ASSE experts share tips for career advancement in safety

DENVER — OHS professionals need to do a great deal of homework if they want to move up in the corporate safety ladder, according to career experts speaking at this year’s American Society of Safety Engineer’s Safety 2012 Professional Development Conference and Exposition.
Fast-tracking a career in safety, health and environment (SHE) is not for the faint of heart and requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice and constantly going above and beyond, said Thomas Loughman, manager of health, safety and environment services with URS Corporation.

“It’s never too early to start planning for your career. It’s important to spend your time wisely and identify the key objectives you want for your career, and determine the time required to achieve those objectives,” he explained.

Being a new or young safety practitioner can be advantageous as expectations are still low, which provides huge opportunities to exceed those expectations, Loughman added.

“If you deliver results consistently, you will convey to your manager that age does not define you,” said Loughman, who belongs to the ASSE’s Young Professionals in SHE practice specialty group.

For OHS practitioners who want to fast track their career advancement, getting certified as soon as possible takes them to the right path. They need to determine what they want to be or where they want to go and form a plan.

“To do that, you need to understand who you are, identify your strengths and weaknesses,” said Leah Sallee, safety specialist with URS Corporation and also a member of the Young Professionals in SHE. Choose a career path that highlights and takes advantage of those strengths.

Finding the right employer is important in helping OSH professionals pursue and achieve their career goals. A company that values health and safety practices and provides lots of opportunity for career growth in SHE are some of the criteria one should be looking for.

When researching about a company, find out what their credentials are, whether they’ve won any awards or recognized for outstanding performance. Take advantage of social networking sites like LinkedIn to connect with people who work for that company and find out what it’s like to work for that particular employer.

“If you want to land a great job, you have to find a great employer,” said Sallee.

There are several things OHS professionals can do to help them get that promotion they’ve been hoping for, said Loughman.

Meeting and exceeding expectations are always good to boost one’s career, he said. Be a problem-solver and let people see you can take on tasks and successfully deliver with little to no supervision. Build relationships with decision-makers in the organization by showing them you can be trusted.

“Make (decision-makers) be aware of you and aware of your value,” said Loughman. “They need to see you as someone worth investing in.”

As important as building relationships with management, is connecting with the workers on the floor, said Loughman. Joe-the-forklift-operator is as important as the manager you’re trying to build a relationship with.

“To succeed in getting promoted, you need everyone on your side,” said Loughman.

Finding the right mentor is also critical for any career advancement goal, said Jeff Treffinger, vice-president for health, safety and environment with URS.

The mentor you choose should be someone in a leadership role who can advertise your value to management and be a champion for you.

“A good mentor will help manage your career and point you in the right direction,” said Treffinger.

Fast-tracking your career in health and safety means you have to go above and beyond what is expected of you, but you should also know your limits, cautioned Treffinger.

“Fast-tracking is not for everyone, but if it is, you have to understand how far and how much is too much,” he said. Set limits at the beginning as to how for you are willing to go for your career.

This session on fast-tracking OHS careers, is one of more than 250 educational sessions at the ASSE Safety 2012 Professional Development Conference and Exposition, taking place at the Colorado Convention Centre in this city, from June 3 to 6. More than 4,200 safety professionals are attending and more than 500 manufacturers and service providers are exhibiting this year, according to the ASSE.