NSC Speaker: Workplaces Need Renegade EHS Leaders

Oct. 19, 1999
Safety professionals need a new focus in the workplace if they are to succeed in the 21st century, Tom Peters says.

Environmental, health and safety (EHS) professionals need a new focus in the workplace if they are to succeed in the 21st century, Tom Peters, a management expert and author of the classic book, In Search of Excellence, said Oct. 18 at the 87th annual National Safety Council Congress & Expo in New Orleans.

Peters, who gave the opening keynote address Oct. 18 at the 87th annual National Safety Council Congress & Expo in New Orleans, predicts EHS professionals will not survive the coming business climate without being a rebel and a renegade.

This type of cutting-edge safety professional realizes that the demands of a global marketplace necessitate a bold approach that looks beyond the mundane of compliance and inward-focused safety programs. In short, EHS professionals must go beyond the traditional approach of creating a safe workplace, Peters says.

"I believe you can be full-scale, participating partners in the reinvention of the workplace and the work force in the 21st century," he told a few thousand of Safety Congress attendees.

This partnership approach means treating a safety department as a professional service firm (PSF) rather than a cost center. Many PSFs, such as highly successful accounting and law firms, transform or re-engineer their departments into "cool" projects undertaken by "cool" people.

The "cool" PSF has talent as its only asset. Its only product is projects. Its only aim is truly memorable client service, Peter says.

What kind of talent is Peters talking about? He describes attributes needed by safety managers in his "talent manifesto":

  • Go on the offensive;
  • People stuff is the only stuff;
  • You are in an all-out, no-holds-barred talent war;
  • He who has the best overall work environment wins;
  • Health, safety and environmental issues are at the very center of an attractive, exciting and profitable workplace;
  • Make your case, strategically, as full partners in creating the 21st century workplace;
  • Don't be a wimp;
  • Don't get pigeon-holed;
  • Don't be a bureaucrat or a naysayer; and
  • Seize the day.

EHS professionals who are able to achieve this "talent manifesto" have specific characteristics, Peters says. They are committed, determined to make a difference, focused, passionate, risk-seekers, ahead of their time, quirky and peculiar, honest and good at what they do.

"We will win the economic battle if we have the coolest and most creative work force in the world," Peters says of U.S. companies. "That will increasingly happen only if we have workplaces that are safe, healthy and environmentally sound.

"This is important work you are doing. You're saving lives. What could be cooler?"

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