Sonia Winter is the General Manager and SSE for BHP at the Poitrel mine in Queensland. She was one of the first female mining engineers to graduate in 1994 and today is a leader and mentor for many young engineers and mining professionals across the industry. In this podcast, Shaun discusses her work ethic behind achieving what she has to date, her pivotal choices in her career and how she balances her demanding role along with being a full-time mum.
1:00 – Sonia’s vision as a young graduate and the pivotal moments in her career
3:15 – How she developed her EQ and IQ
5:15 – Importance of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
7:45 – What Sonia looks for when hiring team members
9:00 – How Sonia has used and found mentors in her career
10:55 – About challenging the status quo to achieve positive outcomes
14:40 – Moving from being a mining engineer to managing
17:40 – About balancing career and motherhood
20:25 – Habits and rituals Sonia uses to create more success
22:30 – Tips for work life balance
23:60 – What the mines of the future look like
26:00 – Sonia’s passion around mining and why others should pursue it
28:00 – What is unique and exciting about mining?
What was your vision as a young graduate and what career decisions did you make along the way that were pivotal to getting you where you are today?
I think as a first year graduate you kind of want it all, I remember being on site and seeing the general manager as sort of that pivotal role that you aspire to want to be as a graduate, I didn’t know what that meant at the time, I didn’t know what skills or experience I needed to get there I just knew that on site that was the role that everyone sort of aspired to be. Starting out as a mining engineer that weaved around different technical pathways and there were some pivotal conversations that were had throughout my career that lead me from a mining graduate to my current role. I remember spending a lot time in that technical space and a senior leader had a conversation with me which was about me being at that point of whether I’m going to stay in the technical stream and continue on that pathway or moving into that people management side of things. So I took that conversation on board, had a think about whether I would jump out of my comfort zone into that people focused space as I loved my technical space, and the way I did it was moving to managing a smaller technical team and realising I loved that, to managing a larger technical team realised I loved that, then the next pivotal movement was into managing large teams where you weren’t the technical expert and you actually had to deliver through others and it was about engaging in that people management space. I guess through that journey I discovered that I really love that people management and leadership side and for me it has been a challenging learning curve, but I love seeing others achieve success and unlock their own potential.
Can you tell us about how you developed your EQ and IQ?
I focused on the technical aspect in the earlier years of my career journey and I guess reflecting what pushed me into that space was life in general, and as a parent I’ve learnt a lot of lessons parenting teenagers. You have to learn to flex your leadership style and parenting style to get the best out of your kids and the people around you and that was a lightbulb moment for me that was when I realized that the human element, the personality and tapping into peoples innate potential is where the key is to unlocking the secret of high performing teams.
Have you always consciously pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? And why do you think it’s important?
Growing up I loved competitive sport and it applied that level of discipline to life to balance out the training side of it with the academic side as there is only so many hours in the day. I found growing up that I was a harder task master on myself than any of my coaches could be, and I think I still am. I have high expectations of what I need to be doing for my teams on site as well. If I looked back on my whole journey, I always so failure as a negative, and it took me a long time to realise that you got more incredible learnings when you’re not coming first but by actually trying hard, and that self-reflection of unwrapping of how you can do better next time. You get that sort of internal drive to pick yourself up, you learn how to conduct yourself when you’re not at the top of your game, its that resilience piece that I think is really important coming through because you’re not always going to be number one every day.
What are some of things you look for in people when you hire them for your team?
I think you put your name forward for roles, and its not always about having all the skills you need for that role in your toolbox at that time. What I particularly look for is that self-awareness of where people are in regard to their skillsets and capabilities, I look for that engaging nature so that they can actually communicate and articulate those aspects, for me values are big, integrity respect, doing what you say you are going to do, and at the end of the day that energy that motivation that willingness to learn if you have all of that then everything else can be taught on the job.