Urgent Focus on Leadership Required for Future of Industry

In October, I was fortunate to be selected by SPE International to attend a leadership training course organized by the Emerging Leader Alliance Project, an association of top professional engineering societies, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For the three SPE young professional members selected, the 3-day course was a great opportunity to meet and network with a wide range of engineering professionals from different industries. It was interesting to note that we are all facing the same challenges in the 21st century and beyond in terms of the development of young professionals to take up the mantle of future leadership.

We discovered that leadership is the art of influencing people to accomplish tasks and improve organizations, and that it starts with technical excellence, as promoted by the Engineering Founder Societies. The imperatives essential for effective leadership are: change, vision, and style.

John Kotter, in Leading Change, proposes that the biggest mistake leaders can make when trying to change their organizations is to forge ahead without cultivating a sense of urgency in the people responsible for making the change happen. Other important leadership skills, according to Kotter, include the ability to communicate effectively, to share a clear vision, and to anticipate problems.

We learned that to involve others in the process of creating a sense of urgency, it is important to spend time exploring others’ views and gathering input. We also discovered that it is a terrible thing to see and have no vision (Helen Keller); that the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it (Michelangelo), and that Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world (Joel A Barker).

We also discussed relationship styles, ranging from sympathetic and expressive to technical and bold, and the fact that success comes from honoring these different styles.

Attendees also looked at the importance of coaching and motivation, discussed guidelines for dealing with a range of negative behaviors, and examined the traditional theories of motivation.

On team-building across generations, we learned it is important to understand what different generations of people really want, as this will help us to lead people effectively and achieve results. Communicating effectively and finding common ground across the generations helps maintain a healthy workplace. When working with global teams, too, the key to success is effective communication and understanding the cultural differences.

We then looked at various risk management techniques and examined a model of responsible stewardship, as laid down by the International Council on Mining & Metals. The key business drivers over the next decade will be globalization, technology, workforce demographics, rate of change, new business risks, and sustainability, and the critical success factors will be knowledge management, flexibility, segmentation, transparency, integration, and risk management.

Participants also examined social responsibility, ethical decision making, and the principles of cost-benefit analysis. Finally, we covered critical thinking, which requires us to approach problems, questions, and issues in a way that is clear, precise, accurate, relevant, consistent, and fair.

Emerging Leader Alliance Project Members


AIME – American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers

AIChE – American Institute of Chemical Engineers

ASCE - American Society of Civil Engineers

ASME – American Society of Mechanical Engineers

SME – Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration

AIST – Association for Iron and Steel Technology

TMS – The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society


Mission: to provide an interdisciplinary community of learning for engineering and scientific professionals, promoting the development of great leaders to guide our professions in addressing the needs of people in the 21st century.


Anthony Onukwu is a petroleum engineer with Eclipse Petroleum Technology UK. He is the Deputy Editor–in-Chief for TWA and a member of the SPE International Young Professional Coordinating Committee.


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