Having worked in many organisations I have encountered and often questioned how some decisions have been made when sufficient reliable data has been gathered to make aninformed decision on economic, moral/ethical and legal grounds, and just the opposite has been made by higher authority in the organisation with which the HSE Practitioner must abide. I have even encounter a psychopathic decision maker during my many encounters with senior management and wonder if there is any strategy that would be favourable to approach for certain bad decisions to be changed. In HSE I have encountered broadly:

  1. Decisions taken in the interests of the company
  2. Decisions taken in respect of a part of a project that would not necessarily be in line with that company’s values
  3. Decision taken “off the cuff” with insufficient data to make that decision
  4. Group-think decisions – which was mostly the decision of the strongest leader in that group
  5. The Power Decision – I am in charge and that is the decision, period
  6. The Expert decision – often a wishy/washy decision which relies on someone else making the decision
  7. Good decisions with a purpose, direction and target
  8. Internally- Arbitrated decisions, when two strong leaders must reach a compromise in front of others so as too seem neither backs down – many have witnessed these

(Above are the terms that I use to categorise decision makers)

The HSE Strategist must take in account not only the organisations HSE maturity, but also the organisational decision makers, individuals and those who may be just outside the realm of normal decision making amongst many other factors. However, for the HSE Strategist, the decision makers are the key to causing change in any organisation, without them HSE Strategy cannot work.

What do I believe

“decisions should be made collectively or by an individual based on reliable data that leads to a positive outcome in terms of HSE and in the best interests of the organisation”

Research on decision making has identified various characteristics of decision makers, how decisions are made and types of decisions. We will briefly explore these areas of research.

My favourite is the Industrial Psychopath

In his pioneering work, The Mask of Sanity, Cleckley, documented cases of high-functioning ‘‘successful’’ psychopaths, including businessmen,

physicians, and scientists, who are characterized by traits of egocentricity,

superficial charm, and irresponsibility, but not by arrests or convictions. (They are not serial killer type psychopaths)

“Babiak (1995) has described how individuals withpsychopathic traits successfully enter the mainstream workforce and enjoy profitable careers in industry and organizations (especially in large corporations in the midst of rapidgrowth or chaotic change), by lying, manipulating, and discrediting their co-workers”.

This person is not a team player but often describes their-selves as one, in general decision making always includes “what is best for them first”.From my experience they are often caught out in lies, and tend to retaliate as soon as possible, even if they are counter-lies.

“The behavioral traits including manipulation, lying, and discrediting co-workers bearobvious similarities with indirect/relational aggression, a type of aggression in which theaggressors do harm to others through purposeful manipulation and damage of theirrelationships or social status within a group” – (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995).

The team disintegrates, and the Industrial Psychopath needs to eliminate all those persons who cannot be manipulated or feared by his actions. They thrive on being the leader and surrounds themselves with the weaker or inexperienced decision makers. These type of decision makers possibly have the greatest negative effect on HSE of all the decision makers in industry. They need control, if their locus of control is removed or challenged I have personally witness this anger and retaliation.

The Individual (or in some cases the lone-wolf)

These include the experts. Expertise is domain-limited. Experts do notexcel in recall for domains in which theyhave no expertise–(Michelene T. H. Chi), in other words one cannot be an expert in everything. Although experts in their domain have characteristics as explained by Michelene T.H. Chi in her paper “Two Approaches to the Study of Experts Characteristics 2006”, both for successful and unsuccessful experts, we in the HSE field are often misled by who calls themselves an expert.

For many years I have come across these types of decision makers, many as I have previously stated, are claimed experts by tenure, position in the organisation, status they hold, what they have achieved in the past, etcetera. However, that does not always make one the expert decision maker. However, individuals in many organisations are brilliant individual decision makers, but normally make informed decisions taking the holistic company into account when making that decision. These are the question askers as I like to call them, who may also delay a decision for a couple of days before reaching a decision, but they always make a decision. The opposite can be said of they who say they need a few days, but never make that decision.


Organisational Decisions

Various levels in a company focus on different levels of decisions. The Board have a different focus to that of the executive committee, whilst the Management Committee has a different focus to the prior mentioned levels of management. Therefore, decisions at each level may affect the HSE decisions that are executed in the field, and often have a large impact.

Responsibilities of Boards

The Board Chair leads the board in keeping with the organization’s vision, mission, and strategic planning goals. Duties of boards include:

  • Choosing the CEO
  • Approving major policies
  • Making major decisions
  • Overseeing performance
  • Serving as external advocate

(these are normally collective decisions in the best interests of the company)


Responsibilities of Management

The CEO leads the organization in keeping with the board’s direction. The duties of management include:

  • Making operational decisions
  • Making operational policies
  • Keeping the board educated and informed
  • Bringing well-documented recommendations and information to the board

(these may be collective or individual decisions in the best interests of the company, the outlier here could be the Industrial Psychopath)

Recognised by now most mid-management HSE Management has you work within these hierarchies of decisions. Very few companies have HSE Directors who are on EXCO, and even fewer still on the Board of Directors. It is expected of the HSE Manager to work within the boundaries of these decisions and are often in conflict with what needs to be achieved. The more skilful the HSE Manager is at being a change agent, the better aligned he/she could be at achieving the goals for HSE.


Shane Lishman
Shane Lishman is a member of the Technical Committee with the International Association of Commissioning Engineers and holds the title of MIACE; he is also a Chartered in the United Kingdom with the International Organisation of Safety And Health, CMIOSH. He holds a Post Graduate Qualification from Nottingham University. Areas in which he has work or consulted include: Oil and Gas; Construction; HSE Commissioning; Forestry; rail; hospitality industry; Chemical industry including printing; to name a few. Shane has worked in the Middle East, countries in Africa and South Africa, specialising in mega contracts. His last 4 contracts have ranged from US$400m to US$1.7bn, and a future contract of US$9.8bn. Shane has not forgotten his roots and still practices when he can in South Africa and contributes to the profession as a whole.

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