By Mike Schultz
Senior Risk Manager
Is this the “new normal” in hiring practices? Put maximum effort into recruiting and filling open positions and then breathe a sigh of relief as if to say, “Well, we hired somebody. Our job is done.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know top candidates are not easy to find in this job market (and enticing them to choose your organization is even more difficult), but being “done” the day the new hire starts just isn’t a sustainable success story. To develop an exceptional level of safety in the construction industry, we need to shift our focus toward developing our safety talent into true industry leaders.
Focus on talent development to build the construction industry
There must be a concerted effort in our industry to shift towards development. You can hire someone with the skills and experience or grow your own talent internally – there are successful safety leaders that have come from many paths. Individuals that come from both paths need mentoring, support, continuing education, and a strong focus on developing their soft skills in order to become the industry leaders of the future.
I was fortunate enough to have several mentors throughout my career. Some enhanced my safety acumen and others focused on the business side. 24 years in, mentoring and developing safety professionals has become the most fulfilling and enjoyable part of my career. This positive impact is what, for me, defines success.
How to develop safety professionals into industry leaders
When mentoring and developing safety professionals, it is crucial to understand what exactly a safety professional is being asked to be. The truth is, today’s safety professionals are taking on responsibilities and requirements beyond being an expert in the field of safety management.
They are a salesperson. If we’re being honest, the safety professional is often tasked with convincing folks to buy something they sometimes don’t believe they need. Devoting space to this competency within the safety professional’s development plan can bolster the necessary skills for influence. Make them your best salesperson.
They are a coach. Although this is a term used to exhaustion in our industry, in the world of safety professionals being a skilled coach cannot be emphasized enough. A coach uses the same techniques as a salesperson, but with a softer approach, guiding the player to not only believe in the plays, but to practice them, and feel comfortable sharing revised plays that could perhaps score even more goals. Make them your most influential coach.
They are a referee. Sometimes. The referee does not take sides. Rather, the referee understands the rules and evenly holds those accountable to follow them. This is a skill that can challenge human nature and must be practiced to near perfection. Not only do they find themselves in the middle of WHAT is right or wrong, but also stuck between WHO is right or wrong. Develop the skill of neutrality within your safety leaders.
They are a disciplinarian. Oh how I hate that word. How about we coin it as behavior correcting strategist instead? A successful safety professional can’t be expected to be a great coach or an effective referee if they do not have guidance in imposing discipline when necessary. However unsavory this may feel, focusing a portion of their development on tactful behavior correction can play an important role in fostering the desired improvement. Teach grace with this strategy.
They are often a source of comfort. This may be the most difficult trait to teach, likely because it is less about teaching and more about recognizing the need for empathy. Safety professionals wake up each day with a fear. The fear that they may need to comfort someone who has been impacted by an injury or incident. Being prepared can subside this fear. But, more importantly, having the skills to empathize and graciously offer comforting support must be marked as “ongoing” within the development plan.
A legacy of future safety leaders
Developing safety professionals throughout my career has significantly moved me closer to fulfilling my personal and professional mission statement:
To have a positive impact on those I interact with every day. In turn, using those individuals as a vehicle to spread additional positive change.
Though it has required commitment, endless effort, and sincere caring for the individual and the profession, I believe this focus on mentoring and development, replicated at scale across organizations, would have a significant impact on the talent available to our industry, as well as the standard of safety driven by the construction sector. This is the legacy I hope to leave behind.
What will yours be?