What it takes to be a successful executive in the energy industry

October 8, 2012 | 00:00

What it takes to be a successful executive in the energy industry

Energy Delta Institute has published a survey that presents the results of 40 interviews held with executives of energy companies. 11 questions compose the interviews that aim to identify the most important skills and competencies required by energy executives today and in the future. The report further describes aspects that had a vital contribution to the professional development of the executives interviewed and what they believe are the best ways to develop their successors better and faster.

The interviews inquire also about the approaches currently used by companies in training and developing their employees. We aim to identify the areas of expertise where companies are looking to enrich their knowledge. The last questions of the interview focus on what companies expect their employees to gain when sending them to courses and if executives have a preference between external courses or in-house training. Finally, interviewees are asked what they believe is the most suitable path to follow in order to become a successful executive.

Some key findings

Most important skill and competencies: At present, a successful executive in the energy industry will require a solid understanding of the energy industry as a whole, as well as the function it serves in society. A clear overview of the energy value chain and of how different segments interact with one another is vital for the leaders of the industry. Besides understanding the energy business, an executive requires a comprehensive knowledge of the technical aspects of the industry and also solid commercial skills. Thus, executives must not only understand the technical processes behind their products but also the commercial mechanisms involved in delivering their products to the market. Ultimately, most executives lead for-profit organizations and must concentrate on ensuring desirable financial results.

Next to the hard skills mentioned above, an energy executive must demonstrate good vision and leadership in order to drive energy companies to success and ensure that their employees are following. Stakeholder management has become more important than in the past. An energy executive must possess both a long term perspective, in order to comprehend the long term complexities implied, and simultaneously a ‘zoom in’ capacity in order to handle the numerous variations that occur frequently in the industry on the short term.

To succeed in today’s energy industry, executives require an international orientation. The industry is a global and multicultural industry. Thus, leaders must be comfortable in multicultural environments, accept diversity and leverage on variety. Development of skills and competencies: In their own professional development, most executives regard practical experience as the most important factor. Rotating several jobs within different countries, potentially different companies and even among various stakeholders encourages the
development of an open mind and a much needed overall perspective.

Formal education such as professional courses, together with mentoring, mainly had a role of complementing the experience gained on the job by the interviewees with relevant knowledge on how the energy industry’s mechanisms interact and how a company integrates into the overall perspective.

Do different: Given a chance to go back in time and add something to their professional development, most executives would perhaps move faster in their careers. They would switch jobs quicker, be more open to different opportunities and take more risks in their careers. Many executives would also aim to complement their core expertise with competencies and more knowledge on adjacent subjects. Future skills and competencies: The skill that most interviewees expect to become of greater importance in the future is stakeholder management. As the industry becomes more central in public debate, society’s expectations towards energy companies regarding their social, health & safety and environmental responsibilities will increase significantly and future executives will be required to possess the necessary skills to manage tighter relationships with all stakeholders.

As the energy industry is moving more and more towards open market conditions, commercial skills and an orientation that places customers at the center of organizations will become crucial for future energy executives.

Many executives feel the industry is changing at an accelerating pace and an ever increasing number of challenges and opportunities are forecasted. Future leaders will require increased flexibility to face the coming trials and rapidly capitalize on future opportunities. Faster development: In order to develop better and faster, future leaders are advised to follow their predecessors’ example and change several jobs throughout their careers. To get exposed to different types of relevant responsibilities, preferably in different parts of the world, perhaps with different companies.

By concentrating the relevant knowledge and information in short education programs, formal training can play a crucial role in reducing the learning curve of future executives. An “Energy Academy” is proposed by some, a university that would provide its students with comprehensive education on all aspects of the energy industry: technical, commercial, juridical, etc.

One advice: If they could give one piece of advice regarding professional development, several interviewed executives would recommend their successors to keep an open mind to other peoples’ points of views and be flexible, and to follow opportunities even if they are not what they were expecting or hoping for.

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