The October 2012 edition of The Synergist, the magazine of the  American Industrial Hygiene Association, included a frank interview with Niru Davé of Avon. Dave says that many safety and health professionals have a low level of competence.

He explains his statement through his belief that there are three competency elements in a safety professional:

  • Knowledge – staying up-to-date with the information in your field
  • People Skills – respect and approachability, and
  • Contribution – communication and involvement, participating in and generating a strategic approach.

These elements could apply to any profession and to any professional association, or industry group. Indeed these elements can be both personal and organisational. For instance, any member-based organisation should establish a base level of knowledge and provide services to improve that knowledge’s currency and applicability. The people skills in this instance would involve improving the “brand” and corporate reputation of the organisation – developing an authoritative voice in the community. the third element would include lobbying, research development, engaging with decision-makers and, perhaps, setting the agenda.

Davé says that internal safety advisers should, in some ways, consider their role as consulting to senior management, to applying the techniques and skills of the consultant in presenting information and options. Executives often seem to give additional weight to external, independent advice over internal suggestions. This needs to be balanced with the advice provided through the corporate structure or, if possible, generate greater trust and respect. The “consultant’s way” may be a useful strategy.

Davé also advises safety professionals to get out more in their own company. If safety can have a potential impact on any element of a business’; operations, it is important to know what those operations are. This should not be to interfere with that operation but to know the business so that potential risk points can be anticipated and incorporated into the safety advice.

One particularly practical advice from Davé was that “To some extent, you can better influence senior leaders by knowing their style.” This is certainly not advocating that safety professionals be sycophants but by not always talking exclusively about safety, one can personalise the relationship and encourage safety to be seen as part of the broader culture of a workplace and not a silo, a sign or a clipboard site walk.

Kevin Jones