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What the Oil & Gas Industry Needs Now: A Focus on Leadership

By Robyn Brown

As expected – one topic dominated conversations at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston recently. For many attendees, the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico several weeks ago brought home the risks and challenges associated with upstream oil & gas operations and led to questions about measures to stop the oil leak and even the future of increased offshore drilling in the U.S. BP chief executive Tony Hayward has been at the forefront of BP’s crisis communications response, throwing the company’s full weight of resources at the problem.

The offshore spill is just one example in a series of challenges the oil & gas industry is currently tackling. The list also includes changing and highly debated energy policies, prolonged economic volatility and uncertainty, and a workforce in flux. How industry leaders respond to the changing energy environment and to unforeseen crisis will determine who comes out ahead. It will require leaders who can embrace change and overcome failures, those who are willing to be questioned and demonstrate vulnerabilities – all with passion, focus, and strategic thinking.

Brooks & Associates client SMU Cox Executive Education was at OTC this year to discuss critical leadership gaps existing in the industry today, new dimensions of leadership development brought about by industry volatility and change, and new outreach developed by SMU and the American Petroleum Institute (API) to address these needs.

In discussions with media attending OTC, SMU and API shared their ongoing and aligned commitment to training and leadership development and the changing nature of leadership skills being requested by industry players. To get ahead, the industry is counting on an emerging generation of leaders with knowledge and skills that go far beyond technical know-how. The industry will require leaders who can lead people, make money and grow an organization strategically in a continuing period of volatility.

Finding and retaining top talent will be the key to future success. According to SMU Cox’s most recent annual CEO sentiment survey, conducted in collaboration with D CEO magazine, respondents identified “attracting and retaining good employees” and “developing good leaders” as among their top three challenges. Upcoming SMU and API leadership programs, including ‘Developing a new generation of oil & gas leaders’, will provide balanced financial and leadership development opportunities that the oil & gas industry of the future will require.

As the media continues to examine the actions and words of BP and its executives, the oil and gas industry will look to the Gulf spill as a case example. How will industry leaders manage future risk, reassure its workforce and face political scrutiny going forward? Time will tell, but a focus on leadership development is a definite must.