Soft Skills

Leadership Can Happen at All Levels

Last September I was fortunate enough to take a leadership training series offered by the  Canadian Center for Women in Science, Engineering, Technology and Trades (WinSETT), which addressed some gender-specific challenges that leaders face. It was eye-opening to be sitting at a table and sharing so many familiar experiences with other women and realizing I wasn’t alone in these experiences. There were several topics discussed, and I found I became more aware of unconscious bias, differences in communication styles, and in the way I think about myself in terms of leadership. The courses were aimed at building confidence and understanding that a leader can happen in a variety of areas in one’s life: At work as an individual contributor or manager, or at home as a parent, partner, family member, or friend. I am going to share three key themes that have resonated with me, and I find myself practicing these skills and behaviors at work and at home.

Active Listening

“Do you hear me, do you really hear me?”

Active listening involves truly listening to someone speak, without thinking about your reply or what you ate for lunch or wherever your mind likes to wander. It is about getting to the real story that a person is trying to tell you, having an open mind, and not imposing one’s experience or solution to the problem. Make eye contact with the person, show that you are listening (and really try), and concentrate on the details of your conversation. You may have also heard this term as “seek to understand” and it has been an invaluable skill for me, and I use it daily in every aspect of my life.

Just Say ‘Thank you’

For some people a habit of saying “Thank you” (without a follow up sentence afterwards) comes naturally. For me, however, it has been a learned skill to stop downplaying my own achievements and just say “Thank you” without any additional comments. Before I used to insert the follow-up statements like “I could have done it sooner;” “But I could have done better;” “But it was really nothing.” I have learned to just accept the compliment; there is no need to drag into the details, undervalue the work that has been done, or explain how if there was more time that the work would have been better. This “gratitude” example has been studied at great length, and it seems women often downplay their experiences. This was a common trend we observed in our leadership course and I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

The same advice can be given when you are paying someone a compliment—be specific in the “thank you” you are giving so they don’t need to justify the recognition they are receiving. They may not even realize they are doing it, help them out and let them know they can express their gratitude by just two words.


This was my favorite class that I took from the WinSETT training, and it helped me to realize that I’m great at advocating on behalf of others but need some help when I’m asking for myself. I was not alone in this feeling. There are several styles to negotiation, and understanding the value of the relationship, goal outcome, and planning for the negotiation were the key learnings for me. I tested this out on my husband and it worked well. I cared about the relationship and really wanted a “win-win” collaboration style. For example, saying “Can we go to the park and run out some energy” (referring to my daughter). In the past, this would have been either myself or my husband walking to the park by our house, which I’m tired of going to. Instead I was able to frame up the situation, explain the benefits of getting outdoors, acknowledge and listen to his interests, and come up with a solution together. We all explored a new park together and had much more fun, and my daughter had a long (and easy) naptime afterwards.

Not sure learning about negotiation styles is relevant to you? Here’s a compelling statistic in this subject: Research shows that there are salary differentials that exist, and a common statistic shared is from Carnegie Mellon graduate business students. It was observed that 57% of male negotiated their starting salary, whereas only 7% of women did. Why? Confidence, gender-based stereotypes, and the feeling of competition may all be contributing factors. The gender pay gap is a hot topic these days, and I encourage you to read more about it online if you’re interested:

Rincon, R., 2018. What’s the Gender Pay Gap in Engineering.

Mounlr, N., 2018. Making Gender Diversity a Reality in the Oil & Gas Industry.

I hope these topics spark some interest for you. If you want to learn more, reaching out to your network is a great place to start discovering more about your own behaviors and how you can become a leader at any level. As I mentioned, WinSETT is the organization I took courses through, and there are several other companies that offer courses.  There are many books, TED talks, and online articles that are great additional resources to begin to grow these skills.  Some other topics that you may find interesting:  Unconscious bias and implicit bias, gender and generational differences in the workplace, workplace politics and understanding stakeholders (and their roles) in your network.

Corina Irvine is a senior geophysicist at ConocoPhillips Canada in the Oil Sands business unit. She works with a team to interpret 4D seismic data and other reservoir performance indicators to troubleshoot and optimize well pair performance. She is also responsible for monitoring of the caprock and overburden through methods such as seismic, observation wells, and InSAR. She has more than 11 years of interpretation experience in onshore exploration and development projects in Western Canada. Irvine graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in geophysics and biology. She describes herself as creative, patient, and strong-willed (all skills you need in order to survive raising a toddler), and in her free time enjoys experiencing new cultures, running, and knitting.

Related Resource: SPE Women in Energy. Established in 2016, SPE Women in Energy (WIN) promotes gender diversity in E&P and creates opportunities for women to enable them to step into leadership roles and pursue their career goals.


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