Finding a Career in Safety

Finding a Career in Safety and a Calling in Lif

For many, selecting the right career path can be a daunting task with happiness and self-contentment being difficult to obtain. Some are never fortunate enough to achieve this feat, and others seem to encounter this revelation when and where they least expect it. This would be the route Jenny Ward of Repsol Energy would take to find herself as an accomplished safety professional known for her compassion and dedication.

Time management and living by a hard-kept schedule are autonomous for Ward. In the world of COVID-19, we scheduled a telephone conversation to discuss her illustrious career. We were scheduled for 11 am, and for the sake of managing her schedule of multiple moving parts, she ended a call with her previous appointment to keep her established time with me. Schedule disruptions are not acceptable.

When conversing with Ward, one does not just dive straight into an interview. A conversation is had on a personal level first. She is interested in your family and how you are doing. Nothing more could trump your individual well-being, and as a result, that is the first order of business. Just as important to her is the love and admiration she has for her own family. I enjoyed hearing how well her husband, three daughters and five grandchildren were doing. There is no doubt Ward holds them close in her heart.

We started our conversation on her education and how she found herself entrenched in a safety career. She laughed that her career path was nothing close to what she had planned. Having earned her associate degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of Texas in Austin, Ward’s career trail began as an International Sales Analyst with an electronics distributor. She never expected to find herself currently serving Repsol’s Eagle Ford office as the S&E Field Supervisor.

Ward expressed great pride in discussing how she found herself working in the oil and gas industry. She credited meeting good people and taking advantage of quality mentoring that was provided to her. After 11 years of employment with the electronics distributor, Ward leaped into oil and gas.

She interviewed with Quicksilver Resources for a Junior Buyer position with the company’s purchasing department. The interview went so well that she had not exited the parking lot after her interview when she received a call with the job offer. Ward related how shocked she was and joked at her streak of luck.

Taking advantage of a unique situation provided by her purchasing position, Ward was exposed to various disciplines within the industry. She expressed pride in learning a great deal and being recruited by Quicksilver’s Director of Environmental Compliance into an Environmental Technician position. Here, her safety career would begin to cultivate as she was closely mentored.

Recognizing Ward’s work ethic, a colleague recommended her for a position at Encana Corporation. She was recruited for a Safety Professional position in the office, where she would work for two years. The turning point presented itself, and she was promoted to a leadership position as the Strategic Safety Coordinator and covered three branch offices.

Ward furthered her career later with Crestwood Midstream as an HSE Analyst. Here she began working in management system development, a skill that would serve her career well. Her husband was later offered a job in South Texas, so they relocated to the surrounding area of San Antonio.

Ward was again recommended for a position and went to work for Devon Energy as an Eagle Ford Safety Professional. She worked on various special projects and was responsible for Devon’s field development aspect of their Verification and Validation pilot program.

After four years, Ward joined Equinor’s Eagle Ford office as a Safety and Sustainability Leader. She recalled her interview and how nervous she was as she entered the conference room to begin the process. Making an uncomfortable moment even more unbearable, she remembers dropping her purse and allowing its contents to scatter across the floor. She had a revelation at that moment and drew on her tenure and abilities, released the nervousness and attacked the interview process as only Ward could do. She was honest, pulled no punches and expressed her opinions when they were requested.

History would repeat itself, and Ward received a phone call before turning out of the parking lot. She had interviewed well and was offered the job, which she accepted. We joked how parking lots seemed to bring her good news and happiness. That laughing revealed just how down to earth Ward is. She has accomplished much, but she does not appear to take herself so seriously. This is truly the mark of someone who loves what she does but recognizes there is much more in life of greater importance. Equinor recently sold their Eagle Ford assets to Repsol, and Ward has remained. This certainly highlights her value.

Just as unexpected as a career in safety was the notion of working in the oil and gas industry. Typically, field-level oil and gas positions are thought to be occupied by men and not women, but that has never been the case for Ward.

“I never really experienced being treated differently as a woman,” said Ward. “I just try and befriend people and win them over. I ask questions if I don’t understand something, and I hope that vulnerability shows people I’m genuine.”

Although she experienced no pushback for being a woman, Ward did indicate that some departments in the past had proven to be more challenging than others. As a safety professional, interaction sometimes occurs with those same departments. She indicated that some of the challenges could be attributed to her lack of experience in that area.

“Drilling and completions were sometimes difficult,” said Ward. “They don’t typically like interference, but some of the challenge was also due to my lack of knowledge with that area.”

She cleared those hurdles, though, using her same tactics applied in everything she does. She continually asks questions and shows that she is genuinely interested in learning what she does not know.

According to Ward, the ability to ask questions is a major component in the blueprint of a successful safety professional. Additionally, she feels mentoring and training are crucial, a great deal of which can be accumulated directly in the field.

“I did it backwards,” said Ward. “I started my safety career in the office setting writing procedures and working with data. Then I went to the field. It would have served me better to understand how things worked in the field and then use that knowledge when writing those procedures.”

Ward acknowledges that all of these success factors are equally important, but if it were referred to as a hierarchy, then there is one requirement that outweighs all in determining if an individual is effective in their safety role.

“How we treat others is the most important,” said Ward. “As a safety professional, you are responsible for an injured party that is potentially experiencing a life-changing event, in addition to pain and fear. We are their advocates.”

Scott Poe, Assistant Construction Foreman with Devon Energy, worked with Ward in Devon’s Eagle Ford safety department. He said Ward had started working there prior to his arrival, and she went out of her way to show him around and make him feel at home.

“Jenny is amazing,” said Poe. “She made sure I was comfortable, and it showed that she really cared and was genuine.”

Poe related the story of an injured person being treated at the hospital. The injury was not major, but Ward remained steadfast in her commitment regarding this person’s wellbeing.

“Jenny did not leave the hospital right away,” said Poe. “She wanted to make sure the guy was ok. There was no way she was going to leave this guy without being assured he was comfortable and safe.”

Ward credits her success with being surrounded by talented individuals she has known in the past and currently seeks information and uses as a knowledge base. In her current position as Repsol’s Eagle Ford S&E Field Supervisor, Ward leads a team of field safety personnel who cover Repsol’s Eagle Ford Shale assets.

“My team is so incredible,” said Ward. “I am so fortunate to have them. Each one of them comes from a different background and has something unique to offer. They make me successful.”

Ward’s admiration for her team is equally reciprocated. As they are all men, they appreciate and recognize her as their equal in knowledge and supervisor by title.

“Jenny is fantastic at what she does,” said John Lane, Senior Safety Analyst with Respol’s Eagle Ford office and Ward’s team member. “She takes caring about people to another level, and that is what makes her so good at her job.”

Lane stated it was one thing to care about people, but Ward exemplifies the notion. As the industry comprises direct hire and contract workers, the distinction makes no difference to Ward. Everyone is treated equally. Rotational workers have even been known to receive home-cooked meals from Ward in an attempt to make being away from their families a little more bearable.

“Jenny not only cares about the people she works with, but she cares about their families too,” said Ward. “Jenny knows the names of these guys’ wives and kids.”

Caring about the well being of others seems to be the main ingredient to a successful safety recipe. However, Ward’s colleagues recognize her many other attributes that contribute to her success.

“Jenny is really smart,” said Lane, “She asks questions and listens to the answers. She doesn’t care who you are. She will listen to what others have to say. She listens to all of us on her team and what we have to say.”

A career in oil and gas safety is matched with both good and bad moments. The industry includes its share of dangers, and an acceptable risk tolerance level must be established. Sometimes this leads to displeasing and agonizing events, but as in other careers, good moments or wins aid in measuring success.

Ward reflected that her greatest career moments have been the ability to see projects through from start to finish and experiencing that feeling of accomplishment and how she has handled cases involving injured personnel.

“I never had the stomach to be a nurse,” said Ward. “I did know that I wanted to do something where I could help people. I’m able to do that while working in safety.”

With every career reflection, moments of glory can be equally matched with regret. Ward admitted that she did have some regrets in her career.

“I felt that I was extremely effective at Devon because of the relationships I formed,” said Ward. “I miss that.”

When tallying up wins and losses regarding Ward’s career so far, the win column far surpasses the latter. Having a positive effect on others is not easily accomplished by all.

“Jenny is very determined and extremely organized,” said Lane. “She gives 150% all the time. She makes me want to be better at my job, and she does.”

Ward has climbed an impressive career ladder, and each step has provided her with learning experiences that have formulated who she is as a person and safety professional today. She has formulated personal and professional relationships that are clearly the pillars of her work history. No other measurement of success can be better applied than influencing lives for the better. Ward recognizes her mid-level management effectiveness and said her five-year plan is to remain where she is and continue working with her current team. Our interview closed, and in true Jenny Ward fashion, she made sure to have me give her best to my family and enjoy the upcoming weekend. The schedule was tight, and she would settle for nothing less than giving her full attention to her next appointment.

About the author: Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188