When I was considering what to write for this article, my first port of call was to review previous contributions in order to see what had already been covered. I was immediately struck by the breadth, depth, scope and expertise of my predecessors. Many of the contributors were from the top echelons of Health and Safety and it occurred to me that I was woefully out of my depth. Upon reflection, I felt my perspective is very different from my predecessors - it’s the view from the bottom up so to speak - was worth sharing.
Most of my working life has been spent at the coal face, where safety initiatives were done TO me, WITH me, and often in SPITE of me. I have worked in what are, statistically, some of the most dangerous professions; agriculture, construction and meat processing. My understanding of what safety is, how it is applied, and why, did not originate by applying weighty theories and smart ideas while wearing a sharp suit. It was acquired (initially at least) through shifting weighty objects and using sharp tools while wearing a boiler suit. Also, I have been managed by people who used a staggering array of management styles and I have seen several management initiatives succeed and fail, which I believe has given me some insight as to the reasons why in both instances.
Based on that insight I came to the conclusion that the management style was largely irrelevant, what mattered was the manager. Some managers were very effective and some weren’t. But it wasn’t until I returned to college to study management and applied theory and knowledge to my experience, that I began to consider what made the difference. Essentially, although there are a large amount of variables involved, I believe it can be boiled down to three things:
1. Technical Proficiency
While I have encountered many managers with an abundance of any one of those attributes, all three must be present for an individual to be really effective. To date, I have only ever come across one such person. He was an incredibly charismatic individual who was extremely proficient technically, knew his job inside out, but it was his capacity to get other people to do what he thought was necessary that really set him apart. Whether it was management or workers, people wanted to do things for him; and it seemed effortless. He was both a people manager and a process manager. Perhaps this explains the rarity. I read somewhere that most managers are promoted because of their technical prowess and that most of those who are subsequently let go are let go because they lacked interpersonal skills.
So, based on my experience, I decided to write an article on what I believed would constitute a truly effective safety professional. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a monumental disaster. I ended up with the first chapter of a book on the subject of why safety professionals fail. But there was precious little insight as to what makes them succeed. I abandoned the exercise. However, when I came across a comment thread on this topic running on LinkedIn, I began to reconsider.
It is a one line question that had elicited 134 responses at the time of writing:
Describe in one word... An effective safety professional is ________________ ?
I decided to have a closer look at the responses and break them down into the three categories which I believe are required for an effective safety professional. I chose to ignore the LIKE facility (comments on LinkedIn can be LIKED by others), though, as I felt this would probably be people who had already commented wishing to approve of similar comments.
I will go through my ‘findings’ in a short series of forthcoming articles.