A fresh perspective on leadership
Managing legal risks as Skanska AB’s General Counsel and being part of the Senior Executive Team guiding our operations in 11 countries are among the new responsibilities of Caroline Fellenius-Omnell. In this question and answer on leadership and careers, Caroline speaks of the importance of transparency, empowerment, values, having a mentor and more.
New Skanska AB General Counsel Caroline Fellenius-Omnell says trying different types of roles is important to developing one’s career.
Caroline Fellenius-Omnell recently joined Skanska to take on two key responsibilities: serving as an Executive Vice President on the Senior Executive Team guiding the Group’s global construction and project development operations, and being General Counsel. In the latter role, she has overall responsibility for managing the Group’s legal risks; this includes running Legal Affairs at Group level and supporting the legal functions across our company.
She shares insights on leadership and careers.
What are key leadership lessons you have learned?
There is not one leadership style that fits all. So as a leader, you have to adjust your style depending on whom you are working with. After all, a marketing person often has a different mindset than an engineer or an accountant. If there are cultural differences, that means you as a leader have an even greater responsibility to work to understand that person and their way of thinking.
Also, being transparent is important. I am quite Swedish in that sense. I like to anchor things – to get buy-in – to bring people with me. It is so much easier to do something or to bring about a change if people feel they have made a contribution and are “on board” with you.
But, I am not saying that I always seek consensus. There needs to be a balance between anchoring with others and taking action. Otherwise, you risk not doing anything at all.
What is your approach to building and developing strong teams?
It is very important to empower people. Also key is building trust by being open, transparent and by following through on commitments. And people should have fun at work! A laugh makes the day easier.
Which of Skanska’s values means the most to you personally?
They are all very important. But because of my role, I feel closest to Act Ethically and Transparently. Acting with integrity is key to having a sustainable business.
The construction industry traditionally has had a lot of challenges with ethics. Skanska has come a long way in this area, and we have such important tools as our Code of Conduct and our hotline for suspected breaches of the Code. I am part of the Skanska AB Ethics Committee that oversees the hotline – it is encouraging that people feel empowered to speak up.
What advice do you offer those early in their careers?
When I was starting my professional life, one of my first managers told me that I should take the opportunities that present themselves – that is how to develop personally and professionally. I have been practicing that by taking on different roles in different companies in different industries.
But you can achieve the same outcome without changing companies: just try different roles. It is important to try different roles so you don’t get too set on one career track – especially from the start of your career – without recognizing other opportunities around you. Trying different roles, perhaps in other parts of the business, brings a lot of richness and experience. It is also beneficial to work abroad, which takes you out of your comfort zone and enables you to understand the company culture from a broader perspective.
Finally, I suggest having a mentor. It is very good to have someone either within your company or outside of it to discuss your career and your thinking. It’s valuable to get feedback from someone other than your boss so you can get more of the outside-in perspective.
Do you have a mentor now, even as a senior leader?
Yes, I do. We meet three to four times a year, for two to three hours a session. I see it as a mix of mentoring and coaching. Normally, I set the topics for each discussion: maybe it is about building a specific competence or developing teams or how to develop a specific strategy. I find it very helpful to have a sounding board from someone who is more senior and can contribute with other insights.
Outside of work, what is a way you are challenging yourself?
My main priority is my family: my husband and two sons, ages 10 and 13. But I also like to try new things that are realistic for me – you won’t see me bungee jumping.
Last year, I started practicing yoga. This year, my aim is to get into boating. I recently took a navigation course for boats. My family and I are looking forward to purchasing a boat this spring. Having a boat in Stockholm enables you to experience the city in a completely different way.