5 Stages in The Career Journey of a Safety Manager

Even though different companies have different job titles, all of us undergo certain stages in our careers in safety. And job titles are not as important as you think because it’s all about your impact, responsibilities and where you want to go in the future.

But based on my experiences as well as other safety managers, I’ve identified 5 different stages in our career and the secret level at which you should aim for.

Let’s talk about each stage so you’ll know where you are in your journey and what steps should you take to make it to the next level.

1st Stage: The Confused Safety Grunt

The name of the first stage might sound harsh but it’s true. Most of the time, many are placed into the safety role because HR decided so because no one wants the job. Or, maybe the responsibility of being a safety employee was already included in the job responsibilities you’ve applied for.

Because of this sudden job transition, you become confused because you literally don’t know what is a safety manager or anything about the job. What makes it worse is that HR will just congratulate you on getting the job and then leave you to figure out things on your own. And because you really don’t know what you should do, you’ll usually be told to do that, do this. Basically, making you a grunt.

It’s a good thing that most safety employees don’t stay as the confused safety grunt. That is because, usually, these grunts easily learn the ropes and they realize that this is a good path. So, they take time to really learn more and advance to the next stage.

2nd Stage: Overlooked Safety Employee

This is the stage where you’re just treated as the safety guy. Like everybody knows you do safety but your voice doesn’t matter. You are there to just clean up things when an accident happens or there are safety programs that need to be done.

Basically, you’re just following the decisions made by the department you are in. So, you’re given tasks to do and that’s it. You are not managing anything even though you want to. You’re not given an opportunity to do so.

Now, moving on to the next stage takes quite a bit of courage. Because what you need to do is step up into that role of being a safety manager even though you’re not given an opportunity. And you’ll need to do this yourself. You need to take the initiative and make them realize what will happen when the safety manager is not involved in safety decisions.

3rd Stage: Underappreciated Safety Manager

After, you’ve stepped up, taking on the role of a safety manager. You know, making safety policies, procedures, and everything else that needs to be done to ensure that the company is safe and following regulations.

However, in this stage, even though you’ve done your part, you’re finding it hard to make everyone follow. You’re finding it hard to really implement the policies and develop that safety culture. No one listens to you. This is the stage where most safety professionals are and this can be really frustrating. And some just walk away from safety because of this.

Now, to move on to the next stage, the secret is to persevere and continue working on making everyone see your value as well as getting more support from the management team. This takes time. So, you need to persevere in driving your team into action.

4th Stage: Overwhelmed Subject Matter Expert

Once you’ve persevered, really put in that work, got more support from the management, and let everyone see your value, what happens is that you become overwhelmed with work. Everyone comes to you, asking for help, and consulting you because everyone understands that you’re the subject expert.

Then you help them out, making a plan for them. But the problem is no one helps you out. What happens is you end up doing everything because everyone is expecting you to do everything. So, basically, what you lack in this stage is that safety culture.

Now, to move on to the next stage what you need to do is create that safety culture. You need everyone in the company to have that feeling that they need to contribute to the safety of the company. That everybody needs to be involved in safety and work together. And this involves getting the full support of the management team. You need to become the coach of the coaches.

5th Stage: In Control Safety Professional

This is the stage that everybody wants to achieve. This is where you are the coach of the coaches. Basically, you’re in full control.

But even though you’re at the top, you still lack one thing. And that is you are the glue that holds everything together. So, when you’re out of the picture, everything you’ve built falls into pieces. And this can be a problem if, for example, you need to be gone for a long time.

Bonus Stage: Respected Safety Rockstar

This is a bonus stage because most are just aspiring to become the one in control. They are satisfied with being the glue that holds everything together because of the fear that they might get removed. However, this opens up a lot of opportunities.

To reach this stage, you need to become a true leader. Where everyone follows you however you are not the one in control. You are the leader but not the glue that holds everything together.

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Please know that going through these stages does not necessarily mean a job change or title change. It’s an experience level and how well your program is managed and supported.

So where are you on this journey?

And where do you want to go?

And more importantly, how are you going to get there? What skills, knowledge, or experience do you need to master?

All food for thought until our next episode.

The 5 Stages In The Career Journey of a Safety Manager

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] Whether you are just starting out or you've been at this for a while, you likely have some goals for the future. Maybe they're monetary goals, maybe you wanna make a certain salary, but I'm willing to bet that there are some position or job title goals as well. Something that maybe you wanna move up your career ladder.

After working with hundreds of people in this field, I've identified the progression. Of a safety manager's career ladder. So let's see where you fall on my fun list. Let's get to it.

Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to the Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent CSP and 20 year Safety Professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again. I am now sharing

[00:01:00] my processes and strategies with you. At the Safety Geek, you will learn how to manage an effective safety program that increases your management support, and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of. Influencer and leader, you're in the right place.

Let's get to it.

Hello. Hello. Hello. My safety friends. So many times when I am talking to perspective students before they come into Safety Management Academy and when they're trying to make the decision if it is right for them, they are concerned because they're not sure if it's a right fit because they're not technically a safety manager.

You know, they want a career in safety, but they're currently just doing some safety. Or they're an administrator. Or a coordinator, or they're a safety specialist. And I've done episodes about how

[00:02:00] your job title doesn't matter, that it's all about your impact and your responsibilities and where you want to go in the future, but as you're progressing through this safety career path, there is a common journey that I have found that most people go through.

So I want you to understand that wherever you fall on this journey and on these fun stages that I'm about to share with you, I want you to know that you're not alone . And it doesn't mean like it's a bad thing if you're down at the bottom and you have all this way to go. And it doesn't mean it's a good thing if you're all the way at the top and you're like, oh, I got nothing else to learn.

It's just a fun way to look at how our career actually progresses, and it all starts off with the confused safety grunt. Now, I know that that sounds like a really harsh way to put this job title,

[00:03:00] but that's kind of how I feel that people just landing in safety can be described. They're not really sure what to do.

Maybe they remember the safety committee. Maybe they were a warehouse supervisor. Maybe they were just like in customer service. I've seen that too, or in HR, and they have been given safety responsibilities and they're like, Hey, we need to make sure we have safety training in place and safety policies, and you've got the job.

Congratulations. Now go figure it out. It's very confusing at this stage. And what happens because you are not confident in your job and you're not really sure what you're supposed to do, you start getting a little bit of the imposter syndrome because everyone's expecting you to know what to do when you don't really know.

You don't even know what you don't know yet, right? So you're confused and everything is getting dumped on you, and you're basically being treated like a grunt. Like you have to do all the bad stuff, like they are

[00:04:00] literally dumping everything on you because they don't want to do anything. And fortunately, once people dip their toe into safety and they land in this safety grunt stage, they don't stay there for very long.

It doesn't take long to realize like, whoa, there's a lot to this job, and one, I'm not being paid enough. As we can all probably say, but two, this is gonna take some learning and this is actually a really good career. So you don't stay in the grunt stage for very long. But then you move into the overlooked safety employee, where you're not necessarily being treated like a manager.

You're the safety guy. That's the safety guy's job. They're in charge of safety, but they're not necessarily managing safety yet. Everything is just kind of like their responsibility and they're taking care of it, and they're doing it. And they are

[00:05:00] starting to speak up, but it's kind of like overlooked. Like everything is just kind of passed on to you, but they're not necessarily including you in all of the decision making processes.

It's almost like you are the person that has to clean up all of the stuff that they're doing wrong, right? You understand that they're supposed to have a machine guarding program in place and that they don't have it, but now you're having to deal with the claims that are resulting from them not having that program in place.

You have trained all the employees on how to lift properly, but nobody's really enforcing it, so you end up having to clean up that mess. And you just get overlooked. Where management meetings happen, executive management meetings happen, decisions are being made,

[00:06:00] and you are not included in those decisions. And what I find with the overlooked safety employee is they are truly being treated like an employee. Like they work for the HR department or they work for the finance department, or they work for the quality department. They are not a standalone thing, they are an employee of those departments. So technically those departments are in charge of safety and this is the employee that carries out the tasks.

And that's a great way to look at it with the overlooked safety employee, is that they are just given tasks to do and then they complete the tasks. There's no management being involved here, and it's not because they don't wanna manage, because they likely do. They're just not given the opportunity to manage because they're being overlooked and when they speak, sometimes they might not be getting listened to. So if you find yourself in that overlooked safety employee stage, and I

[00:07:00] see people in this stage for quite a bit of time, it really takes you stepping up into the next stage yourself. And I don't think that when you're moving through the stages, like when you're moving from a safety grunt to a safety employee, That means that you have to change jobs or that you have to change titles or anything like that.

Because as you know, I don't care about titles, but it does take you stepping into the role, you stepping into that responsibility of, no, I'm going to manage safety, and that is our next level, which is the underappreciated safety manager. This is where you are actually managing safety and what does that mean when you manage safety?

It means that you're creating a program, you're creating the policies, the procedures, the safe work practices. You're putting in everything that needs to be done, and you're managing those programs. Now,

[00:08:00] whether or not somebody follows those programs is a whole another issue, and that's where we get into that feeling of being underappreciated.

Because you have everything in place that they need to do to keep their workers safe, to stop injuries from happening. And caveat here, if they actually listen to you, the company would make more money. We would reduce costs, we would decrease turnover, we would increase productivity, , all of those things that come along with an amazing safety program.

If they would listen to you, the company would run better. This is that underappreciated safety manager. But unfortunately, you're kind of in that position of I told you so, which we've talked about before as well, that when they don't appreciate your work and they're not seeing the value of your work, they end up seeing it as like, oh, that's not really a risk. Oh, you know, we don't really have to do that.

[00:09:00] Oh, that's the safety guy. Just over exaggerating again. Right. So this is where I see a lot of people in, like I would say, most people that I work with, this is where we're starting out at. They know how to do their job. They've created programs, but they can't get anybody to listen to them.

They're struggling with safety culture, they're struggling with participation. They're struggling with people getting engaged. And this is where we lose people in our profession. Because if you're underappreciated for too long, why are you gonna continue doing the job? You're not, you're gonna end up just going like, I'm gonna move on to something else.

Something else that these skills fit with, something else that I can be appreciated for something else that maybe even pays better. So where we wanna move you to is the next stage , which isn't much better, but it's a little better. So stage four is our overwhelmed

[00:10:00] subject matter expert. This is when you actually start getting management support and they are seeing you as the expert.

They are seeing you as the person that like you know what you're doing and we just need to listen to the safety guy and we're going to get things done. And this is where everything starts coming to you and you're overwhelmed because they're expecting you to do everything. They see your value, they want you to be included.

They want you to take control of it and take charge of it. They want you to manage it. They wanna listen to you. But it ends up overwhelming you because now you're having to do everything yourself. So you have management support, but what you're lacking is that engagement. You're lacking that teamwork.

You're lacking that culture. It's lacking that part where you are the coach of the coaches. Instead, you are actually the

[00:11:00] coach of everybody. Right. So it ends up getting very overwhelming because you can see all the problems and all the issues that need to be created, and it's amazing that they are coming to you and that they are wanting your help and that they are including you, that they're seeing the value that you're providing.

But then you create an action plan and nobody does anything. So for you to continue to show that value, you end up stepping in and doing everything. So it's great that you know how to do your job, but you're missing that critical piece of getting that culture in place. Now, our next piece, our next stage, which is what I like to call the final stage, that this is really the level that most people are striving to reach.

I do have a bonus stage for you as well. But that fifth stage of your progression of your safety journey is reaching the in control safety

[00:12:00] professional. This is where you actually feel like the safety professional. You know how to do your job. You have a program that's running smoothly. Everybody is listening to you, and people are doing what you tell them to do, and you are in control.

Your reports are running, they're amazing. You know, you have everything in place. You are audit ready, you are a team member of the management team. You are a safety professional, and people are looking at you like, wow, how did you do that? This is amazing, right? And this is why I say this is the level most people are striving to reach.

Now, once you reach that level of an in-control safety professional you are still lacking a few things, which I'll talk about in a second, but you generally have your choice of jobs here, right? You have a track record of success, and you have your choice of where you wanna work and what you wanna do, and

[00:13:00] you can stay where you currently are. In fact, a lot of my coaching clients, they don't wanna change jobs. They just want to be a rockstar safety manager in their current position. So what they're trying to reach is that in control safety professional, right? And that's perfectly fine. But there is one thing that I say needs to be fixed with that in control safety professional.

And that is that when you take yourself out of the picture, does your safety program still run. And if you are in the stage of the in-control safety professional, the answer to that is likely no. Because the control of that program is based on you. You are the glue that is holding it all together. It works because you are there, because you are respected, and they understand that they need to follow what you're telling them and they

[00:14:00] value what you tell them. But what happens when you walk away? What happens when you do take that higher position or. You get hit by a bus, right? So what happens to that safety program? If you were to go away for a month because you had an illness or you wanted to take some vacation time, what would happen to your safety program?

If the answer to that question is any change whatsoever negatively, then you need to strive for our next level, which is the respected safety rockstar. That is the person that, yes, you're very respected in your position and you are definitely the coach of the coaches, but you are not the glue that is holding it all together. This is when you actually move into that leadership role where you are not in control, but

[00:15:00] you're leading the team and then they are taking control of everything. And I remember one time several years ago, someone said to me, well, if I do that, if I'm not the one in control, then what do they need me for?

And they need you because you are the subject matter expert. You are the safety professional, but you should not be the glue that is holding your program together. And the way that you make that difference between an in-control safety professional and the respected safety rockstar is leadership. And that is developing an influencer strategy where you are actually influencing your team to do the right thing even when you're not there, where all of your programs are built with collaboration.

So that way when you're not there, they still run. And when you become that safety rockstar, You're number

[00:16:00] sore because there is such value placed in safety within that workplace. They understand that it's not just about reducing injuries, it's about creating a fine-tuned machine, which is their company that runs perfectly well when they focus on

working safely. When they focus on developing safe work practices and when they focus on creating SOPs and JHAs that have safety, quality, and efficiency all built into it. It becomes safety is just how they do business. And you're showing them how to do that, and your role tends to be more of an executive level where you're making the big, broader decisions.

You're setting the strategy. But it is the team that is actually going out and doing everything. So it's an amazing place to be. And when you actually get to this level, this is when

[00:17:00] I would say you are ready to take on a regional role, or you're ready to take on a corporate level role where there's multiple locations under a corporate umbrella.

I have a lot of clients that want to do that. But you have to learn how to be that leader first so that people actually follow you. Cause it's not about you creating the program and you putting your stuff into play in all of your locations that you're now in charge of. It's about leading the people who are in charge of those locations, but also understanding the foundations of safety and regulations and

human behavior and engagement, all of those things wrapped into one. So let me recap. So we're starting off at the safety grunt. We move on to our overlooked safety employee. And then once you know what you're doing and you're starting to manage programs, you're the

[00:18:00] underappreciated safety manager. And then once things start moving and people start seeing like, Hey, what you're doing actually works, you're the overwhelmed subject matter expert because now you're expected to do everything.

And once you start to get people actually participating, you are the in control safety professional. But if you are still the glue that is holding everything together, you have not moved on to that respected safety rockstar yet. So please know that going through these stages doesn't necessarily mean a jobs change.

It doesn't necessarily mean a title change, it's just about how you feel about the job. So that way you have a vision of where you're wanting to go in the future. And it's like an experience level and how well your program is managed, how much of your program depends upon you, right? And I want you to sit back and think where you are on this journey. Where do you see yourself?

[00:19:00] Are you the overlooked safety employee or the underappreciated safety manager? Do you feel like you've already made it to that rockstar position that if you were to walk away today and they were to bring in someone else, your program would outlive you? That's our rockstar safety manager.

So I also want you to think about where you want to go. You know, going into work every day and doing what we do every single day, that can't be the end all be all. Where do you wanna go? Where do you want this career to take you? And more importantly, once you know where you wanna go, how are you gonna get there?

What skills, what knowledge, what experience do you need to master to get to that next level? And that is all food for thought, my safety friend, until we chat again next week. Thanks for listening. Bye for now.

[00:20:00] Hey, if you're just getting started in safety or you've been at this for a while and are hitting a roadblock, then I wanna invite you to check out Safety Management Academy. This is my in-depth online course that not only teaches you the processes and strategies of an effective safety management program, but how to entwine management, support and employee participation

throughout your processes. Are you ready to finally understand exactly what you should be doing and ditch that safety police hat forever? Then you have got to join me and your fellow safety scholars over at Safety Management Academy. Just go to thesafetygeek.com/sma to learn more and to get started.

That's thesafetygeek.com/sma and I will see you in our next students only live session. Bye for now.[00:21:00]

Highlights From This Episode:

  • Why Job Titles Don’t Matter in Safety Management
  • The Stages in the Career Journey of a Safety Manager
  • What Are the Actions to Take on Moving Up in the Safety Career Stages
  • How to be a Safety Grunt to a Safety Rockstar

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Always remember my safety friend, that wherever you may be, don’t give up and still keep striving to improve because it will take you places and give you more than you might think is possible.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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