Magazine article Occupational Hazards

How Is the Safety Manager's Job Evolving?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

How Is the Safety Manager's Job Evolving?

Article excerpt

Three veteran safely professionals discuss the changing nature of their responsibilities and how they position themselves for success.

I spoke recently with three safety managers, all of whom have been in the safety field for 15 years or longer, about how their jobs have changed. For purposes of this column, I'll call them John, Paul and Bob. Each of them works for a large consumer products company with multinational operations. Despite differences in their backgrounds and their company cultures, each had a remarkably similar story to tell about the evolution of the safety manager's job and what it takes to stay successful in the field.

More Manager Than Cop

With the shrinkage of corporate departments and an emphasis on the integration of safety with a business' goals, most safety managers find themselves having to work through others to get their organization's safety goals accomplished.

"The safety manager of today has to have more skills in the management part of the business than the compliance part of the business," John said. "They have to be changemasters. They have to have qualities that will help them in changing the cultures of organizations. That is critical." He indicated they must not only communicate more, but in the same terms as the rest of the management team.

"You have to be more strategic, change from being an individual contributor to being able to talk on a management level," John said. "You have to be able to match what you're doing with the company's mission, vision and operating philosophy."

"There is a lot more interaction with all the other facets of the business, whether it be HR, product planning, production/inventory control -- all things that are pure business," Paul said. "When I started, we were really divorced from that as professionals."

Like many of his peers, he saw safety performance plateau a few years ago and found that the road to improvement lay through more communication, training, planning and involvement with all levels of the company. "We're seeing huge improvements now," Paul reported.

Activities such as planning and auditing can result in less need for hands-on plant activities by corporate and division safety managers. "The day-to-day things get handled because of the education and training we have done," Paul said.

Multidisciplinary Role

"We are more multidimensional than we used to be," Bob observed. …

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