Tools for Safety Leaders

Most of the good things that continually happen day in and day out in the safety profession usually go unnoticed by our management and the press, but you know that is OK!

I have been in and around the construction industry all of my (40 plus years) life, and I want to take this opportunity to thank not only my fellow construction safety and health professionals but all safety and health professionals for helping me grow as a professional and a person. We truly are together in our dedication to preserve America’s most valuable resource: the worker.

On May 8, we celebrated Occupational Safety and Health Professionals Day. A statement sent out by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) to its membership said, in part, “Occupational safety and health professionals make sure that millions of workers who go to work each day return home safely. They help identify and reduce workplace hazards while reducing employer costs and maximizing the contributions of all workers. Safety professionals draw and apply standards from various disciplines including engineering, education, psychology, physiology, enforcement, hygiene, health, physics and management. They use all appropriate tools, methods and techniques available to them in order to prevent accidents, illnesses, fires, explosions and other situations that are harmful to people, property and the environment.”

Despite this accolade for the good work of safety professionals, a variety of industries, including transportation, manufacturing and construction, are facing a shortage of professionals who are equipped to fill the increased demand for quality supervisors. Many headhunters, recruitment firms and industry employment studies conclude that the ability to hire and retain quality employees and, specifically, quality supervisors, is a major challenge that companies face. In a recent study (Occupational Hazards, May 2008), Rob McGovern, Jobfox CEO, concluded that even with the economy slowing down, the demand for skilled professionals still is high and “will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.” Certified safety professionals seem to fall into this category.

Preparing for the Future

In the past, we have asked good field safety representatives, safety engineers and loss control engineers to become safety supervisors, safety managers, safety directors and beyond. But we have not prepared them for their managerial positions by educating them in the areas that will make them successful.

Once a professional has risen into a management/supervisory level, the nature of the work requires a more advanced skill set, with knowledge and expertise in areas that are characteristic of management positions.
In my 17-year safety career, I have attended numerous safety and health conferences and education sessions, and I have attained a number of professional safety and health certifications. In reflecting on the variety and volume of professional development sessions in which I have participated, I tried to condense the vast amount of information to which I’ve been exposed into some pointed topics of importance. I consider knowledge on these topics to be the necessary tools to help the safety professional face the every day challenges of our profession; opportunities to share, to coach, to mentor, to help, to listen, to lead – but, more importantly, to grow as a leader, a safety professional and a person.

From what I have learned by achieving professional certifications, attending conferences and educational sessions and talking to other safety professionals, any strategy or plan to develop qualified supervisors should include systematic professional development in the following areas:

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Budget/Financial Development
  • Communication Skills Training
  • Team Building
  • Smart Hiring/Firing Practices
  • Mentoring
  • Successful Leadership Skills
  • Career Path Development
  • Time Management
  • Technical Skill Training

With knowledge and expertise in these areas, our safety management professionals can continue to provide the quality guidance that the profession must have in order to prevent injury and the loss of life.

Carl W. Heinlein, CSP, ARM, CRIS, is a safety consultant with American Contractors Insurance Group Inc. and serves as a director for the Council on Certification of Health, Environmental and Safety Technologists. He is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, American Industrial Hygiene Association and the National Society of Safety Management.

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