In Part One, we looked at the role of a EHS professional and some key attributes I believe every EHS professional needs to possess to have sustainable success in their organization and career. In Part Two, let’s look at a few more.
The Affiliative Leader is another attribute closely related to supportive leadership. It is the ability of the EHS professional to bring together groups of people when team building is important. While I do not believe this style can be used alone, there is plenty of evidence to support that our ability to leverage collaboration and teamwork is a pivotal leadership attribute to a well-balanced and sustainable EHS process. It’s the ability to take a management dependent or independent workforce to one of interdependence; where employees and leaders work together to both implement and promote a “values” based system that is built on the premise that ‘no-one gets hurt’ and that ‘injuries and incidents can be prevented’. When an interdependent culture is created, employees view EHS as a critical part of their role, not an adjunct to it, and they see themselves as the driving force behind the EHS process. A critical skill for the EHS professional is his or her ability to bring people together. We win or we lose, but we will do it together.
The Command Leader is a leadership style that over the years has fallen further and further out of favor within most organizational norms. Command leadership comes from an old military model and assumes that people need to be told what to do, and if you don’t tell them exactly how to do it, you’ll be disappointed in the results. Granted, most of us simply don’t like this style of leadership, until, as most of us also know, crisis hits the organization. A large chemical spill, a fire, a serious injury or some other impending crisis and the EHS professional is suddenly thrust in the position of commander, regardless of the incident management structure. With that said, I believe there is reason to practice this leadership attribute outside of crisis. In my own career and I would venture a guess in many of yours, we’ve spent many hours owning our EHS process and its strategies in front of senior leaders responsible for making correct decisions. If you are like me, simply giving away the organizations EHS process was never an option because of my knowledge, skill and experience. Though more restrained than the military view of command and control, owning and effectively communicating with confidence an effective EHS management plan is paramount to long-term success.
The Competent Leader is the foundation to the success you desire. Competence alone cannot make a leader, but it can undo one. Competence doesn’t mean that a leader knows how to do everything, but rather knows what to do and how to get it done. A competent leader will know where their strengths and weaknesses lie and will then drive forward to fill the gaps. Socrates said the “one who clearly knows best what ought to be done will most easily gain the obedience of others.” In view of how I think of a EHS professional, I can’t agree more.
Throughout my career and on numerous occasions, I’ve been asked “how many people does it take to lead EHS?” My answer is always the same; “it is exactly the number of people that show up for work every day.” It’s the management team, production colleagues, the maintenance department, and every other person that impacts the organizations EHS process.
Business organizations are starving for effective and genuine leadership. Regardless of the organizational position of the EHS professional, we are all leaders, or at least should be. For some, the EHS professional has position power with great authority because of his or her knowledge and experience on the job. However, regardless to where we are in position or responsibility, we have a tremendous opportunity to influence the organization through effective EHS leadership.
As I mentioned, there are so many attributes of EHS leadership that should be considered purely from the understanding that every organization is different and has specific needs. However, after many years of working as a EHS and health practitioner, I cannot imagine not having these five attributes in my wheelhouse. For the EHS professional, it is not merely the doing that defines our worth, but it is that combined with thinking, aligning, developing and inspiring. It is leadership in action.
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.