CPD article – It's all about you31 October 2012
Continuing professional development is really important in any line of work but it’s not all about ‘doing a course’. Understanding the pathways between different roles is crucial to being able to map your own personal journey to professional fulfilment, as Richard Byrne explains.
Most safety professionals – at least those in the early stages of their career – when asked where and how they think they need to develop, will come up with a list of ‘technical’ areas in which they require some sort of training.
Sometimes a course is the right thing to do but, a lot of the time, people say they want to do one without really thinking about what they want at the end of it, or how they can apply the knowledge they gain to their job.
Most of us also only think two or three years ahead with our career and development needs, yet to improve your chances of getting where you want to be (and your competence at the same time) it’s important to take a more long-term view.
Experience has shown me that part of the problem is that while we might think ‘I want eventually to be an X, and to do that I need to do Y job first’ we tend not to map out our own development journey because we aren’t too sure what the pathways between each role look like.
A few years ago, a small group of HR and ‘executive succession’ experts devised something called the ‘Leadership Pipeline’,1 which they used to explain the passageways between the various levels within organisations.
Understanding these passageways helps you start to piece together a really good development plan that will help you become more effective in your current role, as well as getting you closer to where you want to be longer term. Not only that, but you can make sure to hone your CV so that it shouts: ‘I’VE GOT THE RIGHT EXPERIENCE – LOOK AT ME’ to potential employers.
The Leadership Pipeline is based on seven generic roles, four of which are particularly relevant to safety professionals:
These people are the ‘doers’ – in the safety profession they are typically the ‘safety advisor’ or ‘officer’ roles. People doing these jobs spend a large amount of their time with ‘hands-on’ health and safety management tasks, like carrying out accident investigations, undertaking risk assessments, delivering training and minute-taking at safety committee meetings.
This is the first stage of line management and it’s a commonly held misconception that to get these jobs you need to be the best ‘technical expert’. To do well in this type of role you need to have some knowledge of what the team does but you don’t have to be the best at it. Here, according to the pipeline, skills in people management, planning and driving performance are more important. These are the ‘safety manager’-type roles, where the person manages a team of people or a person, spending less time doing ‘hands-on’ safety and more time managing people, as well as influencing others in the organisation.
This is a second line-manager role and these people get results by getting managers in their team to manage their own team. As the pipeline explains, they don’t have to be technical experts, or, in some cases, even know that much about the technical aspects of the stuff their teams do. They simply need to be excellent coaches, spending most of their time doing pure management and team-leadership things. Thinking about the safety professional, these roles are mainly heads or directors of safety, and they rarely get involved in hands-on tasks.
These people help their ‘managers of managers’ deliver performance while also looking at future strategies. Unfortunately, this is where the roles start to blur for the safety professional. In most cases, heads and directors of safety are a mix of getting their ‘managers of managers’ to deliver changes to the organisation’s safety culture and performance now, as well as trying to develop a plan of where the organisation should be going next.
Developing your plan
Bearing all of this in mind, you can start to prepare your own longer-term personal development plan based around the pathways between each role.
Pathway 1: Being an effective safety advisor
It almost goes without saying that when first starting out in the professional world you need some form of formal safety qualification, the obvious entry-level one being the NEBOSH National General Certificate (NGC). For me, this is the only part of the pipeline that is common to everyone, because, from now on, your development should be tailored to your specific requirements and aspirations.
Being effective as a ‘technical expert’ is about increasing your depth of knowledge in areas that will benefit your role. After all, entry-level qualifications simply give you the breadth of knowledge; they don’t give you the depth or the experience needed to be an ‘expert’.
As previously noted, many people opt for technical courses when thinking about their development, even when these might not be the answer. Expertise can be built up in ways other than going on a course – something we should all think about in these tougher economic times.
Start by identifying where the gaps are in your knowledge and then work backwards to figure out the best way to fill them. Going on a course might be the right way, but so might shadowing, or buddying up with someone else who does have ‘the knowledge’, particularly if that knowledge is about practical application.
For example, you might be a safety advisor for a manufacturing facility. Your NEBOSH Certificate was good enough to get you into that role but you feel you could do with brushing up your machinery risk-assessment skills and understanding of interlocking systems. You could go on a course, or you could use your basic knowledge gained via your foundation qualification and spend some time with the site engineers actually doing the assessments and ‘touching’ and ‘seeing’ the interlocks in action.
Pathway 2: Moving from a safety advisor to a safety manager
When you’re an effective safety advisor and you want to make the leap to a manager’s role, you need to start changing your development accordingly: safety managers’ jobs are less about ‘hands-on’ safety and more about people management.
There are a fair few things you can do to help get that people-management and less hands-on experience as a safety advisor. Here are a few:
Deputise for your boss when they are on holiday or sick; this will allow you to dip your toe in the water of management, but bear in mind that the level of learning you’ll get from it is limited.
Consider leading a cross-functional working group, or helping lead a number of safety reps or champions. For me, this is not only great experience but also shows potential employers what you are made of. If you can get people who don’t work for you to deliver good results, getting people you do manage directly to do the same will be a piece of cake.
Complete a business management-type programme. I don’t mean an MBA necessarily but maybe something that helps you understand how the business operates and which includes the basics of people management, understanding finance, project management, and the like. Lots of companies have their own in-house programme, which means it should be easier for you to get on it.
Find ways to interact with and increase your exposure to your organisation’s senior management. At the next level, as well as managing people, it is about influencing this important population. This might be through a project, or by giving the monthly safety performance presentation to them with your boss. Even if you think you’ll have to move on to get the manager’s role, this is still good development because it is the experience of building relationships with senior managers in which future employers are generally interested.
Try to adopt a less ‘command and control’ approach to management and develop instead a more coaching style. You could go on a course for this, or you could talk to colleagues in Learning and Development, who could help you go through what coaching is and how to apply it. The good thing here is that the test of whether or not you are a good coach is not whether you have a piece of paper saying you’ve been on a coaching course – it is how you behave around people.
Pathway 3: Moving from a safety manager to head or director of safety
Head or director of safety roles tend to be few and far between, with generally only the largest organisations offering them. The post-holders usually have other functions reporting into them, as well as the traditional safety team.
With this in mind, coupled with what we know from the leadership pipeline, anyone trying to develop themselves so they can successfully navigate through this pathway should focus on general leadership as well as cross-functional working, and far less on their technical skills.
Developing yourself so that you are ready to move along this pathway is primarily based around two key areas:
Being a leader is significantly different from being a manager; as a safety manager you might manage a team of four safety advisors and implement a plan, but as a head or director of safety you might lead a much bigger team of 15 people and have to provide the strategic direction for safety for the company. For this reason, it is useful to explore, develop and strengthen your leadership skills.
If your firm has a leadership programme, get on it. These programmes are specifically designed to help middle managers explore the key differences between their current role and the next one, as well as providing some ideas to try to fill the gaps identified. Many also offer executive coaching to help put it all into practice.
The very best ones also get people to do a practical business-related group project, not too dissimilar to the challenges contestants are put through on the BBC programme ‘The Apprentice’. These allow people to stop being a manager and become leaders in circumstances where there is no clearly defined answer. In fact, quite often, when these projects are set up, it’s simply a case of there being a problem in an area in which nobody in the group is an expert.
If you cannot get on to your firm’s leadership development programme, or they don’t have one, develop your own project to lead. There are lots of examples out there – for example, take something well understood like developing and implementing a safety culture-change programme. Most safety professionals do this on their own, yet the sweet spot is when you get a good mix of people from across the business (e.g. from Sales, HR, Internal Communications, Operations and Marketing) to feed into the programme and deliver key bits of it. Your role is then one of developing the strategy, coordinating its delivery, and leadership.
Putting into practice
Going on a leadership development programme doesn’t mean you will be the next head or director of safety somewhere. You should take time to put into practice all that you have learnt in order to stand a better chance – for example:
Get involved in more cross-functional working groups and push yourself to do more than the ‘safety’ element of the work;
Practise your leadership style. Coaching is seen as the way to go these days, yet it tends not to be most people’s default. Practising being the coach is important and the real test of whether changing your style is what you do when you are under pressure to deliver. From experience, there is nothing more frustrating than working for a person who, at this level, micro-manages you because they can’t let go.
Using your development to get that job
There are numerous articles on how to write CVs and do well in interviews – several useful ones have appeared in these pages2,3,4 – so I’m not going to go over that ground again, other than to say that it is a truth universally acknowledged in the HR community that people’s past performance generally predicts their future output.
If you were a potential employer, which is more likely to make you put a person on the shortlist for the job: something on their CV under the ‘Additional Qualifications’ heading, saying ‘Completed a coaching skills course in December 2010’, or a line about how they used their personal development to improve something, e.g. ‘Developed a programme that used coaching to help drive a change in safety culture’?
Smoke and mirrors
Remember, though, that some roles might be called ‘manager’ yet they might not actually involve managing people, or they could be at the opposite end of the scale and be more akin to a head or director of safety. In some organisations, for ‘political’ reasons, roles are called certain things – for example, in some firms people are called ‘safety managers’ simply because if they were called ‘advisors’ the culture of the outfit would dictate that people wouldn’t listen to them.
So, it is critical to read the job advert to understand the role and its responsibilities and accountabilities, otherwise you could end up wasting everyone’s time. You will also find out in the job description what, if any, additional legal accountability you are taking on.
All too often, personal development for safety professionals tends to be quite transactional, traditional and short-term. The Leadership Pipeline can help us think more expansively about our roles and what development we need to be effective in them, as well as what we need to achieve our career aspirations.
1 Drotter, S.J. & Charan, R (2001): ‘Building Leaders at Every Level – A Leadership Pipeline’, in Ivey Business Journal: Toronto
For two previous SHP articles on technical competence and managerial skills, go to:
Continuing professional development is the process by which OSH practitioners maintain, develop and improve their skills and knowledge. IOSH CPD is very flexible in its approach to the ways in which CPD can be accrued, and one way is by reflecting on what you have learnt from the information you receive in your professional magazine. By answering the questions below, practitioners can award themselves credits. One, two or three credits can be awarded, depending on what has been learnt – exactly how many you award yourself is up to you, once you have reflected and taken part in the quiz.
There are ten questions in all, and the answers can be found at the end of this article. To learn more about CPD and the IOSH approach, visit www.iosh.co.uk/membership/about_membership/about_cpd.aspx
1 A personal development plan is:
a. A wishlist of technical courses
b. An identification of knowledge gaps
c. A NEBOSH certificate
d. An identification of long-term goals and potential ways of getting there
2 People management experience can be gained by:
a. Leading a cross-functional group of employees
b. Being nice to the boss
c. Giving orders to employees
d. Volunteering to manage the local Scout group
3 Progressing as a safety leader relies on:*
a. Understanding that managers and leaders are basically the same thing
b. Providing strategic direction for an organisation
c. Understanding your own personal strengths
d. Micro-management of your team
4 A safety manager needs to be:*
a. A technical expert
b. A people manager
c. A dictator
d. Able to carry a checklist and clipboard
5 Professional development is about:
a. Collecting enough points to satisfy a professional body’s CPD scheme
b. Attending courses
c. Keeping a log of activities
d. Determining your development by reflecting on what your personal requirements are
6 There are many ways to develop professionally, these include:*
a. Reading articles in SHP
b. Buddying with a more experienced individual
c. Going on courses
d. Reflecting on activities
7 All safety managers have:
a. Teams of technical experts
b. A good level of technical skill
c. A high organisational reporting level
8 Career development is:
a. Long-term aspirations
b. A list of training courses
c. Keeping a CPD record
d. Frequently moving jobs
9 A good CV includes:*
a. A long list of qualifications that you hold
b. An account of relevant recent experience and outcomes
c. An account of recent development activities relevant to the job
d. A lot of pages of details
10 It is important to undertake as many qualifications as possible to:
a. Add to a CV
b. Show how clever you are
c. Fill up your CPD record
d. Get another job
* These questions have more than one correct answer
4. a, b
6. a, b, c, d
9. b, c
10. None of them, qualifications are good only if relevant to your job. Don’t be pressed into thinking more is necessary. Aptitude based on the development of knowledge, skills and experience is the best formula.
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