I was conducting a final review meeting following an audit at a facility, and the Sales Manager stayed after to talk to me. “How do I get a Safety Manager Job?” he asked. I was taken aback but he was honestly interested in changing careers.
Are you in that place right now? Do you want to break into this profession? Maybe you’re just dipping your toe in and the water feels really good? Either way, anyone can be successful in this profession. But how quickly you get there is the difference.
TEACHING YOURSELF HOW TO BE A SAFETY MANAGER
What is great about the safety profession is that you can learn it on your own. Everything you need to know is at your fingertips; it’s on the internet or in books. You don’t HAVE TO get a formal education to be a great safety manager.
You just need to be able to read the information, understand it, relate it to your business, and apply it. Use the try, try again, method. If the first time you put a safety policy in place, it doesn’t work, then you learn from that, tweak it and try again.
YOU CAN ASK FOR HELP
The good thing is Safety
Safety Managers love to help and share their knowledge. So as you are learning, you can easily reach out to a safety manager in any other business, and they will likely offer you advice or assistance. There are also some great Facebook Groups that you can reach out to when stuck.
I have literally called up a business, asked to speak to their safety manager, and, after a quick intro, asked if we could meet to discuss how they manage their program. It WORKS! Plus this is a great way to see other industries (and to eat hot Cheetos right off the production line – TY Frito Lay!! That was a core memory day.)
WHAT’S THE LEARNING CURVE?
The problem with being self-taught is that it comes at a slow pace. You will stumble and fail more often and people will get hurt while you’re learning to keep them safe.
It takes about five years to get up to speed as a safety manager if you don’t do things to accelerate your knowledge and experience.
So if your boss says to you, “Hey! You want to be the Safety Manager?” Just know that unless they are providing you with intense training, you will have several years of learning ahead of you. And, that’s OK – we always need more safety managers, so welcome!
If you want to jump-start your career, then getting a bachelor’s degree in safety management is your first step. There are other degree programs that are related, such as environmental science or industrial hygiene, but to be the most marketable for a general safety manager job, you’ll want one in safety management.
Both public and private schools offer safety management degrees. As long of the program is accredited, it’s okay. Choose what works best for your timeline and budget.
These degree programs will touch on the management of the entire program, but most of the attention is to the regulations themselves. To learn the nuances of implementing effective programs, you will need some additional training.
Like our upcoming Safety Boot Camp – more info coming soon.
TRAINING AND SEMINARS
There are countless ways to learn more about safety. From live multi-day training, conferences with workshops, online webinars, and even full-blown online courses.
These are a staple for everyone currently working in a safety manager job. Continuing education is one of the most important things you can invest in.
When you are first breaking into the profession, I recommend taking a live focused course that is relevant to your industry, such as a multi-day machine guarding class.
This allows you to go in-depth on the subject and get clarity on how it applies to your business. The live course allows for immediate answers to your questions, personalized learning, and the opportunity to network.
Check out the OSHA Training Institute – they have my favorite in-depth courses.
You can attend webinars whether you are currently working
Many businesses offer FREE webinars as an opportunity to pitch you their product. There is nothing wrong with this. Many times, it gives you a chance to learn about a great product or tool.
Take as many of these webinars as you can – the information provided can always be valuable or a great reminder if it is a subject you already know.
Recently, I took an industrial hygiene sampling webinar – way out of my area of expertise – but OMG! I gained so much insight and knowledge. I now feel better equipped with talking to an IH.
The webinars you pay for are even better. They are a great way to get continuing education at your convenience. I recommend budgeting for at least one webinar per month.
HOW TO BREAK INTO THE FIELD AND FIND A SAFETY MANAGER JOB
So you got your training, and you are ready to get started. But how do you get hired?!
The first step is to beef up that resume. It is well worth it to have a professional help you with it. A good resume really stands out.
Create a ‘portfolio’ to use during interviews.
This should include a different version of your resume – a fancy version. I love the templates with the images and graphics. You can’t submit these resumes when applying because hiring software messes up the impact, but, WOW, do you shine when you walk in and hand it to the interviewer.
I also like to gather a few examples of my work. I would create a folder with a newsletter, sample policy, forms, and a report. Show off your skills!
SAFETY MANAGER STARTER POSITIONS
When you are first breaking into the field, don’t shoot for the stars right away. Be OK with a little grunt work. Getting the boots on the ground experience is invaluable.
So you may start out as a ‘Coordinator’ or ‘Specialist’. These positions work under a safety manager or director. They are usually responsible for paperwork, inspections, follow-ups, etc.
See these as a stepping stone.
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
If you want more out of your career, then make a plan. Don’t get comfortable where you are and be willing to change and be open to opportunities.
There are lots of opportunities out there. The first step is deciding what you want to be doing (what level, what type of company) and pick a realistic date you will be doing it. Listen to the action planning podcast and create an action plan for how you will get there.
Make a list of the experience & education you need and actively work towards it. Don’t ever think that you are stuck where you are.
Plan for your continuing education. What is the most important thing for you to learn about right now? What will have the most significant impact on your program?
Look for the learning opportunities for this subject, find out when they are available, go online, and see the reviews for them. Make a plan to get it done.
I think 2-3 continuing education classes a year is ideal.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
This was quite a list of how to get started in a safety manager job, now I want to know how you did it. If you have been in safety for a bit, how did you break into it? Leave a comment below.
If you are new to safety, what’s your plan? How are you learning it?
Let us know and don’t forget to share this article on Facebook, LinkedIn, or your favorite app.
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.