Cover Letter To My Prospective Employer
Guest post by Ken R. Roberts
HSE Systems – Safety Leadership – Risk Specialist
First published here
Dear Prospective Employer
RE: Advertised HSE Position
Please allow me to make a few observations in the hope that I may offer you my perspective as you sift through the thousands of applicants for the above mentioned role. Probably if every workplace always followed an exact pattern, if it was always predictable, if you faced the same exact issues as your neighbour, I would understand why you constantly list the same selection criteria in your HSE job advertisements.
My proposal as a candidate for your role, if you’re open to the challenge, is to explore things a little deeper as I reveal what I think you really need. From a more human perspective. It’s a rapidly changing world out there and safety is changing with it. Cultivating a production line of HSE candidates moulded into the typical job-ad requirements no longer applies. Are you open to feedback? Good, here goes.
Let’s face it, if you use top-down policy and procedures governance to drive Safety then you are missing out on the most powerful weapon at your disposal. You guessed it, a self-accountable and personally responsible workforce. Misunderstanding human-nature and the role individual values play is undermining a company’s ability to harness the greatest force known to man. The personal satisfaction a worker receives from being involved in, part of, and recognised for contributing to successfully solving a problem or challenge. Perhaps you are looking for a candidate who understands human values and the untapped empowerment of your workforce?
Finding common ground is the Tsunami problem facing HSE today. We rarely consult the workforce for their solutions and generally strip away their privilege to provide feedback prior to corporate rolling out a safety program. But that’s only because it’s how we’ve been taught to do it. Years of that’s how we’ve always done it. From one institution to the next, passed onto one safety principal to another, passed down to subordinates and etc etc. Until it’s entrenched into the collective safety unconscious. Like our unquestioned acceptance of zero harm or total injury frequency rates. Industry dares you to challenge this ideology. Even if research is showing the negative affects they have on your workforce.
Are you brave enough to unlearn some of these traditions and introduce the human spirit back into your business culture. Perhaps you are looking for a candidate who thinks HSE education should include human behaviour sciences and functional performance coaching. Because isn’t safety more about people than it is legislation?
“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”
– Albert Einstein
To be an industry leader let’s tap into your workforce and solve safety issues as a team. Management and workforce hand in hand. Why not drive cultural change from the perspective of self-accountability and personal responsibility, instead of punitive measures. How about instilling an inspiring safety vision that captures a workforce’s spirit and energy? Or develop a powerful mission that gets workers ‘buy-in’. To avoid incidents let’s facilitate staff and contractors to volunteer their own strategies in creating continuing HSE improvement. But most importantly let’s utilise a company’s most powerful asset in creating a world class safety culture. That is, asking and involving the workforce during safety policy decision making. Perhaps you are looking for a candidate who can facilitate change and develop maximum value and contribution from your workforce?
I’m starting to get disenchanted with zero harm. Yep there you go. I just came out and said it. Zero harm reminds me of peace on earth. It’s like, “Yeah sure, but when?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m into no-harm as much as I dislike war. But nirvana slogans and catchphrases diminish human nature and mostly our sensibility. Why did returned soldiers from the Vietnam War face such vehemence and retribution from peace on earth advocates? Think of what stigma an injured worker might face who breaks the 1 million man-hours incident free workplace.
I understand peace on earth supporters. War is unforgivable. But if we are honest with ourselves, war is not going to disappear anytime soon. Therefore, is peace on earth a little too simplistic? It’s kind of dumbing down one the most complex issues facing the planet today. What a dilemma for zero harm marketers then. Perhaps we should focus on 100% Human or Zero Bullshit. Outdated safety slogans and impossible goals are killing creativity and ‘solutions-focused’ workforces. It’s insulting their intelligence and frankly we are all living with the biggest white elephant in the modern workplace’s living room.
Question, if someone is sad should we sit with them or try to make them happy? Well it always depends on the situation of course doesn’t it. Different horses for different courses. Are you willing to accept your workforce has differences and various situations require consideration and a process? Are you willing to avoid creating goals and slogans aimed at robots? Remember robots are not infallible either! Perhaps you are looking for a candidate with the courage to challenge status quo in the face of industry opinion, because their experience proves otherwise.
Dear Mr/Ms Prospective Employer, I know what you’re thinking. These are wildly curious propositions. Perhaps they are not from inside the box. But I do support a corporate responsibility to maintain regulatory authority requirements. I do see merit obviously in producing data that alerts us to trends and possible areas of concern. I also believe in our existing HSE routines and practices. Well most of them. What I’m suggesting is above and beyond the call of HSE duty.
Anyone with an intermediate understanding of Microsoft Office or data-driven HSE management software like FPE can produce lagging indicators. A true leading-indicator is how well your candidate can communicate with your workforce and find common ground. Or their ability to canvass open and honest opinions and feelings from them. These skills are much harder to find when you focus on top-down policy and procedures governance to drive Safety. Leading safety from the bottom up, that is, to tap into your workforce’s character and soul and get their buy-in, is the real skill above standard HSE qualifications your successful candidate may possess.
It’s true that bottom-up safety leadership will also increase productivity. Safety should really be a function of productivity management not a function on its own. The term ‘Safety’ is so often used as a scapegoat nowadays. An entity to pass internal issues and challenges to. Something to point the finger at when it all goes wrong. What often gets overlooked is that from within the problem also lies the solution. Let’s transfer the responsibility back onto the individual. Let’s coach them through the issues and allow them to find their own solutions. Being a safety administrator is really about facilitating a constantly self-evolving continuous improvement system. Sound like the definition of a quality assurance program? Yes, definitely! In creating a continuous self-improving workforce, you need to be able to facilitate the process. In having a better operating organisation and smoother relationship with your workers, by instilling planning and solutions-based thinking, by tapping into your workforce’s creative energy your HSE candidate must possess the ingredients to facilitate a self-driven continuous HSE (and business) improvement system.
Now for the boring stuff. Obviously anyone with over 35 years in the mining and construction industry with over 20 years leading Health and Safety as a Construction Manager and HSE Principal has the required credentials for your role. Their CV will tout Risk Specialist, ICAM Facilitator, professional Report Writer, Governance and Verification Auditor, and boast roles such as HSEC Manager, Senior Risk Advisor, HSE Systems Specialist etc. And include years of experience with the biggest companies in the world. Anyone with these skills in similar positions would be able to cater for your perceived needs.
But I know you aren’t looking for HSE management or coordination as much as you are HSE LEADERSHIP. It’s a misnomer that you advertise for a HSE Manager or Safety Superintendent or Coordinator or Advisor. For in reality safety is really a leadership game more than it is about administration. It’s just that for the most part administering a system is relatively easy. Anyone worth their salt can manage a system. It is written therefore it must be true right!!? Mmmmm.
But I think a true find, a real treasure in this day and age, is finding someone who is an inspiration and has an innovative way of thinking and the ability to take your organisation to the next level. But mostly someone who understands and communicates with people without the B.S. and to the degree that you can develop HSE strategies together. As a team. Perhaps develop ideas which might even influence the whole industry.
Let’s discuss things further. I offer something of difference to all your other candidates. It’s not about safety management or coordination or even advising. It’s about Leadership. Isn’t it time to step out of the dark ages and into the now? Maybe your workforce is waiting for you to catch up. Let’s discuss how.
Kind regards, Ken Roberts – ‘Safety Leader’
P.S. I promote a thing I call Common-Ground. It’s just a name. I’m not marketing it and I haven’t registered it as a trademark. It’s a simple philosophy. Finding common-ground is a technique for facilitating interpersonal relationships. In order to find common-ground between your management and your workforce, you must search for signals of recognition, which are subtle and often a cause for misunderstanding. It’s also underground, a rumbling. And hard to pry out of your workforce because frankly they don’t trust you. But it’s there like a sleeping giant waiting to fuel the next incident. You may think that pushing the usual safety rhetoric meets with your workforce’s approval, but my research is showing that it’s not.
I do appreciate your position however. Regulatory authority threats of criminal prosecution have destroyed your own faith and trust in a system that once encouraged industry and innovation. But follow your workers lead. Facebook, twitter and the need for people to leave their opinions in albeit, clandestine but social platforms, are showing us that the landscape has changed. Workers have a voice. They have something itching inside and screaming to get out. They sense there’s a change in the air. Are you changing with it? Is it time to step up and be brave? Employers have a voice too. Let’s take the hand of the authorities and show them we can all become human again and work together on this thing!