside the box, work on their personal growth and development, and identify areas of interest – not just in work but life as well.

At the same time, as an innovative and forward-thinking organisation, we find that we are continually investigating and learning more about topics such as environmental management, stakeholder engagement, surveying, town planning and petrographic evaluation (among a raft of other interesting subjects).

I feel that I have yet to learn about some aspects of our industry and I’m keen to take on that challenge. However, looking back, I was very lucky. I had the opportunity to study and be guided by professionals and legends from within the industry.

I believe that the time has come to collectively encourage our staff to take a real interest in the future development and sustainability of our industry.

Members of our staff love visiting sites, meeting supervisors and quarry managers and understanding more about how an operational quarry ticks. On the flip side, for example, operators are interested in learning about how we go about securing an approval for their site. Cross-learning opportunities are important and should be promoted as staff appreciate having the opportunity to learn and grow, as I have been lucky to do. •


James Rowe is an IQA member and a director of Groundwork Plus, based in Adelaide. Email:

Mike Cameron is an IQA member and the principal of Strategically Yours. Visit strategically.com.au

Mike will be running 4 x 90-minute online Key Account Management modules for the IQA between June and September 2021. For more information and to register, visit quarry.com.au


This article appeared in the May edition of Quarry Magazine.

More reading

Chapter 1: Seven characteristics of effective leadership

Chapter 3: Emotional Resilience: Riding bumps, dispelling doubts

Chapter 4: Chasing the bagel: Defining your vision and values

Chapter 5: Understanding and conveying the power of words

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