Janet Hann first became interested in engineering at a very young age when she visited her father’s project sites in Africa. Her career has since spanned more than thirty years and she has worked with companies including BP, Apache, Woodside Petroleum and Santos. The current project development manager at GDF SUEZ shares her major career successes and insights.

The backstory

My father is a civil engineer, and he worked on site in Africa. Because he often worked a seven day week my brother and I got to go with him at the weekends. The projects he worked on in the sixties were big dams and harbours.
I loved what I thought was lots of responsibility for lots of people and building things that had a significant purpose, juxtaposed with an awesome natural environment. I saw challenges with a sense of freedom.

Project management insights

Most of the projects I have worked on have been company firsts so I have had the opportunity to build the project team from scratch, which of course allows one to get the right people.
Much more challenging is stepping into a project that is off track. Changes need to be made to the way the team functions, but most likely the dysfunction is rooted in misalignment of the stakeholders, resulting in unclear or worse, unachievable objectives for the project team. The lesson learnt is to ensure that the objectives are clear.
Major oil and gas projects are like any project; they are intended to result in a change to the business. Change management is never easy without a clear vision of the purpose and the risks to be managed to achieve success.
A number of the projects I have led through the development have been extremely challenging from a risk and benefit point of view, and I am most proud of how a team of people - multidisciplinary and diverse - come together and really do make what might have been considered impossible, possible. Not only that, if it is a good team, they make it enjoyable and almost look easy.
I am also very proud when people who I have worked with on these teams, contact me later and let me know that the experience that they have had on some of these marginal projects has “made a big difference” to them and where they are now.
I loved what I thought was lots of responsibility for lots of people and building things that had a significant purpose, juxtaposed with an awesome natural environment. I saw challenges with a sense of freedom.

A female in a male-dominated industry

I am never sure if this is altogether about gender but more about different personality profiles. But yes, men have dominated in a sector where technical/engineering skills have generated the management cadre. This can limit the diversity of view, with less emphasis on the ‘softer’ people issues.
However, with the complexity of the environment that we operate in today, creativity in solving people issues and coming from all sorts of stakeholders is a much more important success factor. Recognition that the absence of diversity can create blind spots and weakness in management teams is happening, but the change seems slow.
One positive comment is that often it only takes one or two leaders with that more open mindset to create a big change within an organisation and give license for others to follow.

Personal attributes

Being adaptable and leading change are core skills essential for any manager. No sector can afford complacency or resist change. People tell me that I am very patient, I like to add to that persistent and a high propensity to build trust.

Defining success

My view is that success is personal so I wouldn’t generalise too much. The gift for many women is that we are able to define success in a relatively large number of aspects of our lives: having successful relationships with family, friends and at work, is probably way up there in terms of priorities, while being independent and being able to provide for ourselves and our dependants may come as a by-product.
In contrast, some men may still be trapped by the “traditional” definition of being a “successful provider” and being viewed in more competitive material terms. I like to think that the world is changing with each generation, and I hope I have passed on some of this.

Most valuable advice

I have been given so much of value, if I had to pick a couple: never miss an opportunity to improve communication skills, and in particular when communication breaks down take personal responsibility for fixing it. Also “What goes around comes around” so never miss an opportunity to support or encourage others.
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Janet Hann, Project Development Manager at GDF Suez shares her fascinating backstory and career experience to shed insight on leadership and career progression, such as:
Continually developing your skills sets and experience ensure you can lead by example, being patient and taking responsibility to make changes is key to becoming a good manager. In male-dominated areas, women can succeed by providing alternative viewpoints to projects.
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