My career story: Sophia-Harri Nicholaou MCIWEM

Meet Environment Agency flood risk advisor Sophia-Harri Nicholaou who sits on the Early Careers Network steering group

I work in the Environment Agency’s Thames Estuary 2100 team as a flood risk advisor in London. I've been a Member of CIWEM since 2020 and am currently in the process of applying for Chartership. I also sit in the Early Careers Network steering group.

I have a BSc Geography degree from the University of Brighton and after I graduated in 2017, I started my career in the water and environment sector.

My current role is primarily supporting the implementation of the Thames Estuary 2100 plan, which is a tidal flood risk strategy for the Thames Estuary in and around London. I work specifically in asset management delivery, ensuring we're maintaining and replacing tidal defenses when required.

This is my third role within this sector. I started my career at a Lead Local Flood Authority managing surface water flood risk. My role was to review the implementation of sustainable drainage systems (SuDs).

I was in that role for two years before moving to the Environment Agency (EA) as I was interested in fluvial and tidal flood risk.

My first role at the EA was in partnerships and strategic overview, covering Southwest London. I supported the agency's regulatory and statutory consultee role, reviewing planning applications and managing flood risk activity permits. I was in that role for just under two years before progressing to my current role.

As the EA are a category one responder to a variety of environmental incidents, I also hold an incident management role as a Flood Warning Duty Officer.


A range of skills are required for my role, all the way from influencing others, leading to decision making and communicating.

I find that for my role, building and maintaining relationships is important, getting an established network set up so that you can collaborate and acquire information from others.

This skill has helped me when working on the carbon net-zero action plan for the Thames Estuary as it required a lot of collaboration between sustainability practitioners from across the business.

Influencing others is important as well, especially if you're developing new tools or introducing new processes.

For a lot of the projects that I lead on, they require formal approvals from governance boards. I do a lot of report writing and presenting, those skills are important for my role.

I was recently given the opportunity to undertake a technical leadership and development program at the EA. It was a six-month course that helped me develop a range of skills, including how to coach, mentor and influence others, and allowed me to explore different leadership styles as well.

This course really helped me in my current role. It gave me the ability to think more strategically when leading projects and how to bring out the best in others, as well as having the confidence to challenge ideas and make important decisions.


After I graduated, I was looking generally at environmental jobs and specifically in climate change due to my Geography degree. I saw a lot of roles in the flood risk sector, especially within the public sector. Once I started working at a Lead Local Flood Authority, I was aware of all the organisations within the sector and what their role and responsibility were. This made it easier to begin networking within the sector and broadened my horizons.

Our sector is dealing with climate change impacts first-hand, so are somewhat responsible protecting the country against, surface water, fluvial and tidal flooding, as well as making environmental improvements.

There is a lot of innovation within our sector, and this is something that's important for multi-functional sustainable drainage systems or flood alleviation schemes.

It is really rewarding working in this industry and ensuring that the environment is protected, and flooding is minimized, not just for the environment but for the protection of people as well.

Above all, in my current role, it has been great being involved in the ten-year review of the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan. It was the first update to the Plan since it was published in 2012. I have enjoyed working within the sustainability workstream, developing the net-zero action plan for the Thames Estuary and setting out the strategic ambition for carbon reduction.

As it's the first time we are updating the plan, there is a lot of opportunity to be innovative and creative in how we update it and how we work with our stakeholders as well.


I'm always eager to learn new skills and develop. I have enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone and learning skills that I wouldn't ordinarily be doing in my current role. For example, developing my mentoring and coaching skills so that I can encourage others with their professional development too.

I think it’s easy to become comfortable in your role, so I always try and encourage others to get out of their comfort zone so that they are ready for what comes next in their career.

As we know, CIWEM is a globally recognised organisation that champions professionalism, and so being a member has really showed me how important professional development is.

Becoming a CIWEM member has given me the opportunity to network with others and with those who are at similar levels in their career. It has also given me access to events and webinars and of course, is a stepping-stone to becoming Chartered as well.

Through my membership, I sit in the Early Careers Network steering group. This has been amazing because it's given me loads of opportunities that I wouldn't have ordinarily been given.

I have been given the opportunity to contribute to the youth takeover of CIWEM’s Environment magazine and guest edited the magazine. I've also been involved with organising lots of different events for early career professionals.

I have been a member for three years now and I am hoping to become a Chartered member before the end of the year.

My advice for early career professionals is to get experience and develop skills in a lot of different areas within the sector before you decide your specialism.

There are many ways you can be part of this sector, whether you're an engineer or an environmentalist, or you have an interest in sustainability or carbon.

Networking is important so you can understand all the different roles within the sector.

I recommend joining CIWEM’s Early Careers Network for guidance and advice about working within this sector.

Want to kick start your professional development and become a CIWEM member? Find out more here.

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