Soft Skills

Which Soft Skills Can Help Young Professionals Succeed in Megaprojects?

David Carpenter, Shell
Getty Images

The chance to work in an industry megaproject is a rare opportunity. These projects are exciting, fast-paced, and dynamic. Besides solid technical skills, which other skills will young professionals (YPs) need to be successful in these projects? To find out, I interviewed six YPs currently working on Majnoon, one of Shell’s largest projects. The Majnoon oil field is estimated by the Iraqi government to hold 38 billion bbl of oil in both carbonate and clastic reservoirs. The field is managed through a joint venture between Shell (operator 45%), Missan Oil Company (25%), and Petronas (30%). Production is currently around 220,000 BOPD.

The YPs sharing their experiences are Salem Alzyadi, Mohammed Mustafa Kamal, Zahraa Mohammed, Mootasem Chtay, and Safa Alsaedi. Their experience level ranges approximately from 1 year to 9 years. Their specialties are primarily in production (operations, technology, and chemistry).

Presentation Skills

It is always important to be able to present your ideas and proposals in a professional manner. Megaprojects bring the additional challenge of multiple stakeholders with differing agendas from diverse cultures. You may not have met any of the attendees in other settings and your ideas may be threatening to them. The cultural differences mean they may act in unexpected ways, which may make you feel threatened or challenged. Presentations are a key communication tool for inquiry and learning from the audience. What can you do to prepare?

Professional Courage

This attribute showed up in a number of ways throughout my conversation with the YPs. As a YP, it is important to develop your technical skills and also to show that you can apply them to improve the project. Being a technical “wallflower” who has skill but never dares to speak or demonstrate that skill will lead to an unsatisfactory career. What can you do to build your professional courage?

Communications Skills

Megaprojects usually transcend borders and multiple time zones. The staff for Majnoon are located in Iraq, UAE, UK, The Netherlands, India, and the US. It is critical that the YP get comfortable using virtual communications over multiple time zones and different cultures. What can help?

Of course, these skills are important to any professional. However, the criticality becomes magnified in megaprojects. Cultural differences are more pronounced, stakeholders are more complicated, deadlines are sharper, the stakes are higher, and the pace is faster. But the rewards are tremendous.

Ask. Industry experts identify the lack of clearly defined organizational structure and early planning as a key reason for failure of megaprojects. YPs should not allow the noncritical nature of entry-level positions to act as a reason to accept loosely defined responsibilities. They should step up and directly ask senior team members to clearly list expectations, provide the project leader timely reports on their progress, and actively ask for feedback to make course corrections.

Be Realistic. Consultants point out that megaprojects are unduly influenced by “over-optimism and over-complexity.” Past projects have shown that sometimes project managers, competing for funding, massage the data until they look affordable. Instead of being idealistic, YPs should engage in regular and rigorous “reality-check” exercises to ensure that things are on track. Any over-/under-estimations that become apparent should be communicated immediately to the supervisor.

Blast From the Past. While YPs may be at a disadvantage due to lack of experience, they can bridge the gap by actively internalizing lessons learned from previous megaprojects. In addition to data available within their company, we encourage YPs to take advantage of the excellent resources offered by SPE.

OnePetro.org has several papers related to megaprojects. A few of them are listed below:

  • SPE 162554 Executing Megaprojects and Key Lessons Learned
  • SPE 157642 Starting Up Megaprojects, Experiences With the Startup of Pearl GTL
  • SPE 103038 Keynote: Megaproject Execution

Contributed by Asif Zafar, Rita Okoroafor, and Islin Munisteri, TWA Soft Skills Section Editors


David Carpenter is the global discipline head for production technology and production chemistry for Royal Dutch Shell. He is responsible for technical standards, training, and capability development for the professionals in his discipline. Carpenter has 33 years of experience at Shell in a variety of positions and has worked in most upstream oil and gas environments, from heavy oil to high-pressure/high-temperature gas, and deepwater projects.