How many times, when you ask Safety Managers how they got into their roles, do you hear “I was promoted with no experience”. This is not necessarily a bad thing, we need more people in the safety profession.
The problem is, the role of Safety Manager is not seen as a professional role, diluting the new person’s authority and stature.
As I write this I recognize that, 20 years ago when I started in the field, I was promoted into it with no experience. The difference is that I was promoted into a safety administrator role, learned the skills and earned my way to the highest safety level in the company; Director over 20+ locations.
Let’s take a moment to discuss why it is not a good thing to skip the learning steps and promote someone with not experience to the head of Safety for an organization.
WHY THE SAFETY PROFESSION IS TREATED DIFFERENTLY
When a Human Resources position or an Accounting position opens up in an organization, you will never see leaders look to their hourly employees or their front line supervisors and say “You’re now the HR Manager – Good Luck with that!”
But we see this in the Safety Profession over and over again.
There are several reasons why this is happening and they are setting up the new Safety Manager for failure:
- They don’t understand or value what the safety profession brings to the organization. There is a belief that it is needed to handle the tasks of accident claims, training and policies; not realizing all the moving parts that go into keeping accident rates down.
- If they know how to do the job in operations, then they must know how to do it safely. If this was true, there would be no need for safety managers to audit and observe behaviors and improve operating procedures.
- They want a Safety Manager who won’t cause any disturbances, interrupt current operations by making changes to improve safety. The status quo is all they want.
- Promoting from within is cheaper. They can pay an inexperienced person way less than someone experienced in the safety profession.
SKILLS NEEDED IN THE SAFETY PROFESSION
Not everyone has the skills to be a safety leader. To be successful in the safety profession you need to know, not just about the business operations, but how to analyze data, create programs, training and promotional materials, and most importantly, you need to have an understanding of how to change people’s ingrained behaviors.
Now this is not all, see the post on the roles of a safety manager,
On top of that, it takes years of experience and education to get to the level where you can really make a difference. After training over 100 safety managers, working closely with 40 locations and assisting over 200 facilities, what I saw was that Safety Managers who promote into the role with no training or experience take, on average, five years until they are leaders.
THE PROBLEM WITH SAFETY PROMOTIONS
There are two problems when companies decide to promote an inexperienced person into the safety profession. One on the company side and one on the employee side.
THE PROBLEM FOR THE COMPANY
They are hurting their business in the long run. Safety has such a positive impact on all of their departments, when you hire someone that has no experience, you actually delay all of those positive impacts, by years.
THE PROBLEM FOR THE EMPLOYEE
As a new Safety Manager being promoted into a job you’re not qualified for, you are not going to be treated the way you should be treated. Safety Managers hold a high level in the management hierarchy. This is less likely to be done when they believe you don’t know what you are doing yet.
In addition, because the new Safety Manager is unsure of their new role until they get some training and experience under their belt, they will be looking to management to guide them. The same people they are supposed to be auditing and correcting.
It’s a conflict of interest.
When accepting a role as a Safety Manager, always make sure you will be reporting to the highest level of management in the facility; the General Manager or President. Safety cannot report to lower level manager like operations or facilities. This creates a culture where safety can be suppressed.
SHOULD YOU TURN DOWN THE SAFETY PROMOTION?
Taking on a new role that you are not fully ready to be successful at is a way to grow as a person, a professional and in your career. Therefore, I never believe you should turn down a promotion.
However, know what you are getting yourself into and take steps to improve your skills immediately.
Remember, the company never saw the position as a professional position to begin with, otherwise they would have looked elsewhere. They had the mindset of not wanting to hire someone or pay someone like they should so they just decide to promote from within. This is an opportunity for you, but shows you are starting with a bad culture to begin with.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- It is an amazing opportunity for you and a great way to get your foot in the door.
- Safety people love to help safety people, so it’s ok to ask for help
- Be diligent about learning all you can and be open to learning
- Be patient, becoming a safety leader takes time
STEPS FOR SUCCESS IN THE SAFETY PROFESSION
If you just got promoted into the safety profession, here are some steps I want you to take.
First, educate yourself on safety. Check out this podcast on How to Get a Job in Safety Management if you want some suggestions on how to educate yourself.
Not only should you educate yourself on safety, but you should also educate yourself on leadership and management right away. There are tons of leadership and management books. Start with the newest bestsellers in how you can be a good leader or manager.
If you are coming from a leadership role know that leadership in safety is way different. In the safety profession you are a leader over people that you have no control or authority over.
Learn how to actually affect change without (as the saying goes) using the hammer; because you have no hammer in this role. You have no authority to write employees up, to fire them, or whether or not they’re hired.
But you are accountable for their behavior if they get injured.
The secret is to influence the rest of the management team who can start affecting change.
Secondly, what I want you to work on is changing your mindset and your confidence because you’ve never done this before. You’re going to walk into the role with very low confidence. When you start doing the work, you will build confidence, but you’ve got to get that confidence there right away.
Never fake it till you make it. But remember your role. You are a leader and you can do this job. But you have to have that mindset.
Now the next step that you need to take is to act like a professional. This means you do not show up to meetings in your safety gear. You show up to meetings in your suit, maybe in your tie.
Dress like the other executives dress because that portrays professionalism. It portrays leadership and believe it or not, that’s the way our human brains work. How people act and dress actually affects our biases towards them.
The next step is to sit through the entire meeting. Too many times safety managers come in for their part of a meeting and then leave; never staying for the rest of the executive management meeting.
Everything discussed at that table affects safety, make sure that you’re staying and you’re learning all that is going on in the business.
Do you see any of them getting up halfway through the meeting and leaving? No, because they’re professionals and you’re a professional too.
If you are not included in management meetings, you have to set the expectation that safety needs to be included. That comes from confidence. That comes to that mindset shift.
Another step you can take is to start looking into safety best practices and how you can apply them at your facility. See what you can do to improve what your company is currently doing. Start creating improvement plans and sharing that with the management team, it will shift their mindset as well that you’re taking the role seriously and that you are a professional.
When you’re getting promoted into the job, look at it as an amazing opportunity, but take it seriously and see it as a career, not just a job. You will always be learning new and more effective ways to keep your people safe, but in the beginning, spend a large chunk of your time on educating yourself.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
I understand that for our profession to grow there will be people promoted from within because half the people in our field are self-taught and half the people in our field came from this method. But the disrespect employers treat safety with kind of drives me crazy.
If you recently got promoted into safety, start taking the steps above to better yourself as a safety professional. Let me know if these tips have helped you!
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.