Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, coming together has looked a lot different. But our practice specialties and common interest groups continue to find innovative ways of building community and educating their members online.
Richard Olawoyin, Ph.D., CSP, CEP, administrator of the Environmental Practice Specialty, says the group has faced significant challenges during this time, but continues to find solutions that help them share knowledge and nurture relationships. In fact, last year their list of achievements included:
- Developing four technical themes to guide activities
- Establishing a new student group
- Organizing eight virtual meetings and three webinars
- Sponsoring two sessions at Safety 2021
Two primary constraints limited the goals of the practice specialty, according to Olawoyin: health risk and resources.
“Challenges emerged due to physical work restrictions and increased workload for some of our members,” Olawoyin says. “These issues impacted members' engagement, interest to participate in agenda items and availability for accomplishing project-specific tasks.”
Expenses were another challenge, Olawoyin explains, as resources dwindled due to the cancellation of in-person events. Practice specialty members had to adapt quickly to their circumstances and work together to do big things on a budget.
“Different times called for different approaches,” Olawoyin explains. “The constraints gave us a reason to try new things. The most radical outcomes we experienced were from coming together.”
While he has learned a lot along the way, Olawoyin says there are three key lessons he will carry forward into the future as a volunteer leader and safety professional.
1. Set Clear Intentions as a Team
Collaboration has been key to the success of the group, Olawoyin notes. When members came together to focus and act on the same agenda, they experienced a feeling of shared acceptance and a sense of value.
"Recognizing the importance of this concept, particularly during the worst pandemic in our history, it was challenging to get everyone to contribute, participate and engage towards achieving success,” Olawoyin says.
Overcoming this fatigue meant giving all members a voice in setting intentions and creating a sense of personal investment in the community.
“Environmental Practice Specialty members intentionally defined goals by diversifying the advisory committee and the goals centered on engagement and motivation through collective intentions.”
2. Develop a Strengths-Based Culture
To diversify its Advisory Committee, the group increased the number of chairs from three to 13. This gave members additional opportunities to contribute based on their individual expertise and background. The group considered members’ leadership skills and availability, all while focusing on reducing volunteer workload.
Focusing on member strengths was energizing for individuals and the practice specialty, Olawoyin says. It provided a way for people to do more of what they do well and to grow in areas they may not get a chance to explore in the workplace.
3. Provide Opportunities for Recognition
In 2021, the Environmental Practice Specialty presented 10 Member of the Month awards and nominated two members for the Council on Practices and Standards Safety Professional of the Year (SPY) Award.
Based on these and other experiences, Olawoyin offers some advice to other practice specialties. “Positive reinforcement by recognizing current efforts of members helps bring people together,” he says.
While some volunteers do not like to be recognized, Olawoyin says that when people are recognized by their peers, it’s often more meaningful. “The joint intention to act through recognition could also inspire members to own the professional agenda and lead the efforts towards greater success.”
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