Preparing for an Uncertain Future: What Tomorrow’s Safety Professional Should Be Studying Today

In a dynamic business environment, the decisions one makes today can have a profound impact on their safety career tomorrow. Phil La Duke of Rockford Greene explains how simple planning today can greatly improve the chances of a richer and more fulfilled career in safety in the future.

In a dynamic business environment, the decisions one makes today can have a profound impact on their safety career tomorrow. Simple planning today can greatly improve the chances of a richer and more fulfilled career in safety in the future.

 

The job that safety professionals will be doing ten years from now probably doesn’t even exist today. This, understandably, creates a quandary for educators and employers alike. The field of safety has drifted away from its roots in enforcement in interesting, exciting and creative ways. How can students prepare for the careers of the future? By studying some disciplines that may not be part of their present core curricula.

A SECOND (OR THIRD) LANGUAGE
Safety professionals are increasingly expected to work in a global workplace and it would seem logical that the individual not just be conversant, but fluent in the language of the people with whom he or she is charged with protecting. It’s tempting to pick a language based on today’s trends (say Spanish in the U.S., or Cantonese) but today’s savvy student will look at the languages spoken in emerging economies and consider mastering one or more of these languages.

STATISTICS
Disciplines such as six sigma, lean, and Quality Operating System (QOS) lie in statistics, and a working knowledge of this branch of mathematics is an important foundation on which these methodologies are built. But beyond that, a deep understanding of statistics is always crucial to the safety professional because statistics is the language of safety. In the U.S. safety is characterized in terms of statistical calculations, which means safety professionals who don’t understand statistics are incapable of understanding what these figures tell them about their organizations’ performance.

A keen understanding of statistics can also allow safety professionals to identify areas where the organization is at greatest risk of injury, pinpoint the most dangerous jobs and the most dangerous activities, and even determine the demographics that are most at risk. With such knowledge, safety professionals can outline how substantial changes will affect the way the operation functions and considerably improve its workplace safety. If safety is an estimation of the probability of an individual being injured, then a mastery level knowledge of probability, and by association statistics, is substantial.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT
A crucial skill that is rarely taught in academic settings – but that is nearly universally expected by employers – is project management. Project management is actually a collection of skills that is essential to safety. One such skill is planning; solid planning is vital in safety. Project planning can help safety professionals to reduce waste and free up valuable time and resources. From scoping a project to resource leveling, safety professionals need a complete understanding of planning skills.

Another useful project management skill is budgeting. Even a safety professional who doesn’t aspire to a management position should be able to prepare and interpret a budget. Such knowledge will better equip the safety professional to better align the safety function with the strategies of Operations.

Perhaps the most important project management skill is the ability to effectively manage meetings. This seldom taught but frequently expected safety skill can make the difference between the success and failure of the function. Probably the biggest drain on the safety professional’s day is the disproportionately huge amount of time wasted in unproductive meetings. In addition to studying the traditional skills associated with effective meetings, students should learn how to determine when a meeting is actually needed.

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Phil La Duke

Phil La Duke is a partner in the Performance Assurance Practice at ERM: Environmental Resources Management, 3352 128th Avenue, Holland, MI 49424, 313-244-2525, www.erm.com. You can also follow Phil and reach him on his blogs at www.philladuke.wordpress.com.

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