Gretchen Haskins

Gretchen Haskins

Chief Executive Officer

Helioffshore Ltd

Gretchen Haskins is a leader in safety performance improvement in the aviation industry and an internationally recognised expert in human factors.

She’s served in the U.S. Air Force, been advisor to NATO, flown, designed and tested jet aircraft, and dedicated her career to initiatives that support human performance on the frontline.

In recent years she has been group director of safety at NATS and group safety director on the board of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, before becoming chief executive officer of global helicopter industry association Helioffshore.

“I knew that hard work led to improvement”

You can form ambitions at an early age. As a child I spent a lot of time ice skating – sometimes eight hours a day – and really wanted to compete at the Olympics.

The skating played a big role in helping me set goals for myself and work towards them; I knew that hard work led to improvement. That ethos carried over to my school studies: I had a deal that I had to get straight As in order to be allowed to go ice skating, and it worked!

When I went on to join the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, the dedication paid off and I came closer to realising my childhood ambition. The academy had sports facilities, including an ice rink, and the Olympic training centre happened to be in Colorado – so while I was there I was taught by an Olympic coach and went on to compete at the World Student Games.

It’s ok to have a re-think. While I was at the academy, I probably changed my mind five times about what I wanted to major in.

I looked at aeronautical engineering, for example, but fell in love with human factors engineering, which is a mix of psychology and engineering. Fundamentally, it’s about how you
design things so that people do their jobs well.
Step away from the comfort blanket. In the military, the training is partly about getting you accustomed to being uncomfortable. As a young second lieutenant I would be responsible for chairing committees made up mainly of highly experienced men. But I was meant to lead the meeting, and they liked that I wasn’t afraid to ask for help – that I was very communicative and involving everybody. I built a team where everyone knew what was going on and how they contributed to it.

There are mentors all around you. I’ve been lucky: I’ve always had great bosses and lots of mentors. There are many people I believe are great at what they do and how they do it. I’m not afraid to copy – to emulate the way someone else has done something.

Seize the opportunity to follow your dreams… I moved jobs when I saw the opportunity to make a greater difference to people’s lives. Part of what excites me about the oil and gas industry is that there’s a maturity around safety. I go to meetings with very senior stakeholders and they know the technical aspects of safety models. If you can get senior people to understand what really drives safety performance, then you can start to get some really important things happen in the right way so that it will be felt on the front line.

Where educated: US Air Force Academy BSc, University of Southern California MSc.
Advice to your 15-year-old self? Follow your dreams; don’t let your fears guide your behaviour. Make choices about what’s next, rather than worrying about what just happened.
A moment of inspiration?Someone once told my husband they’d never have gone into leadership if it weren’t for a chance conversation with me – I’d inspired them to go ahead. You often don’t find out when you’ve inspired someone, but when you do it’s incredibly rewarding.