If you ask Jennifer McNelly what drew her to the opportunity to become the chief executive officer (CEO) of ASSP, she’ll tell you it’s a role she’s been building toward her entire career.
“There isn’t an element within the Society that in some way shape or form I haven’t touched from a technical perspective,” she says. “In the context of the opportunity to be able to do what I do best every single day, and in the context of purpose and mission, grounded in the respect of our volunteer leadership and an unbelievable staff – that’s any executive’s ideal job.”
McNelly came on board as CEO Aug. 16, 2018, bringing with her 30 years of association, business, government and regulatory experience. Prior to joining ASSP, she was president of 180 Skills, LLC, an online career and technical education company, and president of The Manufacturing Institute, the nonprofit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
During her years at NAM, McNelly oversaw the launch of the STEP Ahead Initiative aimed at helping women pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and production. NAM was also involved in the launch of National Manufacturing Day, an effort aimed at bringing greater visibility of manufacturing as a career to the next generation workforce.
One goal of these initiatives, according to McNelly, was to go beyond traditional marketing methods for these professions to create a public image campaign that provided people with a first-hand look at what careers in those fields have to offer.
“My philosophy as an executive is that action happens on the ground,” she says. “What’s going to make a difference is to create an experience for somebody that changes their perception.”
As she entered her new role at ASSP, one of McNelly’s first orders of business was to build relationships with members and the board of directors to understand what draws them to the Society and what motivates them in the work that they do.
“I’ve made a point, with formal structure as well as informal structure, to build my presence and relationships within the Society as a whole,” she says. “I want to be accessible to members and staff and support the directors in their functional roles as we think about the management of the Society.”
One lesson McNelly has taken from these initial interactions is the levels of expertise and commitment that exist among our members and volunteers.
“There is a wealth of knowledge across our membership base from a volunteer perspective, from a member perspective, from an expert perspective,” she says. “That capability needs to be harnessed to improve the productivity and impact of our members, we need to help them be better at what they do.”
Helping members be better at what they do is at the heart of McNelly’s vision and the type of leadership that she wants to bring to ASSP.
“I want the society to be member-responsive, where we’re thinking about the challenges they face, anticipating their needs and leading them where they want to go,” explains McNelly. “Our responsibility as a Society is to make sure we are supporting our members and what is in their best interest and what needs to happen in the marketplace.”
As ASSP moves forward, one of McNelly’s top priorities is expanding the Society’s reach beyond the safety profession to educate the public at-large about the work that members do every day to help workers get home safe.
“I believe our greatest challenge is how we amplify the voice of the profession to drive impact. We are the go-to source on standards and education, other people need to understand why that’s important,” she says. “We need to challenge ourselves to expand our sphere of influence to drive systems change in the market.”
Above all, McNelly says, for herself, ASSP members and volunteer leaders, is to think about the impact one can have on those with whom they work and leave things better than they found them.
“The legacy of our volunteer leadership and our membership is leaving things better off than they were when they started because of the people who they’ve touched – that to me is what ultimate legacy is.”
Read the full PSJ Asks interview with Jennifer McNelly, which originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Professional Safety. Want to receive a monthly subscription to Professional Safety, ASSP’s top-ranked benefit? Become an ASSP member.