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April 2, 2024

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SHP’s Most Influential in Health & Safety Winner: Steve Harris on the importance of being a values-driven OSH professional  

The Managing Director of Integrity HSE won the Most Influential category at the SHP Awards in December 2023. He speaks to SHP about how he was drawn to OSH because he wanted to create a fair and just world. 

Two significant events happened in Steve Harris’s life during 2023. The first was that he set up his own company, Integrity HSE. The second was that he published his first book, The Little Book of Leadership 

Steven Harris with his award.

Both reflect Steve’s firm commitment to promoting strong ethical and moral values, which have been a hallmark of his impressively varied OSH career. 

Whether it is the guest lecturing he does at Robert Gordon University to educate the next generation of engineers on its drilling and well engineering post-grad MSc course, or the mentoring he provides to OSH professionals, Steve has always been passionate about developing and helping others.  

Raised in a seafaring family on Scotland’s east coast, Steve studied economics at Edinburgh University, which gave him a “very data-driven view of the world”.  

From there he moved into the security industry, an ideal environment in which to develop an understanding of risk. This long-standing interest in managing risk is probably why he felt a natural pull towards HSE, he tells SHP. 

However, when he landed his first job in the energy sector on an offshore drilling rig, it was as a roustabout (a semi-skilled labourer in the oil field for those who don’t know what it is). The opening, he reveals, came about by accident and was the result of a casual conversation with someone in a bar. He comments: “Isn’t that where most adventures start?”  

It certainly proved to be an eventful experience and included moving heavy equipment around using cranes and being part of the drilling crews. Importantly, it gave him an excellent grounding for his future OSH career.  

“That understanding of risk and that want to help and develop people never left me,” he says.  

“Whether I was working as part of the crane crew or up on the drill floor, I took great pride in making sure the risk assessments were done properly and pragmatically, and that they related to operations.” 

OSH calling 

When he became aware that there was such a thing as a safety officer on the rig, he found his calling. During his time off, Steve took a NEBOSH general certificate course and eventually secured a safety role with another drilling contractor. 

Returning onshore, he moved to a service provider and worked as a rig inspector acting as a senior safety specialist. That was when the adventures really took off.  

“That took me everywhere – from the deserts of Ethiopia to the freezing tundra of Norway,” he says. 

Then, after 18 months spent in the Falkland Islands, Steve says he was incredibly fortunate to join a “world-beating team of professionals” working on a mega-project in the North Sea.  

Finally, he landed a role leading Lloyd’s Register’s HSE function within its energy division, a position he held for three years before the division was sold to private equity. It was at this point that he seriously began to consider setting up his own consultancy. 

“The prospect of creating a commercial enterprise which paired the very large contractor network I had developed over the years with the HSE-related challenges I had faced really began to make sense and take shape,” he explains. 

A massive rugby fan, Steve adopted the All Blacks’s “15 elegant mantras” and uses them to hold Integrity HSE to account as a company.  

“Being true to those axioms, combined with a driving aspiration of being a positive influence on the working world, means our potential clients have to have an exceptional standard of integrity,” he explains.  

“We actively turn down work with organisations who cannot demonstrate their intent of making the working world a better place.” 

Competency counts with influence 

Steve brings an impressive academic and professional CV to his business. Over time he has been a Chartered IOSH member, a Fellow of IIRSM, a Chartered Manager of the Chartered Manager Institute and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership. In addition, Steve holds a Master’s Degree in Health, Safety and Risk Management. He believes that CPD is exceptionally important and believes gaining both operational and academic experience is invaluable.  

“My feeling is that your influences are very much dependent on your credibility and your credibility depends on your competence,” he explains. “Your competence is a mix of knowledge, experience and skills, so it does take time [to build all of those].” 

Steve does a lot of his influencing on social media, particularly through Linked-In where he has nearly 25,000 followers. He also manages another group called Safety Leadership, which boasts double that figure.  

Over the years he’s seen lots of conversations around what an HSE professional should be. Personally, he feels there is a place for all aspects of safety. 

“Within the industries I work in, and within my personality type, influence carries an awful lot of weight because as much as we like to work on technical limits and want processes and plant to be as good as they can possibly be, our people also need to be as good as they can possibly be.” 

Sharing experiences 

Steven Harris

Steve admits he gets a kick seeing the growth of others and feels it is important to pass on as much to the next generation as possible.    

“I see absolutely no point whatsoever embarking on a career where I keep all the value that I have learned to myself,” he argues. 

He cautions that it is up to others to decide if they want to listen, but hopefully, if they do, they will avoid making the same mistakes. That way, they “can get a little bit further than I did and the next person can get a little bit further than them,” he says.  

Steve picks up on the reflections people have after major accidents and the way lessons are communicated. 

He warns there can be an emphasis on the negatives with statements like, “Don’t do this otherwise this might happen”. It’s almost forcing compliance out of fear, he feels. 

“To a degree, that is healthy, but I come from a background of exceptionally high-performance teams and we are very careful about encouraging a chronic sense of unease. Instead, we work hard to foster a sense of positivity and confidence where teams do not feel shackled or nervous. Confidence can also be dangerous, so it must be closely managed,” he notes.  

“Lessons are crucially important, but you don’t necessarily need to anchor back to events, for example, to Fukushima or Deepwater Horizon. We can take the lessons from those tragic events and integrate them into the positive way that we do work without having to constantly revisit the horrors of those particular days. Great things are not done by constantly re-examining failure; they are achieved by the right mindset and practising perfect play.” 

Mentoring matters 

Credit: Alamy Stock

Steve currently mentors three OSH professionals, each at different stages of their career. For anyone considering being a mentor or mentee, the first, and arguably most important, step, he says, is making sure both individuals can have a productive relationship. He’s experienced previous situations as a mentee where there has been no personality fit. Consequently, he spends time with each individual early on to make sure they ‘click’. 

He then digs down to see what each mentee is looking to achieve. Sometimes what the individual thinks is their professional goal is not what they are really looking to achieve, he says.  

“If you asked me what I’d like for dinner tonight, I’d tell you I’d like a cheeseburger and ice-cream. However, if you spoke to my doctor and said, ‘What should Steve have for dinner?’ these are not what he’d suggest. It’s about trying to find the difference between the clean eating and having the cheeseburger.” 

Steve does a lot of leadership development and says that authenticity, credibility and consistency are critical to these mentor-mentee relationships. To provide the best support he can, Steve creates tailored succession plans that move each individual towards their goals by allowing them to create their own “meaningful influence”.  

“In the mentor-mentee relationship, one of the most critical aspects I have found is that you are asking open questions and getting them to arrive at the answers,” he says.  

“I need them to arrive at that answer and then I will coach. I will be on their shoulder and I will help. As a mentor, it’s dangerous being too directing because you start robbing your mentee of their empowerment.” 

Steve argues that the soft, leadership skills are completely underappreciated in the OSH industry. That’s partly why he wrote the book, to highlight this issue and also “because many firms don’t invest in leadership training’. 

In 2021, Steve went through a cancer scare and having put his “heart and soul” into the book he didn’t feel comfortable putting a monetary value on it that he would benefit from, so he donates the profits to MacMillan Cancer Support. 

When it comes to his own consultancy, he credits Lloyd’s Register’s “giving back to society” approach as the main inspiration for the business’s ethos.    

“Lloyd’s Register is owned by a foundation. So, the harder you worked and the more profits that you made for them, they would then funnel that money into furthering knowledge and achieving a greater understanding of safety. I loved that,” he says.  

“That’s what inspired me to make Integrity HSE a little bit different. We are a real values-driven company. Our purpose is to make the working world a safer, healthier and more sustainable place. It is not about making money. Integrity HSE is about a group of really great professionals who are also really great people. That’s definitely the All Blacks’s way”. 

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Simon Peter Cassin
Simon Peter Cassin
18 days ago

Congratulations Steve.

Hugh Maxwell
Hugh Maxwell
18 days ago

Truly delighted that one of the most passionate, professional and personable people I know (and I know a good many) received this accolade! Totally deserved and a real champion in every sense. Keep smashing it Mr Harris and Integrity HSE. Top man, top team, top performers!