Lori Traweek, chief operating officer of the American Gas Association, has been in the oil and gas industry for most of her career. When she started with the organization more than thirty years ago, she was involved in pipeline safety and environmental advocacy, served on a steering team for the Department of Transportation’s distribution integrity management program, and assisted in the launch of the Common Ground Alliance. In her current role, she oversees the development of abundant, domestic, affordable, and clean natural gas for consumers to meet the nation’s energy and environmental needs.
Flagger Force: Tell us about the American Gas Association (AGA). What drew you to this position?
Lori Traweek: The AGA represents over 200 energy companies that work to deliver clean natural gas throughout the United States. Today, more than one-fourth of the United States’ energy needs are supplied by AGA members.
Most of my career has been spent with the AGA. I was first hired as an engineer over thirty years ago, and while I wasn’t familiar with the association at the time, I became very impressed and passionate about the work I was doing. Over that time, my career at AGA was working out so well. It has been so rewarding and I have progressed with the company to my current role as chief operating officer.
Flagger Force: What is most inspiring about the work AGA does for utilities and their communities?
Lori Traweek: Energy is so foundational—so critical—to our everyday quality of life. Yet, most people don’t realize what it takes to keep these resources performing at the capacity we need them to. For us to function as a society, it requires daily commitment of hundreds of thousands of skilled employees, innovation, and necessary infrastructure to get the heat, hot water, and fuel to cook that we’re all accustomed to. AGA is actively involved in advocating on behalf of our membership and helping our members achieve operational excellence in the safe, reliable, efficient, and environmentally responsible delivery of natural gas. It is inspirational to work with these dedicated gas company employees—from the workers in the field to the CEOs—to deliver on these goals affordably to the 177 million Americans whose quality of life is enhanced thanks to natural gas.
Flagger Force: How has AGA worked with their members to improve partnerships between them?
Lori Traweek: One of the wonderful characteristics of natural gas utilities is that they don’t compete. They also recognize that the entire industry benefits when they do their job well individually. And perhaps, because so many have engineering backgrounds, they favor efficiency over “reinventing the wheel.” This provides AGA the opportunity to offer our members conferences, meetings, webcasts, discussion groups, and other forums to share leading practices and innovative technology developments. It allows us to collectively bring together the best minds across the industry to develop standards and innovate and, in general, identify ways to continually improve operations. It allows us to work together to understand energy trends and provide credible fact-based information and to be informed participants in energy policy discussions. It is clear to AGA and our membership that we are better when we work together and engage partners toward acheiving a common goal.
Flagger Force: Tell us about the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) and your role in launching the association?
Lori Traweek: Damage to underground pipelines caused by excavation has been a leading cause of incidents in the natural gas industry. In 2000, under the leadership of Richard Felder, the former Department of Transportation associate administrator for pipeline safety, various members of industry groups, such as myself on behalf of AGA, leadership from gas distribution and transmission, and others, concluded that the best way to make a significant impact on reducing incidents was to bring together all of the stakeholders that engaged in the underground utility industry—including gas, electric, railroads, public works, OneCall organizations, and equipment and services contractors.
CGA was formed with the focused mission of preventing damage to the underground utility infrastructure and protecting those who live and work near these underground pipes, wires, cables, and other facilities. Over the years, through a recognition that accepting shared responsibility is key to making progress, the CGA has collected statistics and developed leading practices. The results have shown a significant reduction of incidents. And while there is still room for improvement, this has been a great example of what you can achieve when you partner, bringing together stakeholders with a common mission.
Flagger Force: When looking for a partnership for AGA or CGA, what are some traits you look for?
Lori Traweek: The broader the engagement of a partnership, the more varied the perspectives, backgrounds, knowledge, and expertise, the better chance you have of thoroughly addressing an issue and advancing a viable solution without unintended consequences. Whenever we have the opportunity, we seek partnerships. For myself, I want a partner who shares an interest in the issue, who is honest, open-minded, and willing to listen. They must bring the same enthusiasm and commitment that I do to find and advocate for a workable solution.
Flagger Force: How have partnerships evolved during your tenure with AGA?
Lori Traweek: When I first came to AGA, we would often work on issues in a vacuum with little communication with stakeholders who did not share our vision. That resulted in a combative environment that bogged down progress and rarely resulted in favorable outcomes. It became clear that building relationships—engaging all the stakeholders—would lead to more efficient and better solutions. Over my 30 year career at AGA, I have strived to build relationships with all of the stakeholders: policymakers, industry leaders, federal and state regulators, environmental and safety advocates, educators, equipment and services providers, customers and representatives for the public—anyone who has a stake in any given issue and is sincerely interested in constructive dialogue. And having those partnerships has resulted in better informed and more effective solutions.
Flagger Force: How do you balance working with multiple partners on a single initiative? Have you noticed any regional differences among AGA’s partnerships?
Lori Traweek: You must establish a common mission and, when necessary, remind all partners of that mission. You need to respect and understand the perspective of the different partners. And you then need to listen, put yourself in the other’s shoes and not be so focused on addressing your concern that you won’t consider other’s issues. For instance, energy companies deliver natural gas in all 50 states. That means variation in climate, age and type of infrastructure, rural and urban areas, and political and public priorities. You often can’t have a “one size fits all” approach. It all comes down to listening and understanding motivations, objectives, and why something that might work for one partner or area may not work for others. Ultimately, you want to land on common ground that everyone can support. And sometimes it is necessary to capture why there may need to be different approaches based on regional or other characteristics.
Flagger Force: Do you have any recommendations on developing partnerships?
Lori Traweek: Trust and credibility are critical when working with partners, or any stakeholders. That’s how you earn the respect needed to address any issue. You are not always going to agree and may have to agree to disagree. That’s okay if you know that the partners you are working with are coming to the table with integrity and the best of intentions.
You also must listen and be open to entertaining alternative perspectives.
Read it in the pub!
Check out Lori’s interview in all its glory and find additional content in Vol. VII of “On The Move”—Partnerships.