The new year gives us a chance to take a break, reflect and look forward to the future. It’s also an opportunity to evaluate your safety career and find ways to get reenergized, recommitted and refocused on yourself so you can better protect your team and your own well-being.
“When you take ownership of your experience, it gives you a better quality of life,” says Subena Colligan, CSP, CIH, a coach and consultant who helps safety professionals level up their personal, professional and organizational goals.
We talked with Colligan about how to advance your career in 2022 in a way that is fulfilling, even amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty it brings.
1. Assess How Your Work Makes You Feel
The first step is one of mindfulness: To really look at your work — both your day-to-day responsibilities and the bigger picture — and assess what brings you joy and what drains you. Colligan recommends identifying what “fills your cup,” because “you can’t serve others until your own cup is full.”
“It’s important to be really honest with yourself about where you are, what you enjoy and how you can put more of that into your professional and personal life,” she says. “How you feel determines how your personal leadership shows up.”
She says it’s important to be intentional about separating others’ expectations from your own. Are you pursuing career goals that don’t align with what you enjoy? Shake yourself free of those extraneous expectations and focus on what you expect of yourself.
Of course, the reality is that you may have draining portions of your job that are outside your control. But having identified those things, you can take a deeper look at them and find ways to mitigate the strain. “The goal is to do more of what you love.”
If you aren’t feeling drained and your quality of work is good but you are still looking to find something that engages and excites you, Colligan recommends reading up on the emerging issues impacting safety and health and identifying areas where you can grow your leadership. How can you leave your mark and advance the profession?
2. Define Your Non-Negotiables
As you decide how to approach your personal leadership, it’s important to define your non-negotiables. This gives you a set of values, goals and boundaries that you will not violate. You may also choose to strategically share these insights with the people around you, including leaders.
Some examples: I must have effective training. I must have the resources to conduct audits and implement controls. I must be able to do my work with integrity.
“These are all the things I’m doing to get to this next version of who I want to be and where I want to go,” Colligan says. “You have to have boundaries in order to get things done.”
3. Elevate Your Support Network
“Energy management is the future,” Colligan says. “Managing your energy comes along with managing the people around you and having the right people in place for yourself at different levels.”
People may give you energy, drain your energy, or have little bearing on your energy (the coworker who you simply see in passing). Use this lens to evaluate your workplace relationships and find areas for growth in 2022: How can you strengthen the connections that give you energy and be a source of support for others? How can you minimize the effects of energy-draining relationships?
Colligan also recommends elevating your network by looking for mentors and what she calls “sponsors.”
“Mentors are really giving you some type of guidance, they are there for you, while sponsors are creating space for you in rooms you’re not in yet,” she says.
4. Leverage Your Strengths and Brand
“Not all professionals are cut the same,” Colligan says. “Leveraging your strengths into your personal brand gives you an advantage to do more of what you love.”
A personal brand is a combination of your strengths, non-negotiables, network, value proposition, expertise and how you consistently show up. Once you take the first three steps, you should have a better understanding of all of these elements and how they work together to help you be your best. Sharing your personal brand with others can open doors to more opportunities.
When Colligan was facing her greatest career struggle (managing a team that was burned out) and experiencing can’t-get-off-the-couch burnout herself, she says her brand helped her find solutions. “My brand is why I landed the challenging role. Strategically employing each element gave me ownership to move from burnout to owning it.”
5. Take Action
Once you’ve recognized what and who brings you joy (as well as what and who drains you), developed your brand and defined your non-negotiable priorities and personal boundaries, it’s time to take action.
“You have to take intentional action — and not only is it intentional, but each action complements another,” Colligan says. “You can’t run 100 meters and spin around in a circle at the same time. These are not cohesive actions. Choose exactly what gets done from your list within the boundaries of your approach.”
Then you commit, execute and follow through.
When Colligan reassessed her relationship with the team and incorporated ways of working that were in line with what mattered to them, her site saw a 30% reduction in injuries after a year. She trained leaders in safety, earned an additional safety certification, shifted how incidents and near misses were reported, and eventually got to a place where her organizational leaders were engaged and invested in the program.
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