“Success starts with self-awareness” Helen Davitt, Vodafone
Helen Davitt, group health, safety and wellbeing manager at Vodafone
Anna Keen, director of Acre Frameworks at Acre, the market leader in sustainability and safety recruitment, speaks to Helen Davitt, group health, safety and wellbeing manager at Vodafone about why success starts with self-awareness. This article was originally published on SHP in February 2016.
How did you decide on a career in health and safety?
My first goal was to be an environmental health officer, which is what I did my degree in. I suppose I wanted to be a superhero, closing down grubby takeaways and saving the public from unhygienic kebabs. I had a couple of placements while at university and realised I preferred the culture and pace of the private sector which focused my experience more towards health and safety, than food hygiene.
You have experience in retail, media, property, manufacturing, engineering and telecommunications. What does it take to be able to transition so successfully through such a diverse range of sectors?
We all spend a lot of time at work so I’m a firm believer that, first and foremost, it’s essential that you enjoy what you do. In terms of transitioning between sectors, I think the key is to recognise how you like to operate, what works for you and as a safety professional, which type of environment and culture gets the best out of you. Then it’s just a case of ensuring that the organisation you work for aligns with your own values and preferred style. It also helps to have an interest for the industry, products and/or brand.
That sounds like a very reflective approach.
I suppose it is, but self-awareness is where we all need to start. I’ve been fortunate to have had development opportunities which have helped me to understand my own personal style and it’s proved to have been invaluable.
If you don’t understand how or why you do things, it can make interactions with stakeholders, your team, or your manager difficult. It also makes identifying others preferences and styles all the more difficult, but as we all know, understanding people is the first step towards developing better-working relationships and identifying aligned outcomes.
Do you think moving roles and companies regularly has enhanced your career?
Definitely. We have to be brave and make changes if we’re to continue moving forward.
Safety is still sometimes seen as being a male-dominated profession, is this something you’ve encountered?
I’ve never felt that being a woman in safety has held me back. But I do feel that sometimes women can be their own worst enemies as we don’t put our hands up or step forward as readily as men. Yes, that’s a sweeping generalisation, but I see it happening. Women waiting for someone to find them a mentor for instance instead of finding their own and or not picking up the phone to ask the question. We need to be bolder and we should definitely be helping each other.
Over and above technical knowledge, what skill would you say is most essential to your role?
Without a doubt it’s the ability to build rapport with people. Everything rests on your ability to understand that person’s perspective – without that you can’t really even communicate effectively. That’s why going ‘back to the floor’ is essential.
As a young graduate, I used to work the night shift at News International with printers who didn’t consider themselves true professionals if they still had all of their fingers. Getting to know them and what made them tick meant I had to be in thick of it – which usually meant I’d be covered in ink. I could have cited policy to them, but I did a better job of keeping them safe and helping them retain their remaining fingers, by getting to know them. They knew I genuinely cared about them and understood the reality and challenges of their role.
What advice would you give to someone just starting their career in H&S?
Understand yourself. Your strengths, your style and your motivation. Then identify your development areas and work on them.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand a process or activity – you’re not expected to be an expert at everything. People will want to help if you acknowledge that you don’t know everything but are willing to seek out those who are experts in what they do.
Finally, spend time on the shop floor, learning and understanding the reality of how things really get done. The only way of doing that is to involve those who do the work.
Helen Davitt is Group Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager at Vodafone Group Services, where she is responsible for supporting Vodafone’s markets in Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific regions. Working in partnership with in-country HS&W teams and regional leadership teams to develop and adapt Vodafone’s Global HS&W strategies locally, while appreciating different cultures and approaches. Encouraging collaboration and sharing of best practise and learnings across all markets are an important part of the role.
Helen has over 15 year’s experience, encompassing all aspects of health, safety, security, and wellbeing. Developing and leading the HSSW agenda and managing risk across diverse portfolios and fast paced environments such as retail, media, manufacturing, property and war zones.
Helen has previously worked at DTZ, as Head of Health, Safety, Security and Environment for Europe, Middle East and Africa and as Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at News International – Newspaper publishing and manufacturing.