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Leading Safety Forward

Deborah R. Roy, M.P.H., R.N., CSP, COHN-S, CIT, FASSP, FAAOHN, 2020-2021 ASSP President
May 01, 2021
ASSP President Deb Roy

Many of you have heard me talk about the more visible role OSH professionals have due to the pandemic. We fulfill a critical role that affects the overall well-being of workers worldwide.

This enhanced visibility also means we have an even greater responsibility to lead, even if our title does not reflect a formal leadership position. This leads to the question, "How do I build leadership skills if I do not hold a formal role?"


Throughout the pandemic, many of us have provided the C-suite with science-based solutions grounded in an understanding of our organizations and industries. A willingness to learn and adapt is critical to evolving our roles and elevating our contributions. If you have become the go-to resource and also have business skills, you are well-positioned to be recognized as a leader and expand your role.

If you have not experienced new opportunities during the pandemic, you have likely gained new skills that would make you a match for one of the many new OSH positions I am seeing posted. I believe we will have more options and opportunities now that a light has been shined on how critical worker safety and health are to business continuity.

Even if your work role is fulfilling, you may still want to find other ways to expand your soft skills. Volunteering is a great example. I have had many opportunities to grow my business skills in my corporate OSH roles and in operating my consulting firm. Like most OSH professionals, I use my critical-thinking and problem-solving skills each day to assess safety problems and develop practical solutions. But I developed many of my soft skills through various volunteer roles that started early in my career.

Let me share a few examples. In my early 20s, during my first occupational health job, I joined the state chapter of the occupational health nurses' organization. I moved quickly through various roles, leading me to become chapter president when we were responsible for hosting a regional conference. There's nothing like planning a conference to learn how to build teams and communicate effectively!

That experience showed me that I had the skills to plan and prioritize work and to communicate with diverse audiences. This gave me the confidence to volunteer for a committee that ran the state conference, a group I would ultimately chair twice. This experience helped me to learn facilitation skills that I use today. I learned how to draw out great ideas, involve all participants and keep the group focused on the task at hand.

As a member of various boards and as treasurer, I learned to work with a team and delegate not only the responsibility, but also the authority to make decisions. And I learned that it takes different people with complementary strengths to make it work.

During that time, I began speaking at state and regional conferences, then at national and international events, while also working in both occupational safety and health. That's how I became involved with ASSP. I started teaching at the annual conference, served on symposium task forces and various committees, and was engaged with two practice specialties.

These experiences contributed to what I bring to ASSP and our members as a board member and Society president. But they also gave me opportunities to learn and practice skills such as relationship-building that have contributed to a successful 39-year career in corporate settings and consulting.

What does all of this mean to you? I hope you see it as a call to take charge of your own development and consider what volunteering can do for you. You can learn about elected Society roles and job descriptions with required time commitment at ASSP also has many time-limited or micro-volunteering roles in which you can learn and grow or give back. Please log in to the website and complete our Leadership Connection form at

If you are already a volunteer, thank you for all you do for ASSP and your fellow members! Now is a great time to consider what else you would like to learn that might contribute to your development and career.


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