Being a Professional
I’ve worked as an occupational health and safety professional for 20 years and it hasn’t been easy. I started out in health and safety knowing a bit, but thinking I knew it all. Today I’m at the peak (some would say end) of my career looking back at all those times when things went wrong, things went brilliant and when things just sort of petered out.
Here you will find 15 of my top tips I wish I’d known when I started. They would have saved me a lot of heartache, embarrassment and time. Take these tips on board and you will have the benefit of my experience and hopefully be able to move forward faster than I did over those 20 years. What’s more, you’ll have your ideal job and a career to match.
1. Fight Your Corner
When you work in as a professional, everybody thinks they know what you do, how it should be done. They’ve looked it up on Google. They think they understand, but they don’t. Nobody understands the role you play in a company. You have to keep telling managers and workers what you do, why you do it and the benefits that the company or person gets from it. Things like keeping them legal, keeping workers safe from harm, all of these things. It will sound repetitive to your own ears but it needs saying to anyone new or who questions your motives. Don’t give up because you’re going to have to say these things over and over so they eventually understand what you’re trying to do.
2. Build Trust
This builds on the point above and it’s about building up trust by being consistent, being honest, being ethical and always having the best interests of the company and the employees at heart.
3. Get Support
Support can be from colleagues, friends, Facebook pages or even the forums that abound on the Internet. You will need these friends because things don’t always go right and health and safety is not always black and white. You’ll need someone you trust as a sounding board for difficult or novel situations.
4. Get Paid for What You Do
Most jobs I’ve done were office hours, 9 – 5, Monday to Friday. And that’s what I was paid for. I worked loads of hours I wasn’t paid for and it never actually helped with my workload. It seemed the more I did the more I got asked to do. I’ve found that working hours when you’re not getting paid for it won’t solve your problems. In fact you’ll come back to work after the weekend, not rested and not having spent time with your family and resentment builds up.
5. Get Organised
Get your filing in order. Use a system that works and you can find things. Get a list system or a journal or a diary. I use Dropbox and Evernote. There are millions of organisational tools out there. You might even consider paper, but don’t depend on email and an internet calendar. They are not enough. Get organised until nothing ever falls through the cracks. You don’t forget anything, you’re not late. Make your organisation aware that you are reliable. You’d be surprised to know how many people aren’t.
6. Policy First
Write the policy before you start practising so you can justify your actions and why you’re doing it.
I used to do health promotion programmes and was often asked “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?” It was much easier to point to my 5-year plan of my health promotion programs to say this is what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, the benefits the organisation would get and the benefits that the people would get – this was my agreed policy and plan with my manager too. The more structured plan showed progression and some thought and not a knee-jerk reaction to what was happening in the world.
7. Learn to Type
This is such a simple idea and so useful. In years to come we’ll be relying more on voice-to-text on the computer, but if you can type and set things out correctly you’ll be ahead of the game and probably a lot of people within your company. You’ll also save a lot of time and waiting around for other people to do it.
Try Mavis Beacon typing course but there are plenty of others
8. Discuss Important Decisions
How you structure your relationships in an organisation is important too. Health and safety professionals have an input into people’s working lives and their financial situation. People can be seriously affected by recommendations you make, so discuss important decisions with either a peer or with someone senior to yourself and make sure that you consider carefully. Check your facts. This is one time when you don’t want to hurry. Always sleep on your decisions when they are important and likely to have a negative impact on an individual.
9. Be Kind
Kindness costs nothing. Even when giving the worst news in the world, do it with kindness and people will appreciate this. Perhaps not at the time but looking back, they will think about how a message was given and think of you with respect.
10. Keep Learning
This is something I always have done. Keep learning about your job, about changes. So much is changing in the world of work. All the time you’re getting new legislation, reviews of standard practices and audits of what you’re doing so keep learning, keep watching, keep on the ball, keep relevant.
11. Finish What You Start
This has been a really important in my career. It means you are a “completer” or “finisher”. You set a date to deliver and you stick to it.
People, again, will respect you if you give them a date and finish or deliver a piece of work on that date.
I once worked with a person who had about seven projects ongoing. Each morning she would pull the project files from her drawer and stuff them back in at the end of the day (could this be you?). I used to look at them and think, “My goodness. How on earth does she work like that, with all that stuff hanging around in her head?” It’s good for your mind to finish something before moving on to the next project.
Obviously, sometimes things will happen that you can’t finish but that would be the exception and not the rule and if you that happens, people will be understanding and know it was probably a serious problem that caused the delay and not just an excuse.
12. Bad Days Happen. Period
This is a fact of life if you ask me. You can go for a couple of weeks and life is OK, sometimes wonderful. The sky is blue and everyone loves you and then one day you’ll wake up and you’ll put your foot in the cat bowl, your hair will go all mussy, and everything will go wrong.
Really serious issues will occur that will threaten your professional health and safety judgement or what you’re doing and these are the days that you’ll really need to have all your professional wits about you so that you’ve got that foundation and support to deal with them. I still get bad days now but I know that when they’re over, life will go on the same and that bad day will pass.
13. Family is Important
I missed a lot of my son’s school events like school plays and meeting him from school; not realising how important this was, not just for him but for myself as I looked back in later years. Some things are more important than work and you never get the opportunity to go back and make it right. Remember, the family is important. Think about what’s happening outside of work and make sure you keep family at the top of your “to do” list. I wish I had.
14. Keep a Journal
Keep it online or write it on paper but keep a record. Write about your struggles, write about your successes. Write down how you feel especially when you get a great success; you can look back at that when you get a bad day. You will thank me. Your children and grandchildren will thank me and maybe one day you’ll be able to get to my age and look back and write a book that everybody will be able to read and learn from. What’s more, you will have moved the profession on, one more step.
15. Start Today
Don’t procrastinate. If you read something here and think, ‘Yes, I’ll do that”, don’t wait for tomorrow, start today.
Take one of these points that are important to you and start now. Otherwise, a year will go by and you won’t have done anything. You’ll have forgotten all about it until one day you’ll think, “I was going to do that.” Live up to your potential. Get on with it now.
Which one will you choose?
If you want to learn more about health and safety take a look at my book “Looking After the Elf in Health and Safety” available on Amazon now.