This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features pipeline safety leader Cheryl Campbell discussing risk management and how operators can maintain social license to operate through responsible practices.
In this episode, you will learn about the current reality of risk management for public utilities, how public perception has changed, the need for utilities and other operators to create a more robust safety culture, the opportunity to innovate to solve energy challenges, and more topics.
Pipeline Risk Management: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Cheryl Campbell is an independent corporate director, safety advocate, change agent, and consultant. She is currently the “Independant Director” for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Connect with Cheryl on LinkedIn.
- PG&E is one of the largest combination natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. The company provides natural gas and electric service to approximately 15 million people throughout a 70,000-square-mile service area in northern and central California.
- #MeToo Movement is a social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicize allegations of sex crimes.
- Merrimack Valley Gas Explosion consisted of a series of natural gas explosions on September 13, 2018, in Massachusets that killed one man and injured dozens more. The incident was pinned on utility company Columbia Gas (of parent company NiSource) due to alleged mismanagement of underground natural gas lines in Merrimack Valley.
- Public utility commissions (PUCs) regulate electric, gas, telecommunications, water, and wastewater utilities in the U.S.
- Tonga Volcano Eruption was an unexpected eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in the Polynesian Kingdom on Jan. 14. The initial eruption lasted more than 12 hours, with volcanic ash and gasses reaching more than 25 miles (44 km) into the air. There was no warning of the severity of this eruption and no opportunity to prepare for it.
- ILI (Inline Inspection) is a method to assess the integrity and condition of a pipe by determining the existence of cracks, deformities, or other structural issues that could cause a leak.
- The Bellingham Pipeline Incident (Olympic Pipeline explosion) occurred on June 10, 1999, when a gas pipeline ruptured near Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, Wash., causing deaths and injuries. Three deaths included 18-year-old Liam Wood and 10-year-olds Stephen Tsiorvas and Wade King.
- Listen to Russel Treat and Larry Shelton discuss the incident in Episode 79 of the Pipeliners Podcast.
- ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) issues are part of the evaluation process for how corporations are managed, measured, and operated.
- February 2021 North American Cold Wave was an extreme weather event that brought record cold temperatures to a significant portion of Canada, the United States, and parts of northern Mexico during the first half of February 2021. In Texas, the record cold caused enormous strain on the power grid and froze pipelines, leading millions to lose power and many pipes to burst.
Pipeline Risk Management: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 217, sponsored by EnerACT Energy Services, supporting pipeline operators to achieve Natural Compliance through plans, procedures, and tools implemented to automatically create and retain required records as the work is performed. Find out more at EnerACTEnergyServices.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Katie McCullough with Magellan Midstream. Congratulations, Katie. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, Cheryl Campbell is returning to talk to us about risk management and retaining the social license to operate. Cheryl, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Cheryl Campbell: Thanks a lot, Russel. Great to be here.
Russel: I’m just glad I remembered to turn the microphone on because we were just chatting away about all these interesting subjects. Probably, other people might want to hear what we’re talking about.
Look, it’s really good to have you back. It’s been a while. I’ve asked you to come on and talk about risk management and retaining a social license to operate. I guess a way to kick this conversation off is to talk about what is the current reality as it relates to risk management for a public utility.
Cheryl: I think it’s a lot different than it used to be. The way that I’ve talked about it for a while now is the public’s perception of risk has changed. What used to be acceptable 10, 15, 20 years ago is no longer really acceptable. Companies have to step up their game.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a utility or other places in energy or other industrial places. It’s just a very different animal today. You want your employees to go home safe every day. You want everybody around your assets to be safe every day. It’s very different than it used to be.
Russel: Yeah. Being a guy that started out closer to the wellhead, you would know how long a tool pusher had been doing their job by how many fingers they had left, right?
Cheryl: Right, right, right.
Russel: That was a mark of pride of those guys. Now, that is completely unacceptable.
Cheryl: Completely unacceptable.
Russel: It’s such an illustration of how far we’ve gone in the last 20 or 30 years.
Cheryl: Yeah. People missing body parts is not good, right? It’s not acceptable today.
Russel: Yeah, absolutely. What else is changing about the risk beyond just the public’s expectation of what is and isn’t safe?
Cheryl: Another way that we tend to talk about it – we talk about compliance a lot. I hear people ask, are we in compliance? I would challenge that for folks and say it’s really not about compliance so much as are you operating safely.
A lot of times, that means you need to go beyond compliance for certain risks. Certainly in the energy industry, Russel, you and I know there’s a lot of rules and regulations, right, about how we operate and how we build stuff.
Russel: Oh, yeah.
Cheryl: Just a myriad number. Each company needs to think through the risks of its assets and what that level of risk is, and then maybe go beyond the minimum compliance where it’s appropriate to do so.
One simple example I’ll give you: part of my career was spent in Colorado. There’s a federal requirement to do atmospheric corrosion inspections every five years. Colorado is a very dry state. Corrosion is just not a big issue in Colorado, but in Louisiana, it is, for all of this outside equipment.
Their corrosion inspections are every three years, but you may need to do them that frequently in a place like Louisiana, and maybe your data and your information shows you don’t need to do them that frequently in some other state or some other operating area.
At times, you have to set your maintenance more frequently than your compliance regulations, just to manage your risk. You can’t really say the corrosion inspection was this frequent and I did that, but it corroded anyway.
I don’t think that that’s a good place that any company wants to be today because we know about corrosion and we know what causes it.
Russel: Right, and we should be able to build a program around it, so it’s appropriate for us in our operations and our environment. I want to ask you, too, about the idea of other risks versus safety risks. Most of us are clear about commercial risk because we look at what could it cost us if this goes wrong and it makes sense to spend some money so that doesn’t go wrong.
I’m just talking about things breaking. I’m not talking about damaging the environment or hurting people. There are other risks that are starting to become real operating risks that 20 years ago weren’t even a real risk.
What I’m talking about here is your social license. Maybe we ought to explain what social license is for people that hadn’t heard that before and dive into that whole gnarly conversation a bit.
Cheryl: That can be a gnarly conversation. We keep talking about the world is different, and it is. Social media and the way that things can move rapidly on social media changes the way that companies need to think about what they’re doing and how they’re managing their reputation externally.
You could have an event happen, and it could be an operating one–it’s easy to talk about operating ones. It could be an executive who does something they shouldn’t do, and it becomes known. We saw that with some of the #MeToo movement where people got very vocal about some of the people involved in these companies, but it spreads very rapidly on social media. People can have quite an impact on your company reputation.
The extreme example that I would give would be NiSource. In the aftermath of the Merrimack Valley fires a few years ago, they ended up selling their Massachusetts assets to another company. You could say that there was such a local uproar about the company, the things that happened, and the way they operated, that they felt like the best thing to do was for them to exit the state.
To me, that’s an extreme example. I do think that what was being said and how people were reacting to the company had an impact…I don’t know for a fact, but you just look at when that happened and the aftermath of all of that, and it’s hard to say that it didn’t have an impact on their decision.
Russel: I would say you could actually argue that point from the flip side and say that they were pushed out by political pressure where the PUC was saying, “We have lost confidence in your ability to operate safely.”
Cheryl: You could absolutely say that. It gets to the point where if you can’t have a productive relationship with your local safety investigators and your local public utility commission, then it doesn’t make sense for you to continue to operate in that state because you’re not going to get good regulatory outcomes. Everybody’s going to be questioning every decision you make and everything that you do.
Russel: Yeah, which radically impacts your cost of operation.
Cheryl: Correct. It doesn’t end well. We saw that it didn’t end well for them. They made a strategic decision to sell those assets and exit the state.
Russel: That’s probably an extreme example, but it’s a real example.
Cheryl: It’s a real example. Yes.
Russel: I can’t think of another situation where that’s occurred. There may be others. I just can’t think of one.
Cheryl: There probably are. You and I weren’t sitting in that boardroom. We don’t sit in some of these other boardrooms, where you see people say, “You know what? We’re going to exit this line of business.”
A lot of times, it’s easy for people to say, “It’s no longer commercially viable for us.” It’s this, it’s that. You do wonder on some of them how much of it is, “Well, we’ve just decided that this particular line of business or this state or this area that we’re operating in, it just doesn’t work for us anymore because of some of these social issues.”
Russel: The other thing I want to talk a little bit about, too, and you alluded to this is the speed of communications. I think about when I first got into the business we were just starting to get onto the 24-hour news cycle.
Prior to CNN becoming a 24-hour news network, the news cycle was there was the morning news. They had news at lunch. They had news at five o’clock and ten o’clock, and that was it.
If you go even 10 years before that, a lot of times they couldn’t make the next news cycle because they had to roll a truck, get the film, go back to the station, edit the film, and then put it out. If something happened in the night or in the morning, it wasn’t going out until that evening’s news. You had time to manage the story. Right?
Russel: Nowadays, everybody’s got a video camera. They can stream it live, and you have no control of the story I would assert.
Cheryl: I think you’re right about that. I want to give you one flip side example of that is the volcano in Tonga. We immediately saw the satellite images about the volcano in Tonga.
Cheryl: I don’t know about you, but then I’m all over the Internet going I want to see more. I want to see what happened to the islands. You want to know more. Of course, they’re now cut off from the world. Their Internet cable got cut. The undersea cable got cut. People who are interested in that area are pounding the table going, “We want to know more.”
That’s the other side of it. There’s an expectation now that it’s constant.
Russel: That’s right. The idea of waiting to know what’s happening is just like nobody’s willing or even expects that that should be the case.
Cheryl: I just found it fascinating is in my mind I’m going, “I want to know more. Why can’t I see more?”
“Oh, well, the Internet cable’s gone.” Island’s covered in ash. People are focused on other things.
Russel: Like where am I going to sleep tonight…
Cheryl: Where am I going to sleep?
Russel: …and where am I going to get some fresh water?
Cheryl: That’s right. That’s right. That’s how we’ve all transformed our thinking in the way the world works today.
Russel: What’s the reality for a utility operator given that speed of communications? What kind of challenges does that create, and how does that impact my social license?
Cheryl: I’ll give you an example. At a utility that I worked at in a state where marijuana was legalized, we had some house explosions, more than we had seen historically. If you’re the local utility operator, you have no choice but to roll a truck when a house explodes. You have to because you don’t know if it’s you or not.
You roll the truck. The fire department’s there. Everybody’s doing their investigation. They’re putting the fire out, and then the fire department makes a decision about what they think caused it, and then they leave. They’re not necessarily used to making a statement about what they think caused the incident.
In the meantime, your utility truck is sitting in front of that house because you’ve got work to do as well to isolate the line and to make the area safe, and things of that nature.
We were getting a lot of comments and feedback about all of these events that the company was being associated with, none of which were true because they were related to people making something called hashish from marijuana. Once we figured that out, we started saying, “How can we change this?”
We huddled with our media team and put together a different narrative that said when there’s a house event like this, here is the information we want to provide to the media.
It talked about not only the safety of the natural gas system, but also all the other things that can occur that can negatively impact your home like gas cans in your garage, and a spark, and some drug issues, and things of that nature, and started putting that information out there every time that this happened because people were immediately calling.
It was a media. You get this. They’re on the scanners. The media’s on the scanner. They hear it. They’re out there with the cameras, to your point, and we’re there, too. Our trucks are there too. It totally changed the dynamic because everything just went away. It all powered down.
The other thing we had to do with that is work with the local fire departments to get their public information officers to actually state publicly that it wasn’t a natural gas event. It took us thinking about the event in a very different way than what we had historically done.
Historically, we just let the fire department and the media do whatever they were doing and answer their questions, and it never occurred to us. All of a sudden, you’ve got a whole bunch of these house events, and people are thinking that your gas system is unsafe. That’s a problem.
Russel: Yeah, particularly when it has nothing to do with anything you have control over.
Cheryl: Correct. Once we tamped that down, all of those other comments went away.
Russel: That erodes your social license even though it has nothing to do with what the reality is but just because of what the conversation or the narrative is.
Cheryl: Correct. People were asking us about the safety of our gas system where they hadn’t asked us about that before just because of these events.
Russel: I’d like to ask a couple of other questions about this, Cheryl, if I might. One is to what extent did the guy in the truck or the person in the truck get in front of the camera versus how much of that was coming through the PR office for the utility?
Cheryl: In those events, in particular, we tried hard to keep the focus on the media, the media relationships, and the media relations team, and tried to steer them away from the guy in the truck.
They have a focus, which is to make it safe. On the one hand, once you get it safe, if you really want to talk to the person in the truck, then we would try to accommodate that where we could, but for the most part, we really tried hard to steer the media back through our media relations team where we could and educate them, too. They weren’t necessarily technical people, or gas experts, or electricity experts, or anything like that. You spent some time educating them on the safety of the system as well.
Russel: It’s interesting. The other thing you think about is if there is an incident like that and you roll a truck because you have to, anybody who’s walking around with a camera is going to take a picture of the truck sitting in front of the house.
Russel: Did you do anything on the social media front to respond to what was, beyond just talking to the press? Did you do anything on the social media front to respond to what was going on?
Cheryl: Yes. We monitored, and I’m sure most companies do this, you monitor LinkedIn, and Facebook, Instagram, all the different social media feeds and would respond to comments that were out there.
If you had people posting comments about the safety of the gas system, we were responding with information, those prepackaged soundbites that we were all onboard with. We were responding with that. I don’t want to use the term “aggressively,” but we were trying to respond to all of it.
Russel: Quickly and diligently, I think would be the keywords.
Cheryl: Quickly and diligently, yes.
Russel: That’s really interesting because that’s a new reality. That’s not something we were thinking about even 10 years ago but it is a new reality.
Cheryl: It’s where we’re at today. A lot of times, people around your assets as a utility. Remember, utility assets are right up and down your street, in your yard, so pretty close to people. Sometimes, the neighbor knows before the utility company knows that there’s something not working the way it’s…
One guy was telling me a story the other day about his power. He walked outside, and the transformer on the street was on fire. Well, he probably knew that before the utility company did.
Cheryl: I guarantee you, he got his phone out and started filming it.
Russel: [laughs] Yeah. I’m sure that’s true. It’s what I would do.
Cheryl: I would do it, too. What would happen?
Russel: Oh, my gosh. Oh. Wait a second. I need to call the power company to let them know they’ve got a transformer on fire.
Cheryl: Yeah, I should probably call the power company. No. I got to film it first and post it on my social media.
Russel: Well, I think it’s interesting too because what you’re pointing out is you, actually, had a pre-planned media response related to a particular type of event.
Cheryl: Yes. That’s exactly what we had.
Russel: Again, that’s not something that’s required by any of the regulatory or compliance issues, but it’s certainly required by the risk management and social license issues.
Cheryl: Right. We talk about enterprise risk management. One of your risks is managing your reputation and making sure that you’ve got the right reputation. You and I aren’t talking about trying to spin it so it’s always positive or stuff like that. We’re talking about, are you operating in a way that aligns with your values?
Russel: Yes. These are real valid operating issues, right?
Russel: Because we’re serving the public.
Russel: To serve the public, we have to deal with the communication in those realities.
Cheryl: Right, and are you doing that in a way that’s in alignment with the values of your company, and then when these things happen, are you owning it? Are you saying, “Yeah, we got this,” and owning it and talking about it transparently instead of hiding things? That is a function of enterprise risk management for companies.
Russel: I think one of the things, too, that…This is kind of off-topic before we talked about it, but I think it’s relevant. We do a lot of alarm management. That’s getting pretty down into the weeds of technical details of how are you going to do your operations.
We’ve had situations where reputation was one of the risk factors and people would weigh reputation very high in certain operating areas.
I worked with a midstream company. Their assets were located in and around communities. If those assets were out in the middle of farmlands that if you pop a relief, it’s not a big deal, but if you pop a relief a couple of hundred yards from an elementary school, it’s a big deal.
Cheryl: That’s exactly right.
Russel: You have to actually get all the way down into that level of detail and how are you going to operate, how are you going to engineer your facilities to deal with that social license risk.
Cheryl: One of the projects I did for the last company I worked for was putting in a gas transmission line that went near some schools, and some businesses, and some neighborhoods. We had quite the conversation with the local communities about the actions we were taking to make sure that this facility was going to be safe.
We thought through that. We had extra valves in those areas and we committed to doing ILI on a little bit more regular basis than you otherwise would as required by code, to ensure that these facilities were kept safe and the people around them were kept safe.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You can say all day the probability is very low, but the consequences of these things occurring are extremely high if you have a failure in your school or a neighborhood. I think it’s a consequence that most companies just do not want to have to deal with.
Russel: I think, too, the other thing that’s true for us as pipeliners is we all have a sense of our fiduciary responsibility to the community, and we want to do the very best we can.
Russel: If I get into that conversation, I get a bit emotional about it, because it really is near and dear to my heart. I feel like what I do matters. I feel like what we do as an industry matters. People rely on us to live the lifestyles they live. They rely on us to make sure that they can do that without fear of bad stuff happening.
Cheryl: They shouldn’t have to worry about it.
Russel: We should be like linemen (in football). When we do a really good job, nobody notices.
Cheryl: Correct. Correct.
Russel: They give all the attention to somebody else.
Cheryl: That’s exactly right. One of the things you should think about is how bad could it be and watch some of the aftermath of some of these events. How bad could it be, and try to put yourself in that scenario. It’s really easy to say, “Well, it’ll never happen here for these five reasons.” My question would be, “Are you sure?”
Russel: What you’re getting at is a mindset about safety and what it means. Man, one of the best Pipeliners Podcast episodes I ever did was episode 79. It was on the 20th anniversary of Bellingham.
A guy named Larry Shelton was the guest, and he was with one of the partners in the Olympic Pipeline and got put on that the day after it occurred, and he shares his story. It is compelling, and it’ll get you fired up about being a pipeliner and about pipeline safety for sure.
What about some of these other mega narratives that are going on? We’ve talked about the safety narrative and the social license, but there’s also some other mega narratives around emissions and some other things that also go to risk management and our social license. As utility guys and pipeliners, what do we need to be thinking about in that domain?
Cheryl: As you and I’ve talked about, or alluded to, before, one of the problems or challenges for the industry is we don’t do a very good job of telling our story, and we do sometimes, I might use the word “cavalier,” get a little cavalier about some of the things that we do sometimes and not worry about it.
With the focus on things like emissions and things of that nature, we need to look hard at the way we operate and be good stewards of the environment and where we’re operating. Even though you believe you’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s so many satellites. People can see what you’re doing today.
To your point, if you’re driving by and you see something that you don’t think looks right, people are taking pictures. In short, I don’t think there’s any place to hide anymore, and we shouldn’t be hiding.
We should be trying to do the right thing, and then we should be talking about it and telling our story in a proactive way as opposed to just, “Hey, we’re doing all these great things from an energy standpoint.”
It’s a very innovative industry, and we can solve a lot of problems when we put our minds to it. I’d love to see us put our minds to solving some of these emissions problems in a commercially viable way and then talking about it, bragging about it a little bit, and talking about what a great job we’re doing.
Russel: Cheryl, one of the things that comes up for me as we’re having this conversation is I am often unaware of the delta between my knowledge and experience working in this domain and talking to somebody who doesn’t know what it is I do, like just how big a gulf of information that is.
It’s very easy for us that work in this business to get to this assumption thing because we spend all our time working with other people that are technical, and other people that understand, and all that.
We go out into the community, and they don’t know, and they shouldn’t be expected to. One of the challenges is how do we bridge that gulf of knowledge effectively without it being arrogant, or condescending, or just a miss. It’s challenging. It’s very challenging.
Cheryl: It really is. You and I both have probably over the years in our careers met people that could bridge that divide where maybe they had a technical background but they could speak more in layman’s terms. What we used to say was, “Explain it to me like I’m your grandmother.”
Get out of the jargon. We need to get out of the jargon, and we need to use some of the visuals more. I love some of the dashboard visuals and things that people are coming up with today to show some of these things.
Once you figure it out, I don’t think it takes significantly longer to put some of that information together in a very compelling way that shows, for instance, how much the emissions have gone down yet how much more people have clean energy or whatever it is that you’re trying to show.
We need to seek out people that can bridge that divide between the very technical-oriented and the average person, the average person on the street or my grandmother.
Russel: You made me remember a story from many years ago when I was sitting down with my grandmother and she asked me, “Russel, what do you do for a living?” I said, “I’m in the software business.” This was in 1989, very shortly before she passed. It was a great day. It was just a great afternoon I spent talking to my grandmother.
You got to think I was talking to a lady who was born in 1900 and grew up on a dirt farm with a well, and an outhouse, and a wood-burning stove, and had raised kids through the Depression, and such. I’m trying to explain software, what is software to this person, and it was not an easy thing to do. It was really not an easy thing to do. To come up with the analogy was tough. I first started talking about it like fuel in a car, but that analogy breaks down because fuel gets consumed.
At that time, kids were carrying around the boomboxes. I said, “A boombox is a computer. It’ll make the music play, but the music exists on the tape that you put in the boombox, and what I do is I create what’s on the tape, but instead of making music, I make it do work.” She goes, “Oh, okay.”
Cheryl: She figured it out, right?
Russel: Yeah. After that, she understood what I did. My grandma was a bright lady. Anyways, that analogy of explaining this like you’re talking to your grandmother, it’s really not about they’re uneducated. It’s just they’re not knowledgeable in your domain, and you’ve got to figure out how to talk in words and concepts that they understand.
Cheryl: We all have stuff like that. It doesn’t matter. You and I have technical backgrounds in the energy industry, so there’s a lot of this stuff we either understand or we can figure out if someone speaks to us in that same technical language.
There are other areas that you and I are not that educated in or up to date in. Maybe it’s financial services. Maybe it’s art history. Maybe it’s how you run a museum.
Russel: The domain of what I don’t know is much, much, much larger.
Cheryl: Much bigger, much bigger. You need those different ways to explain them and talk about them. I totally agree with you. This isn’t about being uneducated. It’s just that my sphere of knowledge doesn’t necessarily extend to that.
Russel: Again, this goes to what we’re talking about here, but the nature of technology is there are more, and more, and more vertical domains that are tougher and tougher to bridge.
Russel: I’ve been working with computers my entire career like I’m sure you have. I remember when you got a computer you had to know everything about the computer. Nobody knows everything about a computer anymore.
Cheryl: Not anymore.
Russel: It takes a whole team.
Cheryl: That’s right. [laughs]
Russel: There’s so many vertical domains, and that happens everywhere. Beyond emissions, what are some of the other mega narratives? There’s a lot of talk going on about renewables and alternative fuels and such. How does that play into this conversation?
Cheryl: The things that we’re talking about apply to all of that. You could expand it to that whole ESG conversation that everybody’s having right now. It all comes down to are we communicating effectively. Are we engaged? Are we engaged as companies and leaders? Are we aligning with our values, and are we communicating effectively about how we are managing some of these things?
Listening to our customers, frankly, would be the other thing that I would add. What do your customers want? It’s hard to be a successful company if you don’t know what your customers want and you’re not fulfilling their needs.
Russel: I know what my customers want. They want the lights to come on. They want the heater to come on. They want the gas to be in the car, and they want it to be cheap. It’s pretty easy.
Cheryl: It’s pretty easy when you state it like that. It’s easy to say this was cheap energy, but then we had this thing happen, event happen, or we had a well blow out. You name it. All of a sudden, the conversation changed. Right?
Russel: Exactly. That’s really what I wanted to get to because there’s a lot of things we’ve done as an industry to focus on keeping the overall cost down that in the long term probably work a little bit against us. We had this big event in Texas here where…
Cheryl: The cold spell.
Russel: The cold spell. We found out that there was no de-icing on all the wind turbines because they don’t ever ice up. But, when they ice up, we care how it turns out.
Cheryl: We do care. It’s easy to say the probability or the risk of that thing happening is pretty low, so let’s skip that maintenance item or that thing, that capital investment, whatever, and then yes, you’re right. When it happens, everyone’s scrambling. As we saw in the aftermath of that, the arrows and the rocks started flying because everybody cared.
Russel: That’s right. We’re coming close to the end of our time. Time always flies by when I talk to you, Cheryl. It just moves quickly. It’s such a joy.
Cheryl: I agree. [laughs]
Russel: Here’s the question I want to ask you as a wrap-up question. If you were king of the world, what would you do to get the communication where it ought to be?
Cheryl: Wow. That is quite the question. I’ve spent 35 years in the energy industry, and that has been one of my pretty constant refrains is we don’t do a very good job of telling our story.
I do think that we have to get our heads out of the technical world and more into how other people view us as an industry and as individual companies. Frankly, how do we all work together along the different value chains? It’s such an individualistic type of a group of companies.
That’s good in a lot of ways, that competitiveness, that drive, that innovation. It’s done a lot of great things for our companies and our country over the years, but at some point, I think we have to speak more with one voice about all the things that are happening and the good that can be done with the energy industry and how it can all fit together to build a better tomorrow.
I’d love to see us do that. I don’t have any silver bullets on how we can do that, but it’d be great if we could.
Russel: You want to hear my answer?
Cheryl: Yeah. I want to hear it.
Russel: I have to tell a little story. I always have to tell a little story.
Cheryl: That’s okay.
Russel: I have to tell a little story. I went to school, civil engineering, and then I went into the military. When you go into the Air Force and when you take Air Force ROTC, there’s a whole lot of focus on writing papers of different kinds and forms, and doing PowerPoint presentations.
Then, as you go through their leadership training, there’s lots and lots of focus on communication and leadership. I, as a young engineer, hated it. I’m like, “I didn’t go to engineering school to write papers. I went to engineering school to build things.”
Russel: Now, later in my career, probably when I was about 45 and I was coming up against all those things we come up against at that point in our career, we’re at a point where we have to make that transition from technical leader to executive, assuming that’s our career path.
I started going back and pulling all those notes out and rereading all that stuff, and thinking, “Oh, my God, these brilliant sons of guns that made me learn all this stuff.” I had no idea how valuable it was.
My answer to the question is that we have to teach engineers how to communicate. That needs to be part of an engineering certification is to know how to communicate.
Cheryl: I don’t disagree with that. In fact, like you, somewhere early career, mid-career, it occurred to me that there was another set of skills I needed and I worked hard at them, the soft skills. No, they do not teach you that.
Russel: It turns out, the soft skills aren’t so soft, Cheryl. [laughs]
Cheryl: That’s right. They’re just as important as your technical skills is how it does turn out, and I don’t disagree with that. I’m going to say this with no disrespect to my fellow technical people. I know that there are some people that are going to be more comfortable and better off staying in that technical world.
But, I absolutely agree with you. We have got to identify those people that are interested and can embrace those softer skills and run with them.
Russel: If you look at any engineer whose name is down as somebody who did something substantial and I could name a whole bunch of names out in space program, as an example, they all lead teams.
Cheryl: Yes, they did.
Russel: You can’t do anything significant as an engineer without a team.
Cheryl: That’s right.
Russel: Teams require people skills. Communication is one of those people skills. That’s my answer. That’s taking good engineers and turning them into great engineers.
Cheryl: I’d love to see more of that to the extent that we can do it. It might be that we need to reach out to those that are a little further into their career that are starting to realize I’m missing some key skills here to continue to move in a direction I want to go.
Russel: Exactly. Listen, Cheryl, as always, this has been great. I always enjoy talking to you. I’m looking forward to when we actually go to a conference and meet in person.
Cheryl: I love it, Russel. I always enjoy the conversation with you. We always wander around in all different directions. Yes, I hope that we can see each other in person sometime soon.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Cheryl. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win and enter yourself in the drawing.
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Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know either on the Contact Us page or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords