Offshore leader training clarifies the role of leaders without staff responsibilities

DONG’s representatives on drilling rigs and ships have gained a solid leadership foundation based on CfL’s tools for leaders without staff.

Communication between DONG’s representatives and the employees on drilling rigs and ships in the North Sea has improved significantly since DONG’s so-called CoReps (Company Representatives) were equipped with new leadership tools in their work. Three teams of CoReps completed the new training programme developed by CfL in collaboration with DONG Exploration & Production. The programme has now been made mandatory for all of DONG’s CoReps.

Clarified leader role

The results are already apparent for those who completed the training programme in 2012. CoRep Anders Stjernholm, who has 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, gained a much clearer understanding of his CoRep role on the drilling rig: “Previously, I was expected to know everything, which is obviously impossible in such a big and complex operation involving so many subcontractors and technical fields. We have to optimise performance through leadership of the rig, instead of optimising performance by knowing everything and doing everything ourselves. We have to get the different teams from about 15 different companies to work together and optimise the rig’s performance. In the past we were also expected to be responsible for safety. But in reality, our main responsibility towards safety is the calm oversight, which was an important point we learned during the course,” says Anders Stjernholm.

Better equipped on a personal level

Lars Bidstrup Sørensen is new to the position of CoRep, after many years in the Well Services organisation. By participating in the training course, he gained a clearer understanding of a very important and personal matter: “I have probably always known what type of person I am, but this course has given me answers as to why I am who I am and why I do things my way. And I have learned how to set limits for what I will accept. Being able to address disagreements before they turn in to conflicts has meant a lot for my job satisfaction. If you allow things to happen several times without putting a stop to it, they become bad habits , even if you do not like it. Now I have some tools for engaging in a good dialogue with people about the tasks they are to perform for us. It has better equipped me as a person to do the job,” says Lars Bidstrup Sørensen.

Theory works in practice

Anders Stjernholm has successfully used some of CfL’s leadership tools on the drilling rig Maersk Giant, which is exploring for oil on behalf of DONG on the Norwegian shelf, about 300 km southwest of Stavanger. Approximately 100 specialists and workers on the drilling rig are employed by Maersk and 15 other subcontractors. “At first I decided to focus on just using some of the leadership tools I learned about during the training course. One of the most important things for me was to use open questions in interactions with the many people on board. Instead of telling them what to do, I have turned it around and asked them to tell me how they plan to perform the task. I get many more details out of them and I discover some things that we normally wouldn’t have caught because we are not specialists. So I get the specialists to tell me what they plan to do and what is important in connection with their work. That way I know where and how I can support them.”

Sparring gives results

“Things don’t always go as planned and some situations can become extremely difficult. Instead of saying how I want things to be – which is a role you can easily fall into – I gather the relevant participants and ask them to explain how the problem should be tackled so that we can achieve the best result. The situation evolves from being a ‘leader to employees situation’ to a sparring situation, where the subcontractors are more comfortable with making suggestions for resolving the situation and optimising our work,” says Anders Stjernholm.

Situational leadership

Situational leadership is another of the tools used by Anders Stjernholm on the drilling rig. “I have used it to find out what kind of person I have in front of me to perform a given task. Is the person able to perform the task without any involvement by others, or do they need to be coached or directed towards what needs to happen?” says Stjernholm.

Lars Bidstrup Sørensen agrees and stresses that clarification through dialogue has contributed greatly to safety onboard: “By asking about people’s competencies, I can quickly determine whether they are also capable of performing the task, which means that I don’t have to worry about safety problems. This frees up some resources, which I can then use in other areas,” says Lars Bidstrup Sørensen.

On level with reality

Over the years, Anders Stjernholm has participated in many training courses with similar goals, but on a very theoretical level and always in the form of a one- or two-day crash course, where the question afterwards is whether the participants are truly able to practice what they have learned. “The CoRep training course is 11 days long. We didn’t just talk about the tools, but have actually tested the theories in practice through role playing exercises. We have also trained situations where people have previously been in doubt or handled a situation incorrectly. So there has been a lot of focus on keeping things close to reality and the practical aspects of our daily work. We have also established a CoRep network, where we can meet and exchange experiences.”

The course has delivered the desired results, judging by the initial feedback Anders Stjernholm has received from the staff of Maersk Giant. “I asked people on the rig to give me feedback on my new leadership style the last time I was out there – even considering their supplier role, I got very positive feedback. Many people said that they appreciated being involved in things,” says CoRep Anders Stjernholm.