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Role of transformational leadership stressed at opening of GDA Virtual Conference


At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to business, transformational leadership is key

This was the message of the opening session of the Gulf Downstream Association’s (GDA) TRANSFORM Virtual Conference on 22 February, which focuses on the future of leadership and project management

Giving a keynote address, Suleman A.Al-Bargan, vice president of domestic refining and NGL fractionation at Saudi Aramco, and president of the GDA, commented that the people who bring about change and transformation in any organisation are those with exceptional leadership capabilities. 

“If it’s any time we need this capacity, it’s at this time, with all that’s ongoing in the world at this stage,” Al-Bargan said.

“What matters in leadership is the attitude and behaviour of the leader himself, to truly show the values he believes in and the organisation believes in are demonstrated in every action he does, with the flexibility and agility to be able to adjust to the changing environment around him. These issues have to be carefully developed in the future leadership. Leadership is not about dictating and being forceful, it is about how you tap into the best potential of your people. That has to come from your own understanding, compassion and real appreciation for the effort of your people.” 

Al-Bargan went on to discuss the concept of the servant leader, where the leader is the servant of his people. 

“What’s really critical is the ‘servant leaders’ concept, when the leadership cares about the people, their wellbeing and  best interests, that’s where leadership starts to show.” This has been manifested in the way the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states has handled the pandemic, he added. 

“Leadership at different levels, whether in government or individual organisations, have shown their capacities and capabilities to excel at this tough time,” he commented.

Turning to the human resource challenges posed by the older generation retiring and large numbers of young people entering the workforce, he said that Saudi Aramco sees this as an “opportunity more than a challenge.” Almost 70% of the company’s manpower has less than five years of experience, he noted.

“The differentiator, which is I believe is an asset and a benefit, is that they are well educated, very talented, willing, and see themselves as important contributor to our industry,” he said. 

He shared the example of the Jizan refinery, where there had been a need to augment the capabilities of the young workforce in advance of the start-up. Saudi Aramco had addressed this challenge by attracting talent from all over the globe and accelerating the development and training of the workforce in refineries and facilities both in-kingdom and outside the kingdom. Today, Jizan’s leadership, comprising more than 70% young generation, is “doing a fantastic job”.  

This challenge is faced by oil and gas companies running growth programmes elsewhere in other Gulf states as well, he said.

“Have your faith and trust in the younger generation; they usually surpass your expectations,” he urged. 

Al-Bargan concluded by commenting that the formation of the GDA, which acts as a knowledge-sharing platform bringing together the Gulf downstream industry, was a “dream come true”. Its 10 technical committees have addressed many critical areas, and in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Association will have a key role to play in addressing lessons learned, sharing valuable information and “helping each other reach higher heights.” 

The opening session of the GDA Virtual Conference was followed by sessions on the leadership experience and development journey; leading through a pandemic; empowering women in leadership roles; and talent management and knowledge-sharing.