Critical Skills for a Successful Career

You have access to this full article to experience the outstanding content available to SPE members and JPT subscribers.

To ensure continued access to JPT's content, please Sign In, JOIN SPE, or Subscribe to JPT

The recently published LinkedIn “Roadmap,” which utilized data from more than 500 million members combined with a survey of 2,000 business leaders, identified that soft skills are often more needed than hard skills. SPE recognizes that its members need to possess such skills—and more. Recently, the SPE Soft Skills Committee was renamed Business and Management Leadership (BML) to better represent the needs and missions of such skills in successful careers. The BML committee organized a panel session during the 2018 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition titled “Critical Skills for Career Success” where industry leaders provided their insights on what skills make a difference in one’s career, and how to develop and master critical skills to attain business and management leadership. The moderator of the panel was Maria Capello, Kuwait Oil Company. Panelists were Kamel Ben Naceur, ADNOC; Behrooz ­Fattahi, The EnerTrain Institute; Ford Brett, PetroSkills; Thomas Blasingame, Texas A&M University; and Janeen Judah, 2017 SPE President.

Participants at the panel included, from left: Blasingame, Brett, Fattahi, Ben Naceur, Capello, and Judah (speaking).


The key takeaway of the panel was that, no matter your position, entry-level or senior management, you must be able to manage and motivate people. Employers want and need people who can stretch out of their comfort zone and see change as an opportunity for growth and innovation. Having the ability to accept and adapt is important, because adjusting to a new environment is now part of the modern world of working.

Ben Naceur, ADNOC’s chief economist, started the discussion. He has worked in 14 countries and experienced four price cycles in the oil industry, during which he envisioned and empowered his career progression into new roles. His vision grew with every new role, allowing him to understand the importance of soft skills. Ben Naceur started his career in a technical position within an R&D organization, shifting into the applications side of the industry, supervising complex hydraulic fracture stimulations, requiring immediate decision-making and the management of people from very diverse cultural settings. Later, he became Minister for Industry, Energy, and Mines in his home country, Tunisia, a huge responsibility he accepted mainly to be able to give back to his nation. During the panel discussion, he asserted that being able to continuously adapt to new jobs, new cultures, and new languages is of critical importance—and although diverse technical skills were essential for his career, Ben Naceur credits soft skills as the “building bridges” that enabled major course changes.

“People tend to judge you for what they can see but they don’t know what is inside you, and that is precisely the part you need to pay attention to,” said panelist Fattahi, 2010 SPE President. Further, “in the logical plane of your brain, 1 plus 1 is always 2. That’s logic…but not on the emotional plane. We always tend to train for logic but we do not pay attention to the emotional system.”

Soft skills, those that connect people at an emotional level, are necessary because our brain has a very complicated structure that can be trained to process information logically, but almost always react emotionally. Fattahi emphasized that soft skills are all about training our emotional system to function in coordination with the logic-based aspects of our thinking and information processing.

Brett, the chief executive officer of PetroSkills, grounded his remarks on a key premise: “companies are people.” He explained that to sustain and build trust, as well as harness a reputation of personal and professional integrity, soft skills are critical because they are vital in building constructive relationships. To boost such skills, and to become effective and successful, you must continuously add value to your peers, to your coworkers. You need to build and nurture a network of people who will naturally support you in return.

Blasingame, a professor at Texas A&M University and the outgoing SPE Technical Director for Reservoir, gave an academic perspective, stating, “You must have the conviction that you are doing the right things, and you should have the motivation that you are going to create something and never give up.” He explained that the best way to achieve success is to invest it in yourself by making a difference in someone else’s life as well as your own. He coined his own formula for success as L3 (Listen-Learn-Lead): listen in the first year, learn in the second, and lead in the third year. “Investing in people is something you will never regret,” he said. “If you are willing to sacrifice your own success for others, you will achieve greatness.”

Judah, the 2017 SPE President, offered her 3-E idea for success: excellence, endurance, and empowerment. She highlighted that many people took opportunities (and employment!) for granted during the upswings in the oil and gas industry, but that endurance became the key differentiator in the recent downturn. Those who could manage endurance were able to find or create opportunities, and distinguish themselves with their ability to adapt, manage, and master major career turns. However, simply adapting is probably insufficient if you are not able to communicate your knowledge to others, she said. Judah asserted that “presentation and public speaking skills rank among the most important soft competences needed in the workforce” and noted that “employees today need to focus not only how to speak well to a large crowd, but how to better connect with their audience in order to present their case more persuasively.” Judah wrapped up by declaring that, “Excellence is by far the most important skill and will take you the farthest—nobody gets anywhere without hard work.”

Recent studies forecast that BML-intensive occupations will make up two-thirds of all jobs by 2030. As more processes and jobs become automated, BML skills will differentiate humans from robots. Business leaders envision that human/robot teams will be a reality in 5 years, and that subtle communication, adaptability to change, and creativity will matter most in these new hybrids. Will these be the main skills to be learned to succeed?

For Further Reading

Paul Petrone, Editor, LinkedIn Learning.

Maureen Lynch, Director of Hays Ireland.

Jennifer Juo, HR and L&D Insights Writer at Udemy for Business.

Deloitte Access Economics highlights 2018.

Critical Skills for a Successful Career

01 February 2019

Volume: 71 | Issue: 2



Don't miss out on the latest technology delivered to your email weekly.  Sign up for the JPT newsletter.  If you are not logged in, you will receive a confirmation email that you will need to click on to confirm you want to receive the newsletter.