Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Promoting Our Value

Employers want to know what you bring to the table. They want to know how you improve their bottom line and what you can do for them. They want value-add employees.

Did you ever wonder why you make the salary you make? Were you ever curious how your employer decided it was necessary to employ an SH&E professional or a team of SH&E professionals? Are you currently wondering how to be more marketable to a prospective employer, get a promotion or even improve your job security by being more valuable to your employer?

Part of ASSE’s vision is to be a global leader of the profession, and one of our goals is to promote the SH&E profession. Being the steward for an entire profession is a big task. As an organization, it is something we are working on diligently. For ASSE to lead this charge and for each of us to promote our profession, we need a clear understanding of the issue from all angles.

To develop this understanding, ASSE undertook a project to examine the value of the profession. You may be thinking, “Gosh, Chris, the value of the profession is the salary I make.” But the real answer is quite the opposite. From your employer’s perspective, your salary is the cost of the profession, not its value. Today, employers want to know what you bring to the table. They want to know how you improve their bottom line and what you can do for them. They want value-add employees.

It used to be enough to come to work and do a good job. By working hard and demonstrating skills, we earned raises, promotions and, hopefully, some respect. But today’s workplaces are different. Globalization has made the market more competitive. We all are being asked to do more with less, and the lines of responsibility for jobs blur more each day. Thus, it is more important than ever for us to define the scope of our responsibilities as a profession. It is critical that we demonstrate the value we deliver. Otherwise, employers may begin to believe that someone else can do our job just as well, making it nothing more than a collateral duty.

Through the value of the profession project, ASSE identified and examined the gaps that exist between our views of how we aid an organization and our employers’ view of our function. Most SH&E professionals would say that the safety function brings value in many ways. Safety helps reduce costs and risks, it enhances a company’s reputation, it improves efficiency, productivity, quality and employee morale. All of these attributes add to a company’s ability to compete globally. But what do senior managers think about the profession? Do they agree with our assessment or do they view the safety function as primarily regulatory in nature?

And what about the value that SH&E professionals bring to their employers? We all hope that management views us as leaders, as knowledgeable contributors who think strategically toward improving the overall organization. But is that truly their view? Or do they think of us as compliance-oriented, technical geeks? More importantly, do they believe that anyone can do safety? To learn more about the study’s findings and ASSE’s plans for the future, read the articles published in Professional Safety in May 2008 (p. 24) and November 2008 (p. 40-42).

So what can you do to help advance the profession? Consider two key insights from the study related to managers’ perceptions. First, managers surveyed felt that SH&E professionals did not meet their expectations regarding business and strategy. We can be better at planning and reacting strategically. We need to develop practical solutions that integrate safety into business productivity. And we need to better understand financial terms and evaluate proposed projects against their projected payoff.

Second, managers felt SH&E professionals were lacking in certain areas of technical expertise. Initially, I found this surprising. Then I realized that managers expect something different from a technical perspective than what most SH&E professionals target. Managers are not talking about our engineering or compliance knowledge. They are talking about our ability to speak in terms of risk to the organization. SH&E professionals could be better at assessing the probability and severity of losses and accidents that may result from hazards. We need to implement programs to evaluate hazard control and program effectiveness.

Understanding these perceptions will help us better fulfill our leaders’ expectations and demonstrate the value we deliver to our organizations. ASSE is using this information to create professional development opportunities. Each of us also must take the time to develop the skills needed to fill the gaps. Promoting a profession is a big job. Together, it’s a job we can accomplish.