The DNA of the COO
A power & utilities perspective
The role of the COO within the power and utilities (P&U) sector is typically defined according to the part of the business it resides within. As with other COOs, the job’s specific responsibilities are defined closely in tandem with the individual needs and goals of the CEO, as well as other variables, such as the size and focus of the business.
Despite this, there are common themes and concerns that cut across everyone in this position. We find a breed of executive who combines deep operational knowledge with broad strategic insight, and who is often positioned as a future CEO.
Yet we also find a role fraught with challenges, thanks to the vast change under way in a sector more typically known for being staid and slow moving.
One of the C-suite’s toughest roles
Few operational leaders are responsible for mapping out and implementing vast capital expenditure programs in the way that many P&U executives are. This challenging senior position is made far more so by the changing dynamics of the industry.
As with their peers elsewhere, COOs here acknowledge increased complexity as the single most important shift in the role over the past five years.
33% of COOs think their role has become more complex in recent years
Thriving on complexity and change
For power and utilities COOs, the inherent challenges of the job are part of its appeal. Overall, 54% say that the complexity and diversity of the role is fundamentally what makes it worthwhile for them, while 52% point to their ability to strongly influence the direction of the overall business.
A COO role in its own right
Given the wide-ranging competencies of COOs in any industry, the global majority (40%) of those polled aspire to be promoted to CEO within the next five years. Within the P&U sector, this proportion is lower at 35%, but not through any lack of ambition.
Rather their role, whether in running the power generation side of the business, the transmission and distribution or the retail end, is for all intents and purposes the equivalent of a CEO position in its own right.
9.5/10 of COOs agree that leadership and people management skills are key to their performance
Leadership and communication skills vital, but confidence lags
To perform well, 88% of COOs say that highly developed leadership qualities and interpersonal skills are the most crucial attributes. Many admit that soft skills were an essential part of their career development, second only to hard work.
The reason is that COOs have to interact with almost every function in the business and find ways to communicate to, and influence, a large and diverse workforce of specialists.
A master networker
Another key facet in achieving success within the COO role is the ability to draw on a strong pool of key relationships. In this regard, P&U operations leaders are well ahead of their colleagues in other industries, mostly due to the fact that 4 in 10 have been in their position for a decade or more.
About 69% of those polled hold a strong relationship with the CEO, compared with 55% globally. Given the huge amounts of capital they are responsible for deploying, 56% are also close to the CFO, as opposed to an average of 46% of COOs in general.
42% of COOs think that a lack of corporate understanding of their role is the greatest obstacle to their career development
A lack of visibility harming potential
When asked about the biggest barriers to the career development of the COO, far more respondents point to a lack of acceptance or understanding as their number one concern, well above the global average.
Furthermore, despite their importance to the overall business, far fewer COOs in the sector are represented at a board level than their peers in other industries.