3 Steps to Become an Impactful Health and Safety Leader

September 27, 2022

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Do you ever feel like you’re banging your head against the wall trying to get the buy-in to create the changes your organization needs? As Health and Safety professionals we are constantly faced with challenging situations and one of the most common (and frustrating) ones is resistance. 

Don’t worry though, I’m here to help you with that!In Episode 10 of the Transmit Safety Podcast, I had an invaluable conversation with Leigh-Ann Stewart, a CRSP with over 24 years of safety experience. She is the co-founder of Simply Safe, an OHS consulting firm based in Vernon BC. She is also a board member of the Tire Industry Association and is very proud to be the Vice Chair for Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society.

During her 19-year career working at Kel Tire, Leigh-Ann climbed the corporate ladder to the C-suite level. She shared all about her own path and some valuable practical advice on how to become an impactful Health and Safety leader.

Both Leigh-Ann and I have learned some really tough lessons as we grew in our careers. They are all things we wished someone could’ve come and told us about when we were starting out. So, I’m here to be that person for you and share those lessons.

You’ll learn the 3 Steps to Become an Impactful Health and Safety Leader:

  1. Get to know your company or business and its goals
  2. Connect those goals with your Health and Safety Management System
  3. Listen, listen, and… Listen 👂

Even though these are the steps, and it might sound simple, this process actually takes time and consistency to generate the results you’re looking for. But I hope that with our help and tips it won’t take quite that long for you to become a truly impactful Health and Safety Leader.

So, let’s dive in!

1. Get to know your company or business and its goals

If you want to have an impact, you actually have to be able to influence the influencers. And that means getting a seat at the table where the decisions are being made, because how else are you going to get the organization to embrace the Health and Safety management system you’re trying to implement?   

Don’t wait to be invited to the table, there will not be a red carpet welcoming you in. You need to earn the invitation, and you do it through consistent transparency, consistent trust building, and being that relatable, reliable source of information, coaching, whatever is needed by those who make the decisions.

Health and Safety practitioners should never forget that businesses are in business to be in business and that we are there to help the business. Yes, we want to create healthy and safe workplaces. Yes, we want to prevent people from getting injured and harmed in the workplace. And that IS part of businesses being in business.

So, it’s critical for the Health and Safety practitioner to understand the business that they are in. You don’t have to be an expert, but you certainly have to be interested in it. Figure out what the company’s strategic business goals are and understand the challenges they are facing. Because if you don’t know what they’re struggling with, how can you help them and guide them?

An easy way to do that is by simply asking. A lot of leaders really like talking about their strategies and where they’re going in their objectives. So, if you get an opportunity, just ask: “What are your objectives?” or “Where are you guys heading in the next year?”

You will see that not everything will be in a nice, neat safety package for you, it might be a little bit out of the scope of health and safety, but that’s okay. Leigh-Ann found that being interested in the business and showing it will increase your likelihood of getting invited to those decision-making business meetings.

2. Connect those goals with your Health and Safety Management System

One thing that’s important to remember is that Health and Safety are not separate entities in the organization. And that’s where this next step comes in.

To make sure that the company doesn’t make those into something separate you need to figure out how your Health and Safety management system can impact its goals. 

Now that you know what their needs are, think about how, within your Health and Safety management suite of offerings, you can help and support them to be able to fill or complete their goals or deal with the issues that they’re working on. 

Safety is a mechanism to help a company reach its strategic business goals. Whatever the goal, there is some sort of tool within your Health and Safety toolbox to support it.

To inspire you with this, here are some possibilities:

  • If the goal is to increase profitability, you can talk about training, preventative maintenance, corrective actions, and risk assessment. 
  • If the goal is to reduce employee turnover, you can talk about employee satisfaction and competency evaluations.
  •  You want to increase your market share with your clients, the company can promote how well they’re doing within Health and Safety in the bidding process.

3. Listen, listen, and… Listen 👂

This all sounds good, but we’re still missing something indispensable in this whole process that will make or break the previous two steps. 

According to Leigh-Ann, “the most foundational piece to being a good safety professional is being able to build trust.” And that ultimately comes down to the 3 basic principles of communication:

  1. Listen 👂
  2. Listen 👂👂
  3. Listen 👂👂👂

When people feel heard, your effectiveness goes up, especially if you can just be there for them.

So, to learn all about the company and build the trust and the relationships you need to become an impactful Health and Safety leader, make sure to listen to and connect with people at every level of the organization.

You will find it valuable to do ride alongs and job shadowing, you’d be amazed at how much you can gain just by being out on the shop floor, talking to the team members that are actually producing the product or providing the service, even if you’re there doing audits or inspections. Ask people about: what the production has been like, if they are struggling to meet their quotas, if they are under more pressure now than they were at another time of the year, or other relevant questions. Be sure to also listen carefully to safety committee meetings.

Benefits of Listening and Creating Connections:

  • When you have those interactions and create good relationships, you’re actually upping your business skill set, because people will throw in some gems throughout.
  • That’s how you get the information you need to succeed in helping the organization build its capacity for safety, whatever that looks like for the company.
  •  By doing this you can effectively deal with resistance when it comes up.  Rather than banging your head against the wall with an approach that’s not working, you need to have the skill set to truly understand your audience. By listening and being mindful of their dialogue, you can discover what resonates with them and figure out what your sales tactic should be. For example, you can use compliance to pull on the heartstrings with “It’s the right thing to do for this team” or use a more logical approach with “Here’s how you’re going to be more efficient and more productive”. Each one of them is going to resonate with a certain personality type. So, remember it’s all about understanding who you’re working with and what resonates with them, tune into that, put that sales hat on, and go for it.
  • When you show that you are interested in what people are doing, you also show that you care about them. So, when you make suggestions and want to implement changes, people will be more open to it because they know that you care, that you understand the business, and see the gaps.

These 3 Steps will help you become an Impactful Health and Safety leader, but your path won’t be so simple. Know that if you are really doing your job right, you will inevitably be in challenging situations and find yourself “stuck in the mud” at times.

That shows that you’re in the right place and where you should be because to create change you have to create dissatisfaction with the current way things are done. When dealing with those sticky situations remember: don’t avoid having the uncomfortable conversations! 

If you want to gain respect as a good business partner at the executive level you need to be able to have those discussions, you can’t avoid them. Leigh-Ann realized that you gain the respect you need to be at the decision-making table when people in the organization know they’re going to hear the right things from you

There are, of course, going to be individuals that can’t handle it, and others that can. Remember that it’s not a personal thing, it’s just your duty. Something that helps me get through these situations is focusing on the fact that it’s short-term pain, to guarantee long-term gain.

Conflict, when managed correctly, is a great mechanism for improvement. You have to have those conflict resolution strategies and skill set ready to go in order to do that. But it’s important to realize that when you are in “the mud” it’s because we’re wanting to create change and that’s a good thing.

You did all the work and have finally been invited to sit at the table. Now what?

At first, you’re there to listen and learn. It’s okay to just be a fly on the wall in the first couple of meetings you attend.

Leigh-Ann said that she used to feel compelled to say something so people knew that she was there and listening and that she knew what she was talking about. But that didn’t always bode well for her.

If you have done all the steps well, people will eventually know that if you do speak up, it is because you understand the impact of your health and safety decision and how that decision is going to impact the business rather than just how it’s going to impact the health and safety.

Also, just as important as being in the meeting though is identifying who you should talk to before the meeting. That way you can plant and water your seeds along the way by giving them your thoughts ahead of time. If you guide them about something that’s really important and might impact safety in the discussion, you’ll often hear it come up in the meeting, and when you do that, you’ve got a friend for life.

So, remember to check your ego at the door because it’s not about you. It’s not important who takes ownership of the idea, as long as the idea is being considered and helping you do your job of helping the business.

To quickly recap this process with you:

  • Step 1: Figure out what your company’s strategic plans and strategic goals are;
  • Step 2: Figure out how your Health and Safety Management System can align with those goals;
  • Step 3: Listen, listen, and listen, throughout the entire process.

Thank you for being part of the Transmit Safety network.

I hope these lessons will be valuable to you and help you on your journey to become the Health and Safety leader you want to be!

To dive deeper into what these three steps entail and hear about other important lessons we have to share with you, make sure to tune into episode 10 of the Transmit Safety Podcast – To the C-Suite and Beyond with Leigh-Ann Stewart.

As Leigh-Ann said in the episode: “Your network isn’t just going to fall in your lap (…) When there’s something resonating, don’t ignore that and reach out to them and follow up.” So, if this is resonating with you, don’t hesitate to reach out! I answer all my messages, and you can find me on Instagram and LinkedIn.  

To continue discovering ways to achieve a holistic approach to workplace health and safety, and become an impactful Health and Safety leader, make sure to tune into the next episodes of the Transmit Safety Podcast.