Don’t Let Safety Get In The Way!

For many years now ASSE hosts the Executive Summit during the annual Professional Development Conference.  This moderated session is well attended, and includes a panel of 3 to 5 business CEO’s, owners, presidents and other senior executives.  The moderator asks a series of open-ended questions, encouraging follow up and discussion between the panelists.  The purpose is to help the SH&E professionals in the audience better understand how executives think about safety and how SH&E can be more effective. 

Sitting in the audience listening to the answers, I’ve wondered how much of their answers were pre-scripted by their safety manager or legal department.  None of the executives want to say anything that makes them or their companies seem anything but 100% for safety.  There have been some really good pieces of wisdom shared though, so attending and listening certainly hasn’t been a waste of time.  I’m reminded of one executive in particular.  Her comments really stopped the audience and made them think.

During the PDC in New Orleans, Maureen Steinwall, owner of a small injection molding company in Minnesota, hushed the crowd.  In her answer to the closing question, “Do you have any last thoughts to share today?”, Ms. Steinwall provided a real eye-opener.  She said that, “Business owners and executives love to build and grow organizations.  They have dreams, visions and strategies that are exciting and bold.  Then here comes the safety manager or insurance loss control consultant to throw cold water on their excitement.”

She continued, “They’re told they can’t build their expansion the way they want because it will violate fire codes or insurance requirements.  OSHA won’t like it either and you’re likely to be fined!  All the executive hears is NO.  The result is loss of excitement, a blurring of the vision, another set of barriers to growing the company, and negatuive feeling toward the messenger with the bad news.  I think safety professionals would be more effective if they would take the time to learn the vision and strategies of their leaders and think of how they can help.  Use your knowledge of safety engineering and regulations to help achieve the executive’s dream, not block it.  Also, try to get in the game as early as you can so you help create the vision and the solution!”  Wow.

I could really feel her emotion as she made her point, and I could relate.  When we come with issues can we reframe them so we are helpful, not just seen as negative?  Have we taken the time to understand the business goals and strategies, so we can better communicate necessary actions?  I fear that all too often safety professionals are so removed that they don’t even know that they are “throwing water” on their executives dreams.

Think about your work and the managers and executives who drive the business.  How can you be more of a leader, creating solutions to grow the business?  Are you on the bus?