Living Life In High Definition


Jeff Gehrke 

VP of Risk Management,     The Learning Care Group

On approach to the Detroit airport earlier this week, I was struck by how much the Midwest landscape in winter looks like a black and white photo taken in the early 1950’s.  Stark, grainy and devoid of definition.  When I arrived home and turned on my HD television to watch one of the college bowl games, I was taken by the difference between the reality of the Detroit landscape and the vividness of a modern television picture.

On reflection, there is a correlation with the way safety professionals perform their craft.  Many of us started our careers in the analog age, and we did just fine.  Safety was a bit unfocused as a profession.  Few in the business world knew quite what to make of us.  It was up to us to define our place in the world; to carve a place for safety, where almost none had existed before (do you hear the original Star Trek theme music here?)

Beyond OSHA And The Drive Of Compliance

The world moved from analog (compliance) to digital (risk assessment), and some safety pros moved as well, improving and refining their skills and the overall quality of the profession along with them.  Many others did not progress into the “digital age”,  joining an era of deterioration.  An unfortunate period where many safety people essentially “retired in-place”, doing a job, but failing to lead, create value and expand the knowledge base.  They stayed in the analog.  Change is uncomfortable, and these folks seemed to preferr comfort over the uncertainty of stepping into the future.  We lost a lot of good men and women to the “analog age”.

It’s Time For HD Leadership

We repidly progressing into the digital age 0f HiDef, not only in technology but in the safety profession as well.  This is an opportunity for our profession to more clearly define itself and its full value to our employers and society. 

Value those who are young and just entering the profession.  They may be the eventual leaders in this transition, because they are not part of the past and have no anchor to it.  The current leaders that made the earlier transition from “analog safety” to the “digital age” have new challenges, and many of them will continue to lead.  Many more will not make the trip.

To steal an old analogy, “the train is leaving the station”.  We each need to examine our professional selves and decide if we want to be onboard for the next destination of the safety profession, or if we are satisfied with where we are now.  Quoting one of America’s Founding Fathers Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense”, it is time to “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way.”

It is clear that safety leadership has not fully matured.  There is still room for improvement and new opportunities, because of the challenges that are born every time society and the economy move forward.  There are new risks created that will need to be managed.  The demand for insightful, visionary safety leadership will probably never be completely fulfilled, but safety needs leaders for the HD age.  We should ask ourselves if we are those leaders or if we belong to a prior age.

What do you think?  Which age do you belong to? Can you provide examples of people who are either in the analog or digital age?