Understanding Your Personal Competitive Environment, Part 1
Thinking globally, acting locally is one of the keys.
our organizations continue to look for ways to advance in the
marketplace, we need to constantly examine how we view our roles as
individual contributors. As a result, it is ultimately our
responsibility to continually assess the direction in which we are
heading so we can positively contribute to the success of the
organization and meet our own developmental needs.
The following composition is a summary of the presentation I was
honored to conduct at Safety 2006, "Investing in Today's Safety
Professional." The American Society of Safety Engineers' Annual
Professional Development Conference and Exposition was held June 11-14,
2006 in Seattle at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
One of the realities of the 21st century is that in many instances
when promotions are available within organizations, individuals in
safety are routinely passed over for those promotions. As I have looked
over the organizational landscape of enterprises with which I am
familiar, I can clearly see that the top individuals in safety are
rarely those who have a safety background. Going even further, the top
individuals in safety are sometimes buried under a confused
conglomeration of departmental titles, such as security/safety/risk
management or loss prevention.
As safety professionals, there is a choice to be made: You can
either continue to be overlooked for opportunities for which you might
reasonably expect that your skills and abilities might qualify you, or
you can work to take stock of, manage, and/or control the events that
affect your professional lives by examining and evaluating on a
continual basis the factors that affect your personal competitive
When someone asks you what you do for a living and you say you are
in safety, how do they look at you and what do you say in response? If
we have trouble presenting who we are as safety professionals and doing
so in a manner that shows our ability to have an impact on the
operations in which we are involved, can we really blame someone else
for doing the same? If we do not take the time to coach others or help
them to develop an appropriate perspective around the critical and
essential nature of safety, then how can we expect to affect their
The uncomplicated rejoinder is that each safety professional must
take an active role in defining and then demonstrating to others what
our role is and who we are, versus allowing others to dictate our role
and who we are. There is much work to be done in this area, and it is
fundamental that each member of the safety community work diligently to
advance this cause.
Why Are We Overlooked?
I want to offer some reasons--or, perhaps more appropriately,
excuses--why the phenomenon of overlooking the safety professional
exists. I contend that when senior management is looking to fill
positions for which a person with a defined safety background might
qualify, even if it is outside the safety realm, they tend to select
individuals who they feel have experiences more relevant to them. Or
they select individuals with whom they are more comfortable based upon
a personal and/or business knowledge perspective. Finally, they select
individuals who display a willingness to assume responsibilities
outside their core areas of expertise.
While I believe each of these areas plays a significant role in the
reasons safety professionals are overlooked for promotions, it is the
last two that provide the most opportunity for safety professionals to
control their own destiny. Additionally, while being dedicated to the
safety professional is not undesirable, there is something wrong with
the idea that you could be so myopic in your perspective that you are
not even willing to examine other areas that might allow you to build
upon your previously acquired skills. In that regard, you have to
understand the operations of your business in total and the
relationship that other functional areas have to the safety field. If
you don't, you are hurting yourselves and your businesses.
Throughout our careers, we have been faced with the idea that we
must be aware of the competitive environment(s) in which our business
or businesses operate. As I have often been taught, "If you do not know
what your competitors are doing, then you are probably out of the race."
Assessing where your organization is based upon its prior
performance (the past), where it is currently (the present), and most
importantly where it is headed (the future) is a requirement to remain
competitive in our global society. However, I believe the constant
focus on our larger organizations has come at a price. That price is a
lack of understanding as to how we as individual contributors fit into
the larger picture of our organizations and what each of us must do to
be aware of our own personal competitive environment.
To affirmatively respond to these issues, we can and must prepare
ourselves to handle any situation we encounter for which our skill sets
are a match, whether we decide to stay with our current organization or
move on to another operation. Like our global organizations, we must
take stock or inventory of our past, present, and future so we develop
an appropriate course of action that will allow us to remain viable
over the long run. We must think globally, yet act locally in order to
achieve our goals of being the best we can be. The ability to engage in
analysis and being prepared to accept possible future opportunities is
essential to understanding and responding to your personal competitive
If analysis and preparation are essential to understanding and
responding to our personal competitive environment(s), then the
questions that naturally follow are: how do we do that, what must we
analyze, and what opportunities will exist to maximize the chance to be
the best we can be?
We must start with an analysis of how the profession is perceived
within our own environment(s). This examination will help you determine
whether you are working from a position of strength or one of
detriment. In life, each of us builds our successes upon the shoulders
of the person(s) who came before us. As it relates to the workplace, if
that individual had a positive image, then more than likely you will
receive the benefit of their good deeds. However, if that person was
seen as a non-contributor, you probably will have to work your way out
of a deficit situation that you did not cause.
As it relates to understanding and responding to your personal
competitive environment, there are several areas you should be aware of:
- The global marketplace and what employers are looking for
- Understanding and defining what is meant by a customer
- The need to enhance your technical abilities
- Building alliances
- Taking risks
- The importance of visibility
- Taking the initiative for career and personal development
- The role of a leader
The Global Marketplace and Employers
While most of us can identify values, it is not only values
that employers want--because they already believe, rightfully so, that
you already possess the values that will allow them to be seen in a
In the final analysis, employers are looking for individuals who
will allow them to extend the range of services they provide and do so
in a manner that will allow them to continue to be profitable. While
you may think that means your current or potential employer is looking
at your functional expertise, the reality is that your functional
expertise represents only a fraction of what employers need in order to
sustain their economic viability. Employers need you to be technically
proficient in your function areas but they also need you to be astute
enough to understand their business as a whole, as well as how your
role relates to other functional areas within their operations.
Today's employer realizes that the best employees, the ones with the
most chance of affecting their operations economically and in other
ways, have a broad base of skills that stretch across functions. While
they may not expect you to be an expert in areas outside your field,
they do expect you to know enough about these areas that you can see
the connections and possible pitfalls that may be present when
different strategic options are discussed. As individuals involved in
safety, each of us needs to understand that one of the worst ways a
person can refer to us is as "a good safety professional." Being a good
safety professional without having a broad knowledge of the business
issues that affect your operations will not be enough to sustain you or
your profession when organizations decide they need something more.
Understanding and Defining Customers
Understanding and defining your customer may seem like a
straightforward matter. However, it is more complex than you might
think. A customer in its uncorrupted form is anyone who has a service
request. A customer is not just the person with whom we interact as it
relates to our specific area of knowledge. Rather, it is literally
anyone who comes in contact with us for any reason. To the extent they
are interacting with us as we execute our professional duties, then
each of us represents the safety profession to everyone with whom we
come in contact. Let me repeat that: Each of us represents the safety
profession to everyone with whom we come in contact. When you view your
role this way, it is clear to see the enormous potential each of us has
to affect our arena.
We need to keep in mind that the customer is not always right.
However, the customer is always the customer, and as such, they always
have a choice. They can either choose to utilize your services or can
go somewhere else. If this seems harsh, it really is not because the
same options apply to each of you.
When a customer has a service request of you, they might not even
know what they are asking for or how much effort it will involve.
Customers change from day to day, hour to hour, and sometimes from one
word to the next. It is during these times when your interpersonal and
safety knowledge skills have to mesh so that you can carefully walk
them through this potentially tricky maze of contradictions, which they
may have no idea they have just entered.
Enhance Your Technical Abilities
The need for technology will never be less than it is today.
Put another way, the need for the acquisition and utilization of
knowledge in the field of technology will be greater in the future than
it is today--and tomorrow represents the future. Knowing this is the
case, we must be aware of how technology will affect our profession and
our businesses. If we don't know the answer, then we must find someone
who does. If we cannot readily find someone who does, then we need to
dig deeper to avail ourselves of professional associations like the
American Society of Safety Engineers, publications such as this one,
and related entities that can help us find the answers to remain viable
as individuals and as a profession.
It is not just enough to find the answers; once they're found, we
must be able to apply the necessary effort to acquire a firm knowledge
of the new technology and then move from there to the utilization phase
so we can demonstrate our expertise. The acquisition of knowledge
without application is folly. The application of knowledge without an
appreciation for theory is vanity. To behave in either way is
detrimental to you and your profession.
This column appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.