“Invest in yourself, so that you are ready to take off again when the time is right. Be creative, and above all, keep your confidence level high – learn something new, study something, push yourself out of your comfort zone. I like the idea of leaving regrets on the last wave – let’s be ready to ride the next wave and surf it!”
Katrine Sharp is Vice President Group Head of Sustainable Development and Gender Diversity for Technip, a world leader in project management, engineering and construction for the energy industry. Based in Technip’s corporate office in Paris, she is responsible for leading the Group’s strategy and action plan for Sustainable Development as well as Gender Diversity. She initially moved to Paris in 2012 to take up a global Talent Management role before assuming her current responsibilities.
With extensive HR management and leadership experience in the Oil and Gas industry and the Higher Education sector, Katrine first joined Technip in 2006 as HR and Communications Director for the North Sea Canada region, based in the UK. Before joining Technip, she was Deputy Human Resources Director for the Robert Gordon University in the UK.
Katrine has an Honours degree in Modern Languages from Aberdeen University and a Masters in Employment Law and Practice from the Robert Gordon University. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
This article was also published on Huffington Post, as part of our Trailblazing Women Series.
Who is your role model as a leader?
There are 3 key women leaders I particularly admire. The common thing I admire in all 3 women is that they are serious about being role models.
The first is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. I like the fact that she got to where she is by knowing the job, working hard, and most importantly, staying herself through it all. I also really admire Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who now leads her own Foundation for Climate Change. She has such dignity and intelligence when you hear her speaking.
When looking for leadership role models, we tend to look at people on the international stage, either key business people or politicians but my third role model is a leader in her field as opposed to on the world stage. I find the story of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell very inspirational. She has confidence in herself, yet is very modest. She talks about how she started by failing a state exam and how her family firmly supported and fought for her to study science at a time when girls were discouraged from doing so. She went on to get a PhD in physics and discover Pulsar stars. So many people were frustrated that she didn’t get to share the Nobel Prize which was given to her Professor instead. She herself is always very gracious about it, saying she was glad that her discovery opened up the Nobel Prize to Astrophysics. However she does also talk about the sexism she encountered at the time. I admire how she has campaigned to raise the number and profile of women in professional and academic science posts. She has helped to develop the Scottish strategy for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and encouraged women through her teaching at the Open University. It is not surprising that she is referred to as the most inspiring living woman scientist and the most outstanding astrophysicist and prominent science communicator.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
On a personal level, I am most proud of running the Paris Marathon in 2015. It was a very different challenge for me and crossing the finish line was a big achievement. It was very tough and it taught me the real meaning of ‘dig deep’. I learned that if you really set your heart and mind on a goal, you can achieve it. The training is important, as is the support of your friends and family. To me it was important that my daughter ran the marathon with me, it spurred me on. I realised that achieving a goal has far less to do with achieving the goal itself and a lot more to do with the routine you develop to support that goal. That was a huge learning. As I’ve heard many sports people say, ‘the actual day will take care of itself, it’s all about the preparation beforehand’. It’s a sports analogy that I lived and which you can apply to lots of other situations.
In a work context, one thing I really feel proud of happened at an early stage of my career. I joined a company at the beginning of its HR maturity and got the company involved in the UK national ‘Investors in People’ certification process. It was hard and I had to convince a lot of people that it was important and good for the business. The organisation was the first to get the accreditation in the oil & gas industry. It provided the framework to enable the company to move to a whole new level of people management and better performance. I am now in a parallel situation with Technip, where we are the first company in the energy sector to achieve EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) certification, with 8 countries certified to date, thanks to real commitment from the top and support from colleagues. I did not achieve this on my own, yet they are the 2 achievements I am proudest to have lead and been involved in.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?
For me it has been keeping my career on a steady forward path even if it was not always on a steady upward trajectory. I had to have short breaks in my career on two occasions: the first when starting a family coincided with a geographical move from Aberdeen to London, and second when we moved to Indonesia when my husband was offered a new position there. That was a challenge for me, as my career had really started to take off again. What I learned is, whatever the circumstances, you can always keep moving forward by developing new skills or acquiring new qualifications. You can always make the most of the situation. During the first career break, I got my CIPD qualification. During the second period I became an independent consultant, allowing me to work more flexibly and learn a lot while working with different organisations.
My key learnings were:
“Invest in yourself, so that you are ready to take off again when the time is right. Be creative, and above all, keep your confidence level high – learn something new, study something, push yourself out of your comfort zone.”
How do you grow people in your organization?
By giving people responsibility as early as we can and then supporting them. In French there is a saying “Il faut l’accompagner”, which is not the same thing as simply supporting someone – you are ‘by their side’ during the process. At Technip we like to put people in new positions and actively support ‘non-obvious moves’, where we give people responsibility in something different and support them to help them succeed. When I was HR Director of the North Sea Canada region, the graduate scheme motto was ‘Get Stuck In’, and we put our graduates onto the vessels and gave them real responsibilities very early on, while making sure they were supported. Technip is a great company with a lot of different opportunities. When I got my first management position, I quickly realised that the people on my team were very capable and had very good ideas. It was important for me to nurture that creativity. I am very open to creativity and am not threatened by talented people. I like to support people who demonstrate passion, commitment and energy.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I am not the kind of person to have regrets. My father, who I really loved, admired and respected, taught me how to approach big decisions in my life. You weigh up the pros and cons – and the thing with big decisions, is that they tend to be harder because the pros and cons are evenly balanced. Once you’ve made your decision, you need to concentrate on making it the right decision (unless of course you really have made a mistake and need to start again!). I remember hearing an inspirational speaker once, who had sailed around the world with a team in the wrong direction. He said it’s particularly dangerous to think about regrets when you are on the open water. The expression he used was “Any mistakes or regrets need to be left on the last wave”, meaning don’t look back. That resonated with me ever since, because it’s much more important to focus on negotiating the next wave, rather worrying about the last one. I am who I am because of the decisions I made. I try to learn from my mistakes rather than regret them.
“I like the idea of leaving regrets on the last wave- let’s be ready to ride the next wave and surf it!”
What differences do you notice between men and women’s leadership styles?
It’s all about tendencies, rather than differences and it’s certainly not black and white. I think that the progress of women in the workplace has not been served by not accepting the fact that men and women do tend to have differences in leadership style. Research has shown that women tend to be more collaborative, interactive, give praise more and show empathy. Men do tend to be more transactional, hierarchical and unilateral. However, what is more important than any differences, is recognising that there is no right or wrong leadership style. We need to move away from valuing only one model of leadership by:
- Acknowledging that there is no right or wrong leadership style – we need complementary approaches in this complex world
- Encouraging talent developers and managers to have a much more open mind when identifying leadership talent
When someone says something about a person not demonstrating leadership, I ask them ‘what do you mean by that?’ Once you explore it, you realise that they may only be looking for traits that fit a narrow view of leadership.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I have had the opportunity to be involved in Management Development programmes and do a lot of reading. What strikes a chord with me about leadership is centred around 3 questions:
- Why should anyone follow me? True leadership has to been earned, and is not ‘given’.
- What have I done to inspire my team today? (This is the true difference between management and leadership)
- Do my team members trust me to develop them?
I regularly ask myself those 3 questions and use them more as a leadership philosophy and code of conduct for myself, than a leadership style, which is always situational. Those 3 questions keep you on your toes if you ask them of yourself on a regular basis.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would take better care of myself, have a healthy mind, body and balance. I have always enjoyed good health, but when I was studying for my Masters degree, while working full time as a HR Director for an engineering firm and looking after my family, I was sitting at a desk all week and also at weekends working on my assignments. After 3 months, I had problems with my back. I went to the doctor and told him I hadn’t done anything and he told me ‘that’s the problem!’ I wouldn’t let that happen again.
Even if it’s 30 minutes/day you have got to get some exercise and make sure to keep balance. I still try to go for a run every morning – I know I have to do that. I’m not sure my younger self would have been ready to listen to this! You just have to build in that discipline. Without health you have nothing.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
A triathlon! I am only partly joking. One of the joys of completing my first marathon, was completing it with my daughter. My husband is a keen cyclist and we are planning to do the equivalent of a bike marathon from Glasgow to Edinburgh – 47 miles by bike! That’s a must. When I first started running, I joined a group called parkrun, first set up by a group of volunteers in the UK, where people meet up very Saturday at the same time, to do a 5K run or walk, whatever you can do. My daughter encouraged me to do it when I first started running. She even met her fiancé there! So, I have joined a group of volunteers to set up the first parkrun in Paris, starting this month. I am looking forward to giving back to something I have benefited a lot from.
From a professional point of view, I have really enjoyed the role of VP Gender Diversity. I am very excited about my new additional responsibilities as Head of Sustainable Development. This is a huge opportunity where I hope to make a difference and I am looking forward to being back on a steep learning curve.
3 key words to describe yourself?
“Find your own touchstones. Decide what they are and be the person you want others to think you are. The women I admire the most show authentic leadership and have achieved things on their own terms. Find your own way”.