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March 21, 2016

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What makes a successful health and safety professional?

laptop-1031224_640By Steven Bryan

In my experience, successful health and safety professionals tend to have well developed communication and influencing skills combined with strong technical ability, a good work ethic, commercial awareness and management skills. This is particularly apparent at the top end of the market, but the same principles apply regardless of seniority and are good indicators of future career progression.

For most health and safety professionals, the days of wondering round with a clipboard are long gone and much of their focus has moved to positively influencing understanding, behaviours and health and safety culture in order to improve health and safety performance.

Sending an email, speaking with a colleague, meeting a customer or pinning up a poster are all forms of communication that can be used to influence others, but few people have had any formal training to develop and hone these essential skills.

There’s a tendency to think that good communication and influencing skills just come naturally, but the truth is that we can all become more effective communicators with a bit of time and effort.

Whether you are working in-house or as an external consultant, it’s unlikely that you will have direct line management responsibility for everyone who needs to take notice of your advice. It’s also likely that financial pressures, time constraints and a general lack of interest in health and safety will also act as obstacles.

Tackling a poor health and safety culture is a challenge that some people relish, whilst others can’t see any hope, particularly where the leadership team don’t have a firm commitment to making improvements.

If you want to change organisational culture, you need to first approach the company directors to discuss your concerns, their responsibilities as employers and how you could help them to improve the business. Without support from the top of the business, you are probably fighting a losing battle.

I’ve spoken with plenty of health and safety professionals who have made significant improvements within the first few months of a new job. Rather than seeing financial pressures and time constraints as obstacles, they sell good health and safety management as a business improvement tool and a means of improving productivity. Some obvious benefits include:

  • Winning more work where health and safety performance is part of the tender process;
  • Reduced insurance premiums where organisational risks are reduced;
  • Reduced insurance claims for illness, injury or property damage;
  • Reduced absence from work through ill health;
  • Improved working environment and staff retention;
  • Improved industry perception and reduced reputational risk.

You can’t change health and safety culture overnight, but recognising success and keeping everyone informed will help to raise awareness and promote health and safety.

Effective communication and influencing skills are like
ly to be the difference between success and failure, so it’s essential that you are able to engage with the business and build momentum. Improving safety performance will ultimately increase your effectiveness in your role and improve your career prospects.

Steven Bryan is a director at the specialist health and safety recruitment company Bryan & Armstrong. [email protected]

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Michael Emery
Michael Emery
8 years ago

Hello Steven, this is interesting and I couldn’t agree more with the assertion that the best safety and health practitioners have well developed communication skills. For me, the word that’s missing from the piece is ‘collaboration’. Collaboration leads to better solutions, better buy-in and better engagement and it’s coaching skills – which are essentially highly developed communication skills – that under-pin a collaborative approach. Good stuff, thank you.

8 years ago

Dear Steve

Very well said.yes I agree with whatever you had said in this article in addition,I would say a better attitude towards safety and health profession do matters.It is pertinent to mention that the health and safety professional should lead by example.
Thanks for this nice article

Steven Bryan
Steven Bryan
8 years ago
Reply to  Karthik

Hi Karthik

Thanks for commenting on this article – a positive attitude and leading by example ultimately lead to a positive safety culture. This is the difference between a basic level of compliance and embedding a positive approach to safety into an organisation.

Best regards,


Steven Bryan
Steven Bryan
8 years ago

Dear Michael,

Thanks for your comments – I do agree that collaboration is key to success in Health & Safety and that highly developed communication skills are essential. The best H&S professionals we deal with have excellent technical ability combined with the skills to get the message out there!

Best regards,

Steven Bryan

Ian Worrall
Ian Worrall
8 years ago

Very well said I totally agree the best safety and health professionals do have well developed communication skills and it is vital we develop a better attitude towards safety and health professionals. Health and safety professional can help in this and must always lead by example.