To get the Right OHS People and System takes careful detailed planning & execution to ensure the overall organisational objectives are achieved. Seydina Dieme takes a critical look at the most common pitfalls.
As with any aspect of management, OHS demands a company has the right people and develop the right management system according to its organizational needs.
Motivated, caring, intelligent and well led people, can transform any organization. Many so-called OHS professionals I have worked with, were very far from being professional. Detailed procedures must be put in place to select, recruit and retain quality OHS people.
The vast majority of OHS people I have met, have been dedicated people who try very hard, unfortunately I have also worked with a few that knows just enough to be dangerous. There have been a few who were technically weak and some who were arrogant and thought they were God’s gift to safety, mainly new graduates. Some were weak in interpersonal skills and communications skills which are key skills in OHS. A few buried their incompetence through playing political games and some lacked independent action through being a yay sayer to the boss.
The most common mistake seen with safety management systems is the development of extensive safety procedures that the workers do not know about, care about or use. The procedures sit on the supervisor’s bookcase or a computer program and are rarely referred to.
The job safety analysis technique must be used to develop safe working procedures and involvement of the workforce is crucial. If your safe working procedures are over 2 pages in length worry about whether they will ever be used. Use flow-charts, pictures and diagrams in your safe working procedures and base them on a very basic level of the organization language.
Many organizations have safety standards, special emphasis programs, policy and safe working procedures that are very thorough and detailed. Unfortunately in the quest for thoroughness, the number of words becomes immense and difficult to decipher. It ends up being an immense task for even the most dedicated to wade their way through the paperwork. OHS professionals should not be judged by the number of words they create.
The above is quite a simple approach to OHS, but detailed implementation of the above will achieve significant improvements.
Listen to your people, make significant efforts to seek out their ideas on OHS, reduce the bull-dust that surrounds the safety effort, keep the lines of communication open, act upon good ideas, maintain a good sense of humor, show the troops you are fair-dinkum about safety, use the powerful influence front-line supervisors have on their employees and do not take yourself too seriously! Do not make the mistake of talking to workers about the company safety goals and mission, instead, talk about the effects of unsafe acts and unsafe conditions in their immediate work environment. Do not think your safety efforts end when you have written a safe working procedure, you need to keep following up.
Focus on “What is in it for me”
OHS personnel are gradually coming to a realisation of the importance of these. You can be technically great but if you cannot get your message across you will not be effective. Often it is the relationships you build; not your technical expertise, that determines success.
One of the best ways of influencing others in safety is through setting and living the safety example. You will gain respect. While a simple competency on the face of it, setting the example is very important. No matter how good a line you talk, if you do not match it with your behaviour you will gain no respect. As a leader you are constantly watched by those you work with.
Here are some tips:
1. Keep skid chains on your tongue; always say less than you think. Cultivate a low, soothing voice. How you say it counts more than what you say.
2. Make promises sparingly, and keep them faithfully, no matter what it costs.
3. Never let an opportunity pass to say a kind and encouraging word to or about somebody. Praise good work, regardless of who did it. If criticism is needed, criticize helpfully, never spitefully.
4. Be interested in others, their pursuits, their work, their homes and families. Make merry with those who rejoice; with those who weep, mourn. Let everyone you meet, however humble, feel that you regard him or her as a person of importance.
5. Be cheerful. Don’t burden or depress those around you by dwelling on your minor aches and pains and small disappointments. Remember, everyone has their problems. Keep an open mind. Discuss, but don’t argue. It is a mark of a superior mind to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
6. Let your virtues speak for themselves. Refuse to talk of another’s vices. Discourage gossip. It is a waste of valuable time and can be extremely destructive. Be mindful of another’s feelings.
7. Don’t be too anxious about the credit due to you. Also, pay no attention to any ill-natured remarks about you either. Simply live your truth. Success is much sweeter that way.
Great interpersonal skills should be part of the OHS person’s tool-kit. There are a number of techniques you can use to enhance your interpersonal skills. Just keep on improving.
The greatest motivator in any organization is not money. It is the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, to contribute and to be recognised.
Look to the past to see the future?
Recruitment and selection uses the “Past behaviour predicts future behaviour” concept. The idea is to give plenty of examples of where in the past you have successfully done the sort of things that you will be required to do in the new job. Say what you did, how you did it and what the results were.
I communicate with a number of unexperienced people trying to obtain an OHS position. The problem they report is you cannot get the job without the experience and cannot get the experience without the job.
The view of many in management is that, it is essential for employment applicants to have practical experience in the particular job. I understand this approach and have seen benefits accrue from its application.
Having reflected on the above approach, I am of the view that it can be limiting. I know some people who have worked in a number of industries and had little trouble making the adjustments required to operate in particular industries. I would suggest that if you have extremely sound skills in your speciality, you should be able to adapt to most industries.
Hone your People Skills
One needs to have the ability to be a chameleon and adapt your behaviour, skills and language to the situation. Adaptability and flexibility are important traits.
When it comes to recruitment, a good understanding of interpersonal skills can make the difference between getting or not getting the right people.
Great interpersonal skills should be a part of the OHS person’s tool-kit. There are a number of techniques you can use to enhance your interpersonal skills.
Admit your mistakes. Do not make excuses or blame others. Whatever project you undertake, it is good to have an ending review of what went well and what opportunities for improvement were presented. Admitting your mistakes provide you to have a plan to rectify them and it is a sign of strength not weakness. Admitting your mistakes is a gutsy move and will enhance your credibility.
Safety professionals need to have empathy. One definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. I believe empathy is one of the most important skills for any occupation you may have in the organization. Many in management have no respect for the workers or understanding of their plight. Many engineers I have worked with were great with things but lousy with people.
Having a good strategy to manage your people is important but make sure you spend sufficient time in the field so that you do not lose sight of the reality of how the organization is being managed. People in corporate roles are often out of touch with reality. So, minimise the bureaucracy, paperwork and bull dust. In my experience, government departments in particular suffer from problems in this area.
Keep it simple; relevant; involved
To keep the workforce close to you, avoid having complicate OHS systems. I know one organisation which had the idea that the way to implement safety change was to develop a detailed, multi-page policy statement and e-mail it out. The policy statements were long and ponderous, in an advanced level of English and very few people ever put in the very hard work required to read it. There was no training in the policy and the people who were to enact the policy, front line workers, had limited e-mail access. Not involving the workers in the development of your safety strategies is bound to fail.
Complicated workplace systems can become too difficult for employees to manage and they just give up trying. Good safety people are good simplifiers. Do the simplest thing that will work. Effective systems are a trade off between simplicity and complexity. Systems have to be complex enough that they have identified and meet needs yet simple enough that they are not a big ask to implement.
Remember it is the relationships you build combined with your technical skills that determine success – either alone will not guarantee success. No matter what you do, the people issues will be the most important ones in your world. Getting away and having some assessment of your personality style is important for you to understand how you relate to others.
Have huge but realistic goals with set timelines. Without articulated goals you do not know where you are heading your team to.
Encourage your staff to be lifelong learners. Training is what others do to us; learning is what we do to ourselves.
Let your staff know your expectations and react when they are and not met. Manage by walking around and see for yourself what is going on in your organisation. Get out of the office and into the field. Force yourself to tour work areas and talk to the workforce on a regular basis. The use of humour in everyday interactions can boost communication and interpersonal skills. Ask for and give regular feedback
Reward loyalty or you will lose good people. People do not need to be managed; they need to have their potential unleashed
And most important COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE…..In fact, it is impossible to list one position in which communication is unimportant.
About the Author
Seydina Dieme based in Dakar, Senegal, works as HSE professional in the Construction and Mining sector and has 8 years experience in this field. Working with highly experienced OHS people has permited him to grow up and learn a lot in HSE. Seydina is also an HSE trainer as developing and delivering traning pakages has always been part of his key roles.