Once your decision is made, have a plan of attack, a systematic way to approach and mitigate hazard or concern.

It Takes a Strategic Thinker to Be an EHS Professional

I have the honor of frequently interacting with talented safety and health professionals. They have a comprehensive understanding of the exposures unique to their work environments, and this knowledge is instrumental in protecting the lives of their employees. However, most get flustered about not being heard. This got me thinking about an article I recently read, "6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers." It's easy to tie the theme of the article back to what EHS professionals do to strive to matter.

In order to be a successful EHS professional, you must be a strategic leader and thinker. Having these characteristics gets you recognized and heard. These abilities are a talent, but like any talent, the more you practice and perfect it, the better you will become.

Now, let's break down these six things Strategic EHS Professionals do well:

1) Anticipate. Don't focus solely on the problems that have reared their ugly heads. If you do, you are reactive. Strategic leaders are proactive. Anticipate what the next problems or issues will be. Do your homework and educate yourself on emerging trends specific to your industry because ultimately, they will make their way into your world and when they do, you will be better prepared to act or might already have this new issue accounted for. Your hard work in the beginning will pay huge dividends in the end.

2) Think critically. Question everything! This includes questioning your own knowledge and efforts. Accept that good decisions and directions you gave at one time can become outdated and ineffective over time. A good safety and health professional re-evaluates what he or she is doing. Things change, employees change, processes change. With that, so do hazards and exposures. Use casual analysis to start pinpointing root causes. Be a devil's advocate, but do it constructively and don't create a perception that you are resistant to change. If asked why you do it the way you do, the answer should not be "We have always done it that way." It should be, "Do you have any suggestions on how we could improve what we are doing?"

3) Interpret. Step back and take a breath. Your decision should be a rational and educated one. After all, you are the professional. Different pieces of information with different spins will come at you from all directions from many different departments. It is your job to listen to those sources and find consistency. Don't be afraid to utilize internal and external resources to be a sound board that can give you factual information about the decision you need to make. Hear other opinions and reserve judgment until you are comfortable that you have heard enough to make a well-informed decision.

4) Decide. This is where the rubber meets the road and differentiates a strategic leader from a follower. Taking too little time can create a perception that you are simply putting a Band-Aid on a problem to make it go away. Taking too much time can create a perception that you have no idea what to do and are hesitant to make a decision because you fear the possible ramifications. Make your decision, quantify that decision, and "go to war" for that decision. Once your decision is made, have a plan of attack, a systematic way to approach and mitigate hazard or concern. Make your recommendations to those above you that have the authority to implement, manage, and enforce change and prove your case on why these changes are necessary. A good way to do this is give them a cause/effect scenario; inaction creates this consequence.

5) Align. You will never get everyone to agree with one point of view. Even if the decision is the best one that could be made at that time, you will still have others that will not agree. Don't let that stop you. A strategic EHS professional must possess skills to play in the world of workplace politics. Don't be afraid to be called out! That's your time to take the spotlight. Sell your idea to key stakeholders and others who have good standing inside your organization. Leaders and influencers stand out, so it should be easy to identify these people. To get buy-in, you should constantly strive to make your idea or decision one of common sense and practicality. And, if you sell your idea and decision successfully, it will be viewed as common sense and make it much easier to find an executive-level champion.

6) Learn. Strategic EHS professionals understand that there is no one source to gain knowledge. However, different from a status-quo safety professional, they know what the best sources of information are to have the greatest impact. These individuals not only learn from mishaps, but consistently rely upon near-miss reporting to anticipate problems. They have a system in place to involve the entire workforce in the decision-making process (e.g., kaizen events, real safety committees). They view regulatory compliance as "mediocrity" and strive to do more to ensure the safety and health of their employees. They have been instrumental in transforming their organizations into learning-based organizations. The Strategic EHS professional is also "humble." He or she accepts that every decision will not be the "right decision" and is flexible to change tactics. Pride and rigidity have killed many organizations!

Posted by Eric Glass on Jun 11, 2012

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