In an article published in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?”, the author explores the difference between “leadership” and “management.” “It takes neither genius nor heroism to be a manager,” he wrote, “but rather persistence, tough-mindedness, hard work, intelligence, analytical ability and perhaps most important, tolerance and goodwill.” Granted, one would be hard pressed to deny that these are not admirable qualities, but it is doubtful that these qualities would ever deliver sustainable EHS performance in a complex and dynamic organization.
Over the past 25 years of my career, I’ve spent most of my time working in local and corporate level positions striving to improve EHS process and performance. Over the years, I discovered that organizations best optimize their efforts when they provide strong well-balanced leadership. Strong and well-balanced meaning that it does not lie strictly on a regulatory focus, but considers employee capability and capacity, the management team, employee behavior and supportive system tools. Better said, it’s our ability as EHS professionals to extend leadership out into the organization to drive positive and sustainable compliance, handle crisis, develop strategy, influence management and change culture. The dividing line between managing these things and leading them is literally measured by the ability to affect others with a sense of purpose and urgency.
How many attributes does a leader need to have to be successful? A fair assumption is that a successful leader will have many attributes in varying degrees of understanding and execution. Often, leadership is developed over time and in many cases, it is due to the complexity of the circumstance at hand. We have all heard that “leaders are not born, they are made.” That is not to say we are to wait until crisis to learn a specific leadership skill, but to be prudent in mapping out expected encounters and developing from there.
Looking at the role of a EHS professional, I believe there are five key attributes that every EHS professional needs to possess to have sustainable success in their organization and career.
The Visionary Leader is transformational. There is a difference between a visionary, a vision and a visionary leader. A visionary is someone who sees the future and can articulate it with great inspiration. A vision is taking what one sees and using those ideas, crafts a message into simple language that gives direction. A visionary leader, on the other hand, is a combination of both. It is easy to understand the role of a visionary and a vision, but to be successful the visionary leader brings vision to fruition with specific strategies, achievable goals and actions that extend far into the organization through wide participation. Maybe the best way to describe it is that for the EHS professional, success is best experienced as a visionary leader when we can move organizational energy to a higher level by setting a clear vision of what is possible, and then transmitting that energy to the people who work in our organizations to deliver it.
The Supportive Leader is usually discussed as leading within a situational model. The model focuses on the idea that when there are differing levels of organizational competency and capacity, some people will have a level of unwillingness to connect with the process, thus requiring our reaction. The ability of a leader to pull them back into process is critical to success. Early in my career when I was a facility-level EHS leader, I noticed that my facility usually could meet EHS performance expectations year-after-year, but always seemed to fall short of having step-change improvement that would take us from good to great.
My conclusion was that while I had much of the employee population involved and participating, there was a small minority of those that remained outside of active EHS engagement. These were simply outliers. Author Malcolm Gladwell defined an outlier as “one that appears to deviate markedly from other members of the sample in which it occurs.” Applying this thinking, there’s a great probability that many of us have outliers residing in our organizations in two distinct groups, both positive and negative. A positive outlier is an employee that produces and goes above the expectations of what is required. The best way to sustain a positive outlier is to simply recognize and appreciate them. A negative outlier on the other hand, is an organizational challenge. They are usually the small group of employees that work to disrupt collaboration and pay little attention to the organizations values, its vision, or its goals for success.
The danger of allowing such negative outliers to reside in the work system is that it fosters acceptance within the organization and over time, it will grow as much as the organization enables the behavior. In my time as the facility EHS leader, I took initiative quickly to support and leverage involvement from everyone. I established an EHS management process that required every employee to own part of the EHS process. Simply, supportive leadership is the ability to gain active involvement and participation from all members within the work system.
In Part Two, we’ll look at additional forms of EHS leadership.
Learn more about leadership in EHS by accessing our on-demand webinar, Top Management: Demonstrating your Commitment to Safety.
Scott Gaddis is the Health and Safety Practice Leader at Intelex with over 25 years in EHS leadership experience in heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and packaging. Before joining Intelex, Scott served as Vice President, EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, Executive Director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Global Leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corporation.