Congratulations! It’s the start of a new year and you’ve just been hired/ promoted/ reorganized and now you have a glamorous new title:
- Integrity Manager
- Control Center Manager
- Operations Manager
- Pipeline Regulatory Compliance Coordinator
- Damage Prevention Supervisor
- OQ Coordinator
- Regional Manager
Each of these roles brings new responsibility for how your pipeline system performs. In many instances, these roles have the primary accountability for ensuring the success of a regulatory program. As with all transitions and job changes, taking on responsibility for a pipeline safety program brings a host of growing pains. The responsible managers, or program administrators, find themselves juggling personnel supervision, technical analysis and oversight, regulatory agency communications, progress reporting, interdepartmental projects, and an expectation to improve performance, quality and efficiency. A program administrator wears many hats, and carries the load of responsibility for many operators.
A program manager is expected to be technically competent in the relevant subject matter. Whether the focus is operations, integrity, training and qualifications, or a combination of technical functions, personnel involved in those programs lean on the program administrator to define “how it works.” While many promotions and assignments might follow a single technical track, others are considered lateral moves, and expose an existing manager to new technical topics. In either case, the program administrator becomes the technical lead for the company, and is relied upon to ensure that procedures and policies are based on current industry practices and incorporate new technology and analysis techniques. As such, program administrators with new areas of technical responsibility must receive a foundational knowledge of the technical aspects of their role. Upon making the transition to a new area of responsibility, knowledge acquisition becomes a priority.
As a newly promoted manager, supervisory responsibilities leave many technical experts perplexed, transitioning from a focus on hard skills to soft skills. The ease and familiarity of handling data and information is now replaced with sorting personalities and temperaments. People from all areas of the organization look to a program administrator to assign tasks, unravel conflicts, encourage personal development, and motivate a team of diverse individuals. Identifying strategies for team management and conflict resolution is key for a program manager to effectively drive progress.
As the primary interface with regulatory authorities, the program administrator shoulders the stress of regulatory inspections. Ensuring the organization is prepared to answer questions, provide records, and handle challenges is a key component of the position. In navigating the regulated community, the program administrator is on the front line of satisfying inspectors that the entire organization is doing the right thing for the right reasons. Fortunately, the relationship between an operator and a regulator can be handled like any other professional relationship, with respect and dignity. Once a new program manager understands the general structure of a regulatory inspection, and has experience with the topics covered in the inspection, the discussions can be managed to showcase a company’s best efforts. Approaching an inspection with a positive attitude, sense of professional respect and courtesy, and willingness to cooperate will greatly enhance the success.
A program administrator is expected to guide the company’s direction for that particular operational topic. While this dovetails with being a technical expert, the distinction is made in understanding the industry and regulatory expectations. As a whole, the industry has pushed to improve safety and performance, and the regulatory climate expects those advances. Actual regulatory change happens much more slowly, and staying current on the non-regulation “guidance” provided by regulators is essential to planning a path forward. Regular conference attendance, participation in peer groups, public meeting attendance, and diligent publication review assist with keeping an eye on current events. Using that information to steer an organization in the best direction is a key component of the program administrator role.
As with any endeavor, progress can’t be achieved without a motivating factor. Managers, by nature of their positions, provide motivation for their functional areas. They are the ones who identify organizational goals, publicize success, and overcome failures. A program administrator sets the tone for an organization’s spirit and culture, and can encourage employees to thrive. Finding the internal (or external) motivational factor to continually champion the program’s goals is critical for a program administrator to lead a high-performing team.
If any of these situations sound like a position you’re in, join us for our upcoming Program Administrator Training, February 6th-8th at our offices in Houston, TX.