What does it mean to be a ‘Health & Safety Manager’?
Moving from a project management to change management approach in HSES.
Senior H&S professionals often say they do not like the title ‘Health & Safety Manager’, as it implies that the people in this role own and manage health and safety across a business themselves, rather than supporting others to take ownership for it. In this interview, James Pomeroy, Group Health, Safety, Environment and Security (HSES) Director for Lloyd’s Register, a global technical and business services organisation, shares valuable insight on what exactly an effective HSES professional is managing – change management rather than project management.
James is responsible for advocating and delivering high standards, thought leadership and best practice in health, safety, environmental and security management across LR’s global operations. He is a valued member of the Acre Frameworks Advisory Panel, a select network of industry leaders advocating for the development of non-technical skills in the profession to change its perception and support professionals to become more effective in their roles.
He is leading the transformation of LR’s HSES programme which is introducing a greater focus on resilience, human factors and cultural leadership. With 25 years of experience, James has extensive experience in designing and implementing successful behaviour change within organisations. He has considerable experience in enhancing human performance and safety culture through behavioural intervention. He is known for his insights into strategic directions that improve effectiveness and outcomes. People and culture change have been consistent themes in James’ career.
An engineer by training, James has been involved in leading and transforming global HSES programmes in a variety of sectors, including upstream oil and gas, aviation, mining and heavy manufacturing. James is a strong advocate of engaging life-long learning and development. James holds an MSc in HSE management, an LLM in environmental law and an MBA. He is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), a Chartered Member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), and a Chartered Environmental practitioner. His varied academic studies have provided him with professional and in-depth knowledge of applying effective and proven approaches to HSES which he is passionate to share.
In your own words, what does it mean to be an HSES leader?
“Organisations generally employ HSES leaders because they want to enact change and improve, and therefore the skills required build upon those required for managing an HSES programme. Vision is a distinguishing feature of leading HSES.
“HSES leaders need to have a clear idea of where they want an organisation’s safety culture, performance and programme to go. To enact their vision, they equally need to have good communications skills, make a persuasive argument and be able to manage change within organisations. Delivering is typically managed through teams, so the ability to hire, develop and retain talent is essential. The required characteristics and skillsets include resilience, perseverance and critical thinking.”
You believe there is a much-needed shift in the profession from project to change management. Can you explain what you mean by this? What types of behaviors will we need to see more of from HSES professionals to support this shift?
“Managing projects typically involves delivering defined outputs such as constructing or refurbishing an asset, system or a process. Projects have a defined end. From a safety perspective, training personnel could be a project and the intended output would entail ensuring everyone has completed their training. Change management entails delivering sustainable outcomes. It is often more challenging because the aim is to achieve a significant and sustainable change in behaviour or culture. These are outcomes and are often difficult to achieve and sustain.
“To enact effective change management, HSES professionals need to critically analyse the nature of the project and the desired end state. Learning and applying concepts such as stakeholder mapping, outputs, outcomes and impact analysis alongside negotiation and conflict resolution will be key to mastering change management in HSES.”
You commented that oftentimes HSES professionals are too focused on outputs versus outcomes. Can you give an example of this?
“We undertake a lot of interventions to influence HSES performance. These could involve training people, audits, providing PPE, etc. Much of what we measure from these interventions are outputs, such as audits completed, audit scores or the number of people who passed training courses. We often do not think about the outcomes we’re seeking to influence and if we have been successful. If we refocus our attention to outcomes, it encourages us to question is the desired intervention is the best option for us.”
You commented you feel HSES professionals have a “throw it over the fence” approach to problem solving. Can you explain what you mean by this? How would you describe the approach you’d like to see instead?
“Because as a profession we are often focused on achieving an output, such as rewriting a policy, launching a new training programme or perhaps improving an item of safety equipment, achieving this goal often becomes the dominating goal. Once we have achieved this goal, we think our work is done. If we want to enact change in individual’s behaviour or within organization’s culture, we need to refocus on what change we are trying to enact, why and what are the best ways to achieve this.”
If an HSES professional was trying to adopt an approach more oriented toward change management, what types of questions should they be asking themselves and others?
“A common theme amongst too many HSES professionals I’ve met is frustration when people challenge their approach or do not accept the need for a change. Just because it’s safety does not mean that everyone accepts that a proposal or idea is the best one, or even accepts the reason for it. When trying to enact any change, it’s essential to understand the personalities involved, who are the decision-makers and how they likely to respond to the change. In other words, what’s in it for them? Concepts such as stakeholder analysis really help to better understand why managers or groups respond as they do, and how to better plan for it.”
As a senior HSES leader, what do you think your role is in facilitating the type of change you want to see? What do you think up-and-coming professionals can be doing to facilitate this change?
“We need to build upon our outstanding deep technical skills and focus on soft skills. Many HSES professionals are, or aspire to be, senior managers, but leadership skills and characteristic are absent from much of our professional learning and development. I recognised this in myself several years ago and returned to education to undertake a business degree. Not everyone needs to follow this path, but becoming familiar with concepts such as a growth mindset, personal resilience and emotional intelligence would be a great first step.”
The health & safety servant leader
The health and safety industry attracts talent for a number of reasons, from the ability to apply transferable operational skills to the psychology of behaviour change, but undoubtedly there is a significant moral driver amongst health and safety professionals to help others.