Experts share experiences at Tuesday morning Leadership Forum

By Gretchen Jacobson

For the first time, NACE International hosted an interactive Leadership Forum during CORROSION 2018. Held on Tuesday morning following Commander Mike Abrashoff’s keynote address on the topic of leadership, the forum provided the opportunity for attendees to learn from those who set the direction of their businesses and use their management skills to effectively guide teams to reach organizational goals.

Abrashoff, author of the bestselling book, It’s Your Ship, joined a panel that included forum moderator Richard Hays, senior corrosion engineer at Excet, Inc. and former deputy director of the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight; Terry May, founder and CEO of MESA and two-time Malcolm Baldridge Award recipient; and Bill Hedges, acting chief engineer at BP Facilities & Assets.

Hays began by asking Abrashoff to discuss the importance of a positive workforce culture from a corrosion control perspective. “The number one consideration is safety,” said Abrashoff, who commanded the USS Benford for 18 months and through leadership principles, guided his crew to turn around an underperforming, accident-prone vessel to an award-winning, high-performing warship. “I would walk the ship myself, checking inspection tags on equipment, looking for maintenance issues, even picking up trash, letting my crew know we don’t just walk past anything that doesn’t look right.”

Hays and members of the audience continued with questions for Abrashoff, May, and Hedges. May reiterated that it doesn’t matter what size or type of organization you work for; best leadership practices always apply. “My top words for describing a successful leader are ‘humble,’ ‘team builder,’ and ‘learner,’” he said. “All leaders, including myself, make mistakes but we must learn from them to improve.”

Hedges said that “Leadership is a contact sport. You can read books and sit in a classroom, but the fact is that you just have to do it. I have the privilege of leading 100 corrosion engineers. Leadership is indeed complicated and my most important criteria are authenticity, being a motivator, and giving and receiving objective feedback. Everyone has opinions—the only way to find out what they are is to ask, and listen.”

In conclusion, NACE Past President Jim Feather asked how the leadership concepts discussed in the keynote address and forum relate to an organization like NACE International with member volunteers. May stated that this does have its own challenges. As he previously mentioned in the session, emotional intelligence, technical skills, accountability for leaders all apply. Hays conceded that it is more difficult to build a strong culture of leadership in a volunteer-led organization, but it is done. “NACE volunteers are leaders,” he said. “They develop their skills by volunteering in multiple capacities.”

The Leadership Forum is an initiative that coincides with the goals of NACE’s Leadership Training Program for its volunteer members. Participants of this training program learn skills that enable them to grow and succeed in their careers, whether within their own companies or in their volunteer work. For more information, see