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The right stuff

KJHMike Harris’s article on the preferred attributes of graduate geologists in his Soapbox 'Fieldwork & mining' (Geoscientist 25.06 July 2015) set me wondering - what attributes are required to be a successful exploration manager in today’s mining industry?

When I was at university I regularly heard how ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘engaged’ the student geologists were, compared to their peers in other faculties.  Geologists can be, perhaps, a bit overbearing at times; but it comes from their passion for the subject - and that endures for a career and a lifetime.  The first important attribute.


As Mike Harris wrote, it is important to have suffered in the field and enjoyed it – an all too common experience in England where I was an undergraduate.  Fortunately it was never too far to the nearest pub.  But even now, after 30 years in the industry, I still enjoy fieldwork – and it remains an integral part of my work as an exploration manager.

I jotted down what I thought about the typical attributes of an exploration manager, and it revealed straight away the diversity of the role.  Broad geological knowledge is an obvious prerequisite, with a focus on ore-deposit geology, structural geology, geochemistry and geophysics.  Some graduates may consider this to be all that is required; but it is really just the core of a far more varied toolbox of skills if one is to be effective.

A knowledge of environmental and safety management is critical, for example - particularly now that these disciplines are fully and seamlessly integrated with mineral exploration.  Sadly, when I started in the 1980s standards were not as high, and the legacy of that is still evident.


Then there’s the ability to manage accounts, to budget exploration work accurately, and in particular monitor costs and reconcile any variances.  This is a particularly important now that boards have limited options to raise capital.  Every dollar has to count.  Failure can result in an enforced career change.

Ability to manage a team, including all the HR challenges that this entails, is another aspect that many overlook.  Building an effective, balanced and motivated team is essential to success and making discoveries. Exploration geologists are a diverse bunch, and it’s often the harder-to-reach ones who prove best at making discoveries.  Providing an environment for them to thrive and do their best work takes constant effort.


The ability to communicate effectively is essential too - either orally or in writing.  For investors to allocate capital, they must see passion and enthusiasm for the project.  Resilience is also essential, with mining cycles becoming shorter and more severe.  ‘Geologists driving taxis’ is entrenched in folklore, and it remains a very real (temporary) possibility for many.

A career in exploration has a lot to offer graduate geologists.  For those who attain a position as exploration manager there is the variety but nothing compares to being part of a successful exploration team.

* Martin Bennett is a mineral exploration geologist working in Australia. He is currently Exploration Manager for KGL Resources Ltd.