In his June 10 session during Safety 2015, “Business Lessons: What CEOs and the C-Suite Want From Safety,” Mark Hansen, P.E., CSP, CPE, CPSA, CPEA, shared what he learned during a career spanning many jobs, roles and industries in which he interfaced with CEOs and other senior leaders.
So what does it take to be a successful safety executive? According to Hansen, there are several attributes successful safety leaders should have if they want to be an asset to the organization and be recognized for their contribution to the company. Chief among these assets is the ability to communicate with the CEO.
Whether working with those CEOs who “get” safety or those who do not, EHS professionals need to find ways to connect with senior leaders and learn how to manage the expectations of those corporate leaders in order to significantly improve safety in the workplace and achieve the best outcome for their organizations.
“Having worked with CEOs and the C-Suite, I have grown to be more comfortable with various management styles and personalities,” said Hansen, who said he has adopted the Marine Corps mantra and has “adapted, persevered and overcome.”
Want to keep your job? Deliver on the reason they hired you. “Typically, that includes reducing incident rates [and] environmental events and getting the best deals on [workers’ compensation] insurance,” said Hansen. Over the years, he said he has worked with a number of CEOs and learned how to “manage their expectations and the politics of just doing my job.”
Hansen shared the following “gems of wisdom in conducting yourself with CEOs and the C-suite to ensure the best possible outcome for the organization:”
Happiness. No one wants to work with an unhappy person. “Negativity, unnecessary drama and melancholy attitudes can bring the entire company down,” said Hansen “so although your own personal happiness may not seem important, it most certainly is.”
According to him, happiness also reflects your ability to tackle challenges without becoming discouraged. “If you show the CEO and the C-Suite that you’re a positive, mentally healthy person, your chances of becoming the company’s next star employee will vastly improve,” said Hansen, who added that relaxed, smiling, approachable employees are perceived by co-workers and CEOs alike as being the “best” ones to work with.
Creativity. Even if your job duties don’t require much creative thinking, CEOs and the C-suite still want creative people, especially when it comes to EHS. Hansen noted that innovation goes a long way in maximizing your potential. “You may find new, better ways to perform old tasks. Your creativity may also help the company come up with entirely new ideas for guiding the company toward success,” he said.
EHS professionals “are the consummate problem solvers, according to Hansen. “That’s what we do when bad things happen. We figure out ways to prevent them from happening again.”
Hustle. As the old adage goes, time is money. CEOs and the C-suite want the job done, and they want it done yesterday.
“They don’t want you to sacrifice quality,” said Hansen, but “they just don’t want you to waste their time or money. Every second you’re on the clock but not producing, the company is losing.”
Honesty. Nothing can turn off the CEO and the C-suite faster than dishonesty. As a senior safety professional, you’ll be entrusted with inside information and the company’s best interests. Mistakes can risk employees’ safety, the company’s reputation and its financial health.
“Don’t lie, period. They can’t run companies without honest, dedicated support,” said Hansen.
Flexibility. They want you to do what it takes to help the company, end of story. That doesn’t mean you should be expected to work insane hours or risk your own well-being, he noted, but you should be flexible in your position.
Passion. The C-suite “wants to know their employees actually enjoy their jobs and are constantly striving to improve professionally. Even if the job you have isn’t your dream job, you should demonstrate a general passion for the industry, the company and your chosen career path,” said Hansen.
Confidence. Do you shy away from challenges, or do you take them on knowing you at least have a decent shot at overcoming them? Your CEO wants to know that challenges aren’t going to deter you from succeeding at the company. Be courageous and embrace challenges, advised Hansen.
Becoming a Safety Leader
To be successful with the CEO and C-suite, there are some common attributes that safety professionals need to ensure credibility. Traditional business acumen and sound judgment will always play a large part in a person’s ability to lead a safety department, said Hansen. “However, with a new suite of demands from customers, colleagues and competitors coming into play, what skills does the new age executive really need in order to lead a company into the heart of the 21 century?”
- Visionary – The ability to form, articulate and lead a vision always has been essential; however there is a sudden rise in talented employees choosing a company to work for based on the purpose and goals of the business. Having a clear and meaningful vision to buy into will attract top talent to your organization.
- Presenter – “Having someone in your business deliver a motivational and inspiring message or give a keynote at a significant industry event is gold dust from a brand profile point of view,” said Hansen. The concept of thought leadership is a relatively new thing, and having the knowledge and personality to really champion your company when the time comes is vital.
- Communicator – Transparency, trust and honesty are words that are being used more and more frequently in modern day business. The reason for this is simple, said Hansen; people who have context to their work do a better job. They can make better decisions about the direction of their work and they will be more motivated, as they can attach the task to the result. “A leader who can create open discussion around work tasks, listen to feedback from employees and provide useful information in return, will provide their staff with greater context and meaning, and will get better results for it,” he said.
- Peer – Nobody wants to work for a slave driver, nor do they want to look up at their managers as if they are kings and queens, and not to be interrupted. Feeling connected to your business and removing that fear of hierarchy is the secret ingredient to healthier, happier working cultures. Work will only ever be as good as the relationships of the people doing it.
- Champion – Your company must have tangible values that steer the behavior of its staff. “Knowing what makes a happy customer or an engaged employee, then championing the behaviors that got you there is the winning ticket,” said Hansen. In order for your corporate values and behaviors to be genuine and effective, leaders must buy into them and live by them. As soon a culture of double standards begins to emerge, good employees start leaving.
“Don’t just promote the values of the business, but shine a light on the people and the outcomes that do well by them,” suggested Hansen. Empower employees to call each other out when they are ignoring the values of the business.
“My career has morphed from safety engineer, to safety manager, to EHS director, to vice president and finally into executive EHS/risk management coach and subject matter expert,” said Hansen. “I guess when you change jobs as many times as I have, you get the opportunity to see a lot of different cultures, work environments and businesses. I’ve worked in aerospace, chemical manufacturing, consulting, construction, insurance [and] oil and gas. There isn’t much I haven’t seen.”