The Top 4 Habits of Effective EHS Professionals

The Top 4 Habits of Effective EHS Professionals

“Have you ever tried to catch a chicken?” asks Richard Hawk.

Hawk is a global speaker and trainer who makes safety fun. With more than 30 years in health and safety, Hawk is unique in that’s he’s a safety professional, coach, industry author, and speaker.

“I’ve tried to catch a chicken. It’s hard,” says Hawk.

He explains: “One day my wife, Jackie, and I were driving near our home—and there was a featherless chicken along the side of the road.”

The chicken had fallen off of a truck on the way to a processing plant.

“I couldn’t catch the chicken. Jackie thought it was hilarious seeing me twist and turn and try to grab at the chicken to no avail.”

Finally, frustrated, Hawk took off his jacket and threw it over “the wily fowl.”

Looking back, he says he should have done that in the first place.

“Like that chicken, it’s not always as easy as it seems to get your team to commit all their attention to the task at hand,” says Hawk—a lesson he’s learned after 30 years in safety and health.

Hawk says all safety leaders can benefit from what he’s learned along the way: to use the right tools and to know what excites people—what makes them want to pay attention and avoid complacency. That could be before a project kicks off, during a safety meeting, while conducting a task or after an incident has occurred.

Besides knowing how to get people’s attention, here are 4 traits common to effective EHS professionals:

1. They know how to get commitment

Hawk explains that attention is part of the equation for success, and so is buy-in.

In order to get buy-in, you must stimulate them emotionally, help them absorb the information and apply it.

In training, that means if you know your audience is going to be distracted by their phones, for example, do whatever it takes to get them off their phones. Make the content/session memorable.  By asking a few questions:

  • How can I make what I’m presenting help my peers/workers feel productive and useful?
  • What will I do to make them want to find out more about and take ownership for the topic?

In practice, help them implement a simple way to achieve the right mindset in the day to day to avoid complacency.

Rob Moore, an EHS manager with Bosch, recommends a system called Think 3.  Think 3 gives workers a simple way to help workers make sure that they are using that training in practice and taking accountability for their actions.  Think 3 is an easy way to have workers ask themselves:  Am I focused on the task?  How can I get hurt?  What am I going to do to prevent an injury?  “If you can help people build a habit of asking themselves these 3 questions, you’ll instill accountability and have a safer workplace” says Rob.

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2. They know when to challenge workers

One way Hawk has been able to cut through the noise today is by giving workers a challenge during training or tool talks. For example, he might say, “You are going to do horrible on this test. I don’t care how smart you are, you are going to fail.”

He’ll tease the content that way and people start to get more excited.   “This then helps people remember what was said. If you want to be a good trainer or a good presenter, you have to sometimes challenge people.”

They also know how to challenge workers to find the best solution to a risk that has been exposed. For instance, instead of solving the problem with PPE, work with the team to try to find a way to eliminate the risk entirely.

3. They know how to be present

Hawk recently worked with a company that was having a culture problem. After doing some research, he discovered one of the leaders simply wasn’t paying attention or listening to his people enough.

Great EHS leaders are able to be present in the moment, giving people all of their attention. “Whether it’s with one person in the field, or whether it be with 2,000 people in an audience, pay attention to people,” says Hawk.

That requires focus, being intentional, and getting out of your own head.

“Pay attention to how others act and look. Pay attention to what they describe to you, how they look, and how they feel.” Remove distractions that hold you back from paying attention.

When EHS professionals are truly present, others will notice, and they’ll enjoy their time with you.

“There’s nobody on the earth that doesn’t love being paid attention to. Safety leaders that are successful, and just leaders in general that are successful, whenever they’re interacting with people, one thing that sets them apart is that they pay attention and they’re mindful,” adds Hawk.

“They’re noticing what other people are saying and sending to them, not just sticking inside their own head about what they got to do next or how busy they are or they’ve got these inspections to do. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it though.
Practice it and you will get better at it” says Hawk.

“Take the time to find out what people want and need and what’s going on in their life.   Whether it’s training, culture or a one-to-one interaction.”

4. They show appreciation

Effective EHS professionals know how to motivate and that means they don’t forget to show appreciation. Hawk says the real power is in unique appreciation.

If your team was doing an exceptional job on the work site, you may say, “Good job. Thanks for working safely,” to your team.

“The crew will like the fact that you noticed its’ safe activities. But if you want to have a stronger, more memorable impact, include something specific in your gratitude.”

For example, personalize appreciation when appropriate. “It doesn’t have to be something you give them, but if it is something unique to them—something you would not have said to another person.”

Or, in this example, you could tell the crew it has done a fine job setting up its laydown area or something specific to the work they just did. “That unique appreciation will be noticed and create a more lasting impression.”

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