Back to Insights

Insights by


11 March 2024

How to move from operational to C-suite roles in mining

If your goal is to move from a technical or operational background into a strategic leadership mandate, the approach you take can shape your career progression. Do you know what will take to move from where you are now, to where you want to be?


At a glance:

  • The gap between operational and executive roles seems significant, but the right approach can move your career in this direction.
  • In the absence of a set career path, operational and technical leaders can focus on developing some key leadership skills and attributes.
  • Building broad business and industry acumen enhances what operational leaders bring to executive roles.

Many senior leaders in the mining and resources sector start out performing operational and technical roles before progressing towards more senior strategic leadership opportunities. While not everyone has these aspirations, it’s important to think and actively plan how you will shift from the immediate and medium term priorities, towards a more long-term and strategic focus.

“Executive roles in this sector often require a broad combination of skills and experience, so there isn’t always a singular strategy or route that people can take to progress towards these senior leadership mandates,” explains Bruno Tolosa, a Principal for Gerard Daniels in London. “And while it can feel like a long distance between operating mines and leading them from the corporate office or the boardroom, if this is what you aspire to you can grow your career to get there.”

“Over time I’ve spoken with many candidates looking to make this transition in mining, but the challenge itself is not unique,” Bruno continues. “The need to define your own career path and develop the right leadership skills is relevant in any industry or role where you start with your boots on the ground and work your way up.”

Here Bruno shares some pointers to help technical and operational leaders work towards securing more senior, strategic appointments. 

Learning how to lead and influence effectively

The gap between performing operational and Executive roles feels significant, but at any level of an organisation you can choose to focus on being a good leader and developing good leadership skills.

“Leading and influencing comes quite naturally to some people, but if it’s something you need to work on be mindful that you might not gain the experience you need from simply being a good operator or technical expert in your chosen field,” says Bruno. “If this is the case, you will need to identify any gaps in your portfolio and look for opportunities to develop your leadership capability in these areas.”

In the absence of a set career path to executive roles, there are some leadership skills and attributes that aspiring leaders can focus their development on.

Showcasing your leadership skills

To be seen as a candidate for Executive roles, you must build a track record to showcase your leadership and influencing skills. “Find ways to demonstrate your appetite and ability to lead, within and outside of your technical or operational function,” says Bruno. “To be given new leadership opportunities at all levels, focus on this from early on in your career.”

Continued learning and development

Maintaining a continuous learning and development mindset helps to close skills gaps. It also keeps you open to the feedback you will need to grow and develop as a leader. “Surround yourself with people that you can learn from and that can help you to navigate the challenging environment in which leadership roles are performed,” says Bruno. “This may include regular networking and putting yourself up for mentorship opportunities with other senior leaders. Podcasts are another good way to access new business ideas and strategies to achieve successful commercial outcomes.”

Prioritising communication and relationships

Effective communication and relationships are key to leading and influencing at any level. To develop your capability in this area:

  • Always strive to build a culture of trust and open communication within your team
  • Focus on guiding and motivating others and bringing them along with you through change
  • Build the capability of your team as part of your focus on continual improvement
  • Prioritise building and maintaining diverse relationships, inside and outside of your team.

Business and strategic acumen

To lead and influence in the mining sector you need entrepreneurial spirit and strategic vision to think beyond day-to-day operations and identify opportunities for improvement. Strong business acumen is another important quality for effective leadership, but this isn’t always obvious and doesn’t always feel particularly natural for people at the operational level.

“As an executive you must be able to defend the business decisions that you make. You must also communicate the value of the work that you’re doing and its macroeconomic impact in very simple financial terms,” says Bruno. “While you do see individuals with the ability to instinctively see value and strategic impact, if this is not your natural tendency it is a skill that can be learned.” 

Broad business understanding

Continuing to develop an understanding of your function and the work that you do remains important in working towards broader senior leadership roles.

“The pressure on heavy industry leaders is considerable and organisations need diverse, knowledgeable and resilient executive leadership teams to navigate the many strategic and operational challenges,” says Bruno. “Having a broad foundation, particularly in sectors like mining and resources, allows you to bring a lot more to the table.”

“Leaders with good operational knowledge tend to understand the day-to-day challenges; appreciate what it takes to run the business safely and efficiently; and know where change and/or technological advancement is needed,” says Bruno. “Having a broad business understanding also helps to identify potential issues, which is critical for psychological and physical safety in safety-critical environments like mining.”

According to Bruno, being an executive with business credibility and a deep operational or technical understanding also sends the right message to employees, investors and shareholders. “There is assurance in knowing that the people behind the wheel know exactly what's going on beneath the bonnet,” says Bruno.

While some of these skills and attributes come naturally and others require a bit more work – they all bring value to performing leadership roles at any level. If you approach your career planning and development to grow your capability in these areas, you will have what most organisations look for in senior leaders and be one step closer to realising your professional goal.

Beyond the operational and technical skills, you’re in a position to showcase your commercial skills if your ambition is to be in the C-Suite.

Ready to take your career to the next level? Reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.

Subscribe to Gerard Daniels Insights

Our monthly look at the critical thinking behind Executive Search & Leadership.

Our Expertise

Industry Sectors


About Us

2024 © Gerard Daniels. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy - Cookie Policy - Covid Policy

Picture of the author

This website makes use of cookies to enhance the browsing experience and provide additional functionality.