A recent podcast interview prompted me to reflect on how my professional network and experiences have led to opportunities. Let me share a few highlights.
I was introduced to the Boston Chapter of American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) as a student. When I began my career in Maine as an occupational health nurse (OHN) in a tantalum capacitor plant, I reached out to AAOHN’s Maine Chapter and got involved on the program committee. It was my first professional network, and the members helped me learn the field as a new graduate working in a plant with 1,300 employees and no other OSH professionals.
Thanks to this experience, I eventually became president of the chapter and a member of the organization’s New England Region board. I also began presenting at the group’s national conferences. My network expanded significantly as I met a wide group of professionals, sometimes through my formal volunteer roles, sometimes through informal conversations.
One of those informal conversations occurred while waiting in line for an evening event at an AAOHN conference. I met an OHN consultant who was providing ergonomics health management guidance to her client, a large poultry processing company. The corporate director of safety told her he was struggling to find a qualified consultant who could develop the company’s emergency response program for ammonia refrigeration.
By this point in my career, I had been to graduate school for OSH, had held a corporate role and now owned a consulting firm providing high-hazard chemical consulting and training. This chance encounter resulted in work at 20 of this company’s plants. That same corporate safety director asked me to present to a poultry safety industry group, which resulted in a significant amount of work for my firm for more than 10 years. The OHN who I met in line is now in her 70s, still working, and we keep in touch.
My safety network also led to a project in Bangladesh for the U.S. Department of Labor. This was a demonstration project to develop OSH programs in a tannery and a textile mill with a team of two people from Johns Hopkins University. This experience had a significant impact on how I approach the practice of safety because it inspired me to take off my OSHA hat. By that I mean we were identifying risks and prioritizing them based on the true risk of the work, not on regulatory standards. That was 20 years ago, and since then I have advocated for safety and health management systems and focused on the management of risk.
My ASSP network has been a similar benefit to my career. I have been an ASSP member since 1993. My initial involvement began in the divisions, which are now our practice specialties. I also began speaking at conferences and developed connections with other speakers, many of whom remain key resources today. In fact, one is a past ASSP president who nominated me for the honor of Fellow.
When ASSP last changed its governance model, another member in my network suggested that I consider running for the board. That experience as a director-at-large led me realize that I might have the right skills to serve as senior vice president, an office that automatically succeeds to the offices of president-elect and president of ASSP. I am grateful for the encouragement, support and mentoring I received, and continue to receive, from those members of my network.
COVID-19 is not allowing us the opportunity to have those informal conversations while waiting in line at an event, but there are still many ways to build our network and gain value through those connections. For example, you can start by attending ASSP virtual events that have a networking component. Ask a question in chat, then, when someone posts a comment or poses a follow-up question, send a private message to the individual on chat and suggest connecting after the event. You can also use the ASSP Community to engage with others who have similar interests, or post an article on LinkedIn for feedback.
Our world is certainly different right now, but we can still realize the value of our network. Connect today and advance your career!