The strategic leader who’s found the ‘fuel’ for growth and success

September 13, 2023
career success

If you asked Sharmila Clancy whether she ever predicted becoming a leader in one of Australia’s largest energy infrastructure companies, she would probably say no.

But that’s the beauty of growth and development: sometimes, you find your way to bigger, better places you never expected to be in.

Especially if you get the opportunities and support to constantly push past your limits.

As General Manager of APA Group’s Strategic Programs & Enterprise Portfolio Management Office, Sharmila knows all about growth – it’s been the driving force of her career.

In fact, when we asked her about her proudest achievements in her career so far, she answered thoughtfully:

career success

“There have been a few related to successful program delivery, but mostly it’s about coaching and mentoring people to support their growth.”

More than anything, Sharmila’s story showcases the heights you can reach when your desire to grow is matched by your employer, your colleagues, and your ambitions.

Drawn to leadership

Sharmila may not have foreseen working in the energy sector, but her path to senior leadership was hardly surprising.

“It was somewhat of a natural progression for me. My first accounting role was a manager role for a team of people much older and more experienced than me. It was daunting, but I had a fantastic people leader who empowered and challenged me.”

This early challenge proved pivotal in her career trajectory.

“Having a leadership role from the age of 22 shaped my view of leadership and gave me the confidence to keep aspiring to bigger roles.”

She recalls:

“I started out as an accountant and moved into treasury. And then I got into project management.”

And it was in project management where her spark for business transformation ignited.

“My roles in project management gave me the opportunity to participate in, and lead, business transformation initiatives across the mining, financial services, transport infrastructure, and energy sectors.”

But leading and completing projects weren’t the main attractions for Sharmila:

“It wasn’t so much project management that drove my career transitions. It was the opportunity to get involved in business transformation activities.”

She explains further:

“Having started in operational roles in internal audit, management accounting, and corporate treasury, I could see how many improvements could be made if dedicated resources (people, time, and money) were available.”

This insight formed the core of her work philosophy, anchoring many of the projects and initiatives she managed throughout her career.

And all this led her to a higher peak in APA, where she found an organization that crystallized the values and lessons she had been championing for years.

There’s something special about the culture at APA 

Since starting her current role in APA, one thing became increasingly clear to Sharmila:

“A lot can be achieved with the right investment, team, and capability. Equally important is a company’s culture, which takes many years of time and investment to build and is vital to protect.”

And from the moment she started, Sharmila knew there was something special about the culture at APA

“I started during one of Melbourne’s COVID lockdowns. Despite only being able to operate from home over video calls, I had no issues working with my new colleagues. The culture is such that people make time for each other, seek to support each other’s goals, and look for positive outcomes.”

But this was just the start.

She found APA was amazingly proactive in providing the support employees needed to truly excel in their roles.

“I am deeply grateful for the development opportunities that have been afforded to me. The leadership programs, access to other leaders, and time to reflect on my development needs – all of these have been enlightening and rewarding.”

APA Group empowers its diverse and inclusive workforce by providing world-class training and development, talent nurturing programs, and a heightened culture of accountability.

Learn more

For Sharmila, the company’s commitment to nurturing talent and supporting each employee’s development no matter their gender, culture, or background is truly exceptional.

And this includes its empowerment of women, whom Sharmila helps support and inspire as a senior leader in the company.

“It is important to me that APA values, and is committed to, creating a productive space where women can thrive, strive, and be successful. It’s not just about gender statistics.”

Becoming a source of inspiration

As a woman in an executive role, Sharmila knows her story can inspire more than just the women in APA – it can also move anyone who aspires to lead or simply do more than what they thought they could.

It’s a huge responsibility, but one she knows is worth the time and effort to do well.

And when things get challenging, she draws inspiration from the people she looks up to – much like the way women and many others look up to her now.

“My mother (and father) are huge inspirations for me. They both came from humble, hardworking, and loving families with strong women. They carved out careers for themselves and showed us what success looked like.”

She adds:

“I was always encouraged to strive, to be humble, and to value the power of relationships. I am grateful for my strong female friendships that inspire, challenge, and bring me laughter.”

Forming the right relationships, Sharmila notes, has been one of the keys to her personal and professional growth.

“Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with many women and men who have supported my development. I truly believe in the power of authentic human connection.”

She tells women and anyone else who needs a good dose of inspiration:

“Back yourself, trust your skills and experience, and be courageous to take or create opportunities. Regret is not a great feeling.”

To learn is to grow

When it comes to regret, Sharmila tells us she doesn’t have many.

“I don’t hold many regrets. Perhaps I could have explored working overseas for a stint, but that doesn’t keep me up at night.”

Instead, she focuses on what she did right through all these years, even in moments that initially seemed like missed opportunities.

“I’m glad I resisted the persistent calls to ‘talk more in meetings’ when I was not ready to do so. This is a comment generally asked of women when space is not made for that to happen.”

Later, upon further reflection, Sharmila remembers some lessons she learned the hard way.

“I wish I trusted my judgement more and was more confident. But age and experience work wonders!”

And here lies the most inspiring thing she offers to others: no matter how old you are or where you are in your career, know that there’s always room to grow.

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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