Finding the right mentor can be a challenge.
As with any other type of relationship, there are countless personality quirks, contrasting priorities, geographical barriers and personal histories that can make it difficult to connect. But as is also true of other relationships, mentorship offers benefits that cannot be found by other means. The right person could help you get your safety career off the ground, transition smoothly into a new role, expand your network or overcome professional obstacles.
“I’ve had several informal mentors that have been very valuable to me in my career,” says Christine Jay, M.S., CSP, a transformation and operational excellence lead at Club Car and mentor in our Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) Common Interest Group. “They’ve been transparent; they’ve provided great insight; they’ve challenged me, and definitely put me outside my comfort zone to take action to help me get to the next level, which is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about mentoring and helping others get the same opportunity.”
Often, the most passionate mentors are people who have enjoyed healthy and productive relationships as mentees in the past – but not always. Some mentors are people who never experienced the level of one-on-one guidance they now provide to others. They are driven by the desire to offer other ambitious safety professionals the resources they never had.
“I never had that experience,” says Carol Robinson, M.S., CSP, CIH, an expert technical advisor with Specialty Technical Consultants (STC) and mentor in our Consultants Practice Specialty. “Maybe it has to do with my personality, but I think it’s also because I started out at a time when there weren’t a lot of women in the profession.”
As an environmental safety and health leader with experience spanning more than 30 years, Robinson says she feels fortunate to have found a career that seamlessly blends her skill sets and gives her endless opportunities for growth. That’s why she wants to pay it forward to the next generation.
“I actively want to mentor because I want to give back to the profession,” she says.
Unfortunately, unlike booking a date, a person to walk your dog or someone to drive you to the airport, you might not have as much success using a general mentor-finding app to search for helpful safety professionals in your area. So where is the best place to start looking? Here are five tips from top ASSP mentors that can help you find the right professional guide and build a strong relationship that stands the test of time.
1. Identify what you need from a mentor.
It’s hard to get what you want out of a relationship if you don’t know what you need. Would you consider remote mentoring, with scheduled calls and email exchanges, or do you value the face-to-face interaction that comes when you work with someone local? Do you need a mentor with expertise in a specialized area of safety, or would a generalist be a better fit? Robinson says the first step in establishing a beneficial connection is to simply sit quietly for a few minutes and think about where you are in your career, where you want to be and how a mentor could help you get there.
“You don’t just look for one thing in a relationship, right? Your starting point is the need you’re trying to address, and beyond that you need chemistry, complementary styles of working and interacting.”
2. Write down the specific goals you have for your safety career.
When you start outlining your professional goals, it’s important to select clear, measurable objectives that can realistically be achieved within a short timeframe. Instead of writing, “earn a promotion,” for example, write, “earn a management position within one year by volunteering for at least two leadership roles, getting one relevant certification and increasing key performance indicators by 50 percent.” Doing this will not only allow you and your mentor to assess progress along the way, it will also allow both of you to more fully celebrate your success.
“It’s so exciting when we meet individuals who take the initiative to set goals,” Jay says. “They’re driven, they want to advance their careers and they’re willing to take chances and step outside their comfort zones. Seeing those individuals get promotions and take developmental roles is so rewarding.”
3. Take advantage of the mentorship programs available to you.
We are proud of the mentorship programs we offer ASSP members through our individual common interest and practice specialty groups. In addition to the programs offered by WISE and the Consultants Practice Specialty, the Blacks in Safety Excellence (BISE) Common Interest Group and Management Practice Specialty also have thriving communities of mentors who are ready and willing to help other safety professionals. Soon, our Young Professionals (YP) in Occupational Safety and Health Common Interest Group will be building out its program, dispelling the misconception that safety professionals who are new to the industry are less concerned with helping foster new talent.
“ASSP is the first and last place you need to look for mentorship,” says Ricky Sanders, M.S., CSP, technical consultant at Liberty Mutual and YP mentor. “Professional members who are active volunteers have their hearts in the right place, combined with both business and safety acumen.”
Of course, your company or another organization with which you are affiliated might have its own program that meets your needs, or you might want to informally reach out to experienced people in your network to see if they’d like to grab coffee from time to time. For a safety professional seeking mentorship, the sky is really the limit. Who says you can’t work with a significantly younger mentor? Who says you can’t learn from one informal relationship and one formal relationship at the same time? It’s all about your preferences and goals.
“I’m a huge believer in having the structured program,” Robinson says. “It’s great to work under the ASSP umbrella because it allows groups to connect people in an organized way, and I think you’re much more likely to get a good match the way we do it. But informal can work if you’re lucky and find someone that adds value.”
4. Choose a time to evaluate your progress and make adjustments.
Setting clear expectations about your timeline and your preferred communication frequency is critical to maintaining a happy, healthy relationship with your mentor. Look at your goals and how long it will take to achieve them. Then, consider how much help you’ll need from your mentor along the way and how much of that person’s time it will require. If you both agree in advance to talk for one hour each week over the course of six months, for example, it is less likely that either of you will feel disrespected or unsatisfied throughout the experience. Many formal mentorship programs, like those offered by ASSP, have built-in timelines to provide people the opportunity to reassess and recommit to the terms of their arrangement.
“I think it’s really beneficial that our sign up period is only six months,” Robinson says, describing the mentorship program run by our Consultants Practice Specialty. “If the relationship doesn’t work, you’re not in a long-term relationship, the way a job can be. You go through it, you learn from even the challenging relationships, then you move on.”
5. Put in the work and expect big things.
Keeping up with a long list of professional contacts takes a lot of time and energy. Beginning and nurturing one-on-one connections with mentors can take even more. But for safety professionals who put in the time and take ownership of their own development, working with a mentor can be enormously helpful. Sanders advises that to find and work with the right mentor, you should start by cultivating three main qualities: confidence, persistence and follow-through.
“Young professionals, in particular, must network and lose their fear of rejection,” he continues. “For example, research who will attend ASSP’s Professional Development Conference and go up to them, shake their hand and let them know you are interested in growing. Finding a mentor won’t happen automatically and it won’t always work the first time – you have to make the effort.”
Throughout her 20 years in the industry, Jay says she has also seen how a lack of confidence can severely inhibit a safety professional’s career growth.
“Don’t be afraid to ask someone to mentor you, and don’t second-guess why someone at a more senior level would spend part of their day helping you. As mentors, we think of it this way: We’re helping build a pipeline, and we’re willing to make time in our busy schedules to help someone who is really motivated to do better.”
WISE Mentoring Program
Practice Specialties - Consultants Mentoring Program
Practice Specialties - Management Practice Specialty Mentorship
Have questions about mentorship? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.