More and more women are rising in the ranks of the oil and gas industry, which has typically been a man’s world. Carri Lockhart is one of them. In May 2016, she joined Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil as senior vice president of offshore for the U.S. and Mexico in Houston. It was a big jump. The Montana Tech graduate had spent her entire career at Marathon Oil, where she started as a reservoir engineer in Anchorage and later worked her way up into management, eventually running the company’s operations in Alaska, the U.K., the Rockies and South Texas. Her job at Statoil involves managing nine offshore fields in the U.S. portion of the Gulf of Mexico that produce almost a fifth of the company’s daily production as well as two unexplored deepwater blocks off the coast of Mexico.
Not having confidence in myself.
I had been in my career for 12 or 13 years, either in a technical or leadership role in operations, and I was very comfortable with my career and my accomplishments. I had just come off maternity leave [after having her second child] and my supervisor asked if I would be interested in becoming director of business development for the entire company. I thought, “How can I do this?” The person I would succeed had a huge network of contacts and high commercial acumen and was very talented and seasoned. They were asking me with no background in business development to take on this role. It was a quite a jump professionally and personally.
I didn’t want to take it at first. I was very scared. The demands of having a new baby and managing both … Was it fair to my children and my husband? Would I be able to compete in the external world with those who had been in the business for a long time and were 10 to 15 years my senior?
I was good at collaborating and leading the drive for continuous improvement. But my concern was if I would I be credible in any commercial negotiations. I told my supervisor there were people who were more suited to this role and I would have to turn it down. He could have said, “That’s fair enough,” but he said to think about it for a week.
I spent a good part of the week talking with people who I trusted, including the person I would succeed, who was retiring. I concluded that I had taken challenging assignments before and hadn’t failed. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I could make a bad decision that could hurt my career. Was I fine with that? I decided I was. I also put the challenge back on the person I would be working for: Here are my gaps; I will take on the assignment if you help me close the gaps and not fail.
There’s always a reason why people are taking a risk on you.
The biggest lesson I learned was to have confidence when people are giving you an opportunity. There’s always a reason why people are taking a risk on you. You have to understand why – be self-aware but not overconfident. And you have to let the leader know where your challenges are going to be.
The first thing I did to fill the gaps was to build my network. My supervisor was very good at introducing me to investment bankers and people at other companies, and he took me with him to meetings. The second was building my commercial acumen, and we would talk about projects together to figure out what would make sense. The third was more of a personal issue: to be less uncomfortable going into a room of people and introducing myself. I remember the first time I walked into a meeting, I thought, “I have to sink or swim.” I still don’t like doing it, but I force myself.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. I really didn’t care for business development and never wanted to do it. But it was one of the best roles I ever had. It gave me a global perspective, a whole new network and an understanding of what happens at the corporate level.
Leaders also can’t be afraid to take risks with their personnel and accelerate their development. I try to do that now and identify where the gaps are and support that person. If that person succeeds or fails, it’s a reflection of me.
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Photo courtesy of Carri Lockhart