But it needn’t be argues Susanne Slotsager. What makes a leader and what makes leadership so difficult is something highlighted in the ultra-harsh offshore energy seeking and gathering world like nowhere else.

Few positions are as exposed as the role of the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM). A rig or platform offshore is an isolated community doing a difficult and potentially dangerous job often under the most trying geological and unforgiving geographical conditions. The manager’s role often amplifies the isolation.

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It is something that Susanne Slotsager has been looking at up close. For the past year she’s been rig hopping around the world, delivering leadership courses in the warmth of the Indian Ocean and cold of the North Sea. She’s witnessed the demands, trials and peculiarities that offshore leaders face daily. She sees the solution in focused training, but then she would as one of Maersk Training’s People Skills instructors. On the other hand if you wanted to improve the food in a kitchen, wouldn’t you ask a top chef?

What she has witnessed is leaders buried in paperwork and wave after wave of new procedures. The danger is that many use this as a screen to hide behind, creating a barrier between them and the people to look to them for direction and guidance.
‘The same safety messages are repeated over and over again during toolbox talks, pre-tour meetings, drills and safety meetings,’ writes Susanne, adding, ‘it seems like these talks have very little impact on improving the safety culture. The monotonous repetitions are in danger of creating safety fatigue and people becoming immune.’

The Bitter Chill of Isolation

Those offshore endure two forms of isolation. The first is geographic, a remoteness expanded by accessibility and flying conditions. Then there’s a more extreme isolation cause by the certification that means very few people, including most onshore staff qualify to visit. This adds to a mental boundary that contributes to one of the biggest issues, the ‘onshore/offshore, them/us’ factor.

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The solution to many problems is seen in some quarters as yet another opportunity to introduce new procedures; these add to the piles of paperwork that heighten the barriers between the OIM and his crew. Susanne has heard off and witnessed OIM’s retreating into their offices to deal with the paperwork, causing a gap between the leader and those who expect them to lead.

There’s another level of personal isolation for an onboard leader. There is no physical break from the job. There is no car journey home to the family, no free space and time for another life. It is just a short walk to the cabin where the problems at the desk are still there at the bunk. No adjustment.

Susanne argues that the adjustment should be made through training. Just because someone is a good technician or driller or navigator doesn’t make them a good leader. The results of good leadership filter right down through the entire crew, not to fine tune the person at the top jeopardizes the whole organisation.  ■

For a pdf version of Susanne’s full article click here >

Read more articles from eSea 29 click here >

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