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How to Innovate as a Safety Professional

June 25, 2020
The more perspectives a safety professional solicits and receives, the better prepared they will be to make decisions when the time comes.

It's no secret that innovation is what drives the world, J.A. Rodriguez, CSP, ASP told Safety 2020 attendees in a virtual presentation.

"In order to be valued in the organization, safety professionals must embrace this thing we call innovation," he began.

Rodriguez,  director of Strategic Advancement, Board of Certified Safety Professionals, identified an issue that often comes up with safety professionals: what exactly is it that causes the stir, the innovation? People are quick to throw around the word, but getting to it isn't that simple. 

The goal or objective of the session was to show emerging safety professionals how to be that innovator within an organization in order to drive excellence.

It starts, Rodriguez explained, with defining innovation. Innovation is not a product or service. It is not something that you could physically hold or produce as a material thing.

"My view of innovation is that it is a mindset," he said. "Innovation is how you look at the world around you, how you process that information and then how you take it to your employer and apply it to your work environment."

Attendees were asked to imagine a scenario in which a mayor in a run-down town is trying to build that town back up so that people would no longer drive by on the highway and avoid it. With high unemployment and crime, people were apprehensive about operating a business.

The answer to this issue, Rodriguez said, was for the mayor to call a town meeting. The mayor asked the townspeople if they were open to painting their houses if all supplies were provided and if all adjacent homes would not be painted the same color. The mayor took the funds out of the improvement budget which was reserved for various projects such as bridge repair. The result was a domino effect. 

"Before you know it because this neighbor painted their house, the other neighbor wanted to paint their house," he said. "All of a sudden, people started coming together as a community. All of a sudden the fences started getting repaired. All of a sudden, the stray dogs and cats were being taken care of."

People began taking better care of their properties. The trash in the streets disappeared. Businesses began to pop up and unemployment was no longer an issue.

Rodriguez explained, "all of a sudden, you started driving down the highway and you see this beautiful town and all of its colors and people stopped in to find out what was going on."

In the end, the paint and supplies were not innovative. It was the mindset. 

"The mayor took an impossible situation and made it possible by appealing what was important to the people," he concluded. "All of these things were created by the mayor taking a risk and adopting his mindset over to something that was very unorthodox."

People are preconditioned to do what they see and not what they hear. So, in order to spark innovation, the safety professional themselves needs to be the one who demonstrates innovation.

"An organization that says that without actually implementing the innovative strategies that are required to bring it to the next level is not going to work," Rodriguez said. The key is getting into the mindset to begin seeing results.

Another step to moving an organization forward is to check your assumptions. Just because something happened before doesn't necessarily mean it won't happen again, and just because something has never happened does not mean it will never happen.

"At work, if you make an assumption that is incorrect, it could cause damage to your product or the reputation of the company, or to your reputation," Rodriguez told attendees.

In the process of being innovative, a safety professional needs to be cautious and not go "off on a tangent" without checking assumptions.

Rodriguez then addressed perspective and innovation.

He said, "We must train our minds to look at everything in every way possible before drawing conclusions. Your perspective on how you view the world will have a dramatic impact on how innovative you can be."

The more perspectives a safety professional solicits and receives, the better prepared they will be to make decisions when the time comes.

Furthermore, the same things that lead to success also lead to innovation: hard work, persistence, late nights, rejections, sacrifices, discipline, criticism, doubts, failure and risks. The difference is that for innovation, a safety professional needs to combine action with creativity.

So why is innovation so important?

"We equate time with progression and innovation," Rodriguez told attendees. "If you are not innovative, that means your organization is not innovative. Somebody out there is going to be. Somebody is going to surpass you in the marketplace. Somebody is going to surpass you when it comes to promotions and when it comes to growing."

He added, "Innovation is a requirement for the continued success of your career. Innovation is a requirement for the continued sustainability of your organization."

Complacency is the easier alternative, and because it is easy to be complacent, most people will take the direction of least resistance instead of "building a new road. If you're going to be innovative, you need to pave new roads. You need to make your mark. You can't follow the same road that someone else took."

The solution, Rodriguez said, is to foster a culture of innovation through driving creativity, positivity and new ideas within the organization. 

"Make sure that you're not just working hard, that you're working smart," he explained.


- Leadership sets the expectation and culture.
- Team member buy-in and unity is essential.
- Persistence is critical: The "Want-to" Factor
- Sustainment can be exhausting, but never quit.
- Collaboration is the key.

J.A. Rodriguez, CSP, ASP

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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