What makes a great safety leader? Most would say it’s a combination of skills and a drive to continuously improve workplace safety and health. An occupational safety and health professional can use a range of techniques to advance safety and health and improve how the safety function is perceived by the organization’s leaders and workers.
Here are four ways you can distinguish yourself within your organization and take the lead for safety.
Understand the Business
Every aspect of an organization is interconnected. Great leaders understand interconnectedness between safety and the rest of the business and recognize its impact on the bottom line. By broadening your knowledge of the different aspects of your organization and the role each plays in its success, you can establish yourself as a leader.
“It is not enough for the OSH professional to know their job technically. They also need to know the business aspects of their organization,” says Joel Tietjens, CSP, CSHM, FASSP, training facilitator and president of T-JENS & T-JENS INC. “A safety leader must understand the various management system styles that exist at all levels of the organization.”
He notes that there is no “one-size-fits-all approach,” so to be most effective, a safety leader needs to understand what everyone throughout the organization brings to the table to determine the best approach to getting commitment and support for safety initiatives.
“One of the biggest failings of an OSH professional is total focus on hazards and risks without any regard to how they will affect the business,” he says. “The OSH professional and management team members must recognize the hazards the operations present, then evaluate the risks that are associated with the hazards.”
Tietjens emphasizes that OSH professionals are uniquely positioned to work with the management team to identify the best approach to minimizing exposure. This requires an understanding of return on investment, return on assets and equity, cost effectiveness, and insurance and risk management principles and techniques.
With an understanding of the business side of your organization, you can take another step toward becoming a better safety leader by establishing relationships with different departments and individuals.
“The most common trait among safety leaders is their ability to build relationships at all levels of the organization,” Tietjens says. “They work to build trust and credibility, show integrity and have character.”
Tietjens notes that one way you can build that trust and credibility within your organization is to work with moral conviction and show that you genuinely care about the well-being of every person in your organization. Furthermore, he says you should demonstrate that you are steadfast in your convictions, principled and ethics.
“The OSH professional must work to establish themselves as the go-to person for OSH knowledge, guidance and direction,” he says. “That can only be achieved by establishing relationships.”
Have a Vision
One characteristic that separates a safety “manager” from a safety “leader” is knowing what you want to achieve and what it takes to get there. By learning about the business and developing relationships, you begin to understand how everyone can work together to achieve shared goals.
“A safety leader has a vision of where they want to guide and direct the organization to meet its goals,” says Tietjens. “They have the ability to effectively communicate that vision to all levels of the organization, from the C-suite to the ground level and everywhere in between.”
Tietjens adds that a safety leader does not have to be an OSH professional and that in an ideal world an organization’s management team should be the safety leaders, with an OSH professional guiding and directing their efforts.
Through the relationships they build, a safety leader is able to implement their vision across the organization to guide, direct and counsel the management team and the rest of the organization in reaching that vision.
“An OSH professional should always ask department heads, vice presidents, managers and others, ‘How can I help meet your goals?’” says Tietjens. “They must establish themselves as a team player.”
Remember Your Workers
Above all, Tietjens it’s critical to remember that the success of any business is driven by human performance. This requires you to understand the decisions people make at all levels as well as the environments in which those decisions were made.
“An OSH professional can never forget the human aspect,” he says. “Without human capital, nothing happens, and OSH professionals must identify how the organization’s system is created and why and how that system drives human performance.”
He adds that it is the OSH professional’s responsibility to recognize or identify system flaws and inform and educate the management team on how the system is driving human performance. This guidance helps the management team make needed adjustments to improve human performance and reduce errors.
“So many OSH professionals focus on compliance,” he says. “Being an OSH professional is so much more than that, it is an important part of our mission, but this is far beyond compliance.”
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