NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard

The Essence of Leadership

Managers focus on efficiency, while leaders are driven to search for answers, Dr. Howard said during his Nov. 7 PCIH keynote.

I offer my thanks to AIHA and its website for sharing some tidbits from NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard's sage keynote address opening the 2011 Practical Conference on Industrial Hygiene on Nov. 7 in Baltimore. His topic, leadership as it relates to occupational health and safety, is timely indeed.

A leader himself, Howard said he'd found more than 71,000 books about leadership on Amazon.com and added, "But in this case, it seems that more information has not necessarily led to greater understanding."

He said process-based leadership, based on an individual's skills, competencies, and habits, is the type that most commonly applies to health and safety. Such leaders tend to be adaptable, can mitigate their followers' stress and focus their attention, and can protect the voices of followers who lack authority.

Too often, we confuse leadership and management, he said. Managers focus on efficiency, while leaders are driven to search for answers. "Management is dealing with problems you've seen before. Leadership is dealing with new problems and figuring out how to solve them."

Leadership is not a lifelong trait nor a talent some are born with, he said. "Leadership is not a permanent state of being. It's a behavior that can often be episodic. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be a permanent leader all the time." And -- we know this, of course, leaders in health and safety must cope with people who resist change. "Unless you understand where that resistance is coming from, you're not going to be able to overcome it," he said. "Leading in occupational health and safety means you have to understand your own thinking and then others'."

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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