Young Leaders in Industrial Hygiene: While Their Careers Have Taken Different Paths, These Four Industrial Hygienists Share a Commitment to the Profession, a Passion for Protecting Workers and the Environment and a Positive Attitude about the Future

Article excerpt

Are good leaders born, or are they made? MerriamWebster's online dictionary defines a leader as "a person who has commanding authority or influence." I asked the president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), Donald J. Hart, Ph.D., CIH, how he defines a leader.

"To be effective [leaders], industrial hygienists must get others to follow," says Hart. "They must have the skills necessary to 'read' others and adjust their communication style to fit the situation. These are skills that are useful in every aspect of life: at work, at home and in volunteer commitments to civic and professional organizations such as AIHA."

AIHA relies so heavily on the members who volunteer to lead local sections, student local sections and the association's wide variety of volunteer groups that several years ago, the organization identified having a ready supply of well trained volunteer leaders as a strategic imperative, says Hart. That led to the development of the Leadership Workshop, a weekend-long retreat for incoming volunteer leaders to learn the ins and outs of their new roles.


"By also recognizing the need to develop the leadership skills of early-career industrial hygienists, AIHA launched the Future Leaders Institute in the fall of 2005," Hart says. "This challenging and rewarding event provides attendees with tools and knowledge to begin a successful career, a network of peers to turn to for professional advice and support and a review of current business management, leadership and communications literature."

Some of the industrial hygienists profiled here have participated in the Future Leaders Institute, some have not. But all are perceived by their peers to be young leaders in industrial hygiene.


Carter Ficklen, age 33, attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., receiving a BS in environmental health with an industrial hygiene concentration in 1996 and a certificate in occupational safety in 2000.

As the program manager for Mainthia Technologies, he is responsible for leadership and management of $21.5 million in contracts to provide safety, industrial hygiene, systems safety, fire protection, health physics, emergency response, sanitation, quality assurance and construction inspection support services to NASA Langley Research Center. He leads a staff of 38 people, and his team manages the asbestos/lead management, hearing conservation, confined space entry, indoor air quality and hazards communication programs; provides EHS training; performs comprehensive IH and safety audits; and investigates incidents and near misses.


Ficklen says that one of the aspects of his job he finds most rewarding is the interaction he experiences with so many different people each day. "I joke that I go from the basement to the boardroom, from a director making $250,000 a year to a guy making six bucks an hour," says Ficklen.

A leader, says Ficklen, helps bring people together "to achieve their best" while promoting their best qualities and minimizing their worst qualities. "When you're putting a team together, not everybody is going to be best friends and sing 'Kumbaya," he adds. "But they need to work together and a leader helps them to do that and keeps the morale high."

Most of today's young professionals went to school for industrial hygiene or safety, Ficklen notes, unlike many of the Baby Boomer-era safety and IH managers, who started their careers as engineers or human resources personnel and transitioned into safety and industrial hygiene positions. "As the Baby Boomers start to check out real estate in Florida, the younger folks can really bring a lot of energy to the profession," Ficklen states. "We bring knowledge of new technologies, new processes and management systems." And, he adds, "You can accomplish a lot with energy and fresh ideas. …