The Development Of Competency In Management Of Organisational Change

The Development Of Competency In Management Of Organisational Change – A Personal Journey

by the late George Robotham 


Quotable quote

Change has been around a long time.

“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change, what I can say is that they must change if they are to get better” (Georg Christoph Licthenstein, 1742-1799)



The only thing constant in business is change. Rightly or wrongly I have developed the view that managing occupational health & safety is an organisational change process. Consequently I believe OHS personnel must have skills in management of organisational change.

I have only touched the surface of learning about this topic, I am the first to admit I still have a lot to learn in this very challenging field, I encourage your comments, it would be a very boring world if everyone agreed with me.

Dr. M. Wilkinson puts change into perspective when he says “Organisational change is a generic body of knowledge that is applicable across the board but only when contextualised into the particular workplace within the culture and people characteristics and professions etc. of the situation /workplaces”

I am in the early stages of learning about this area, nonetheless my experiences may help others to learn.


Why read this paper? What will I learn? What is in it for me?

This paper traces my experience and my learning in management of organisational change. A number of suggestions are made to allow the reader to improve their own competency in the field.


My t role as Senior Safety Advisor with a major mining company saw me leading a number of projects driving significant OHS Management and OHS Learning change. Project team members were carefully chosen for their technical skills but more importantly for their formal and informal influence within their workgroup. We usually found team members were highly motivated about the need to change but there was resistance to change from the broader workforce. We attempted to manage this through briefing meetings and training.

BHP-Coal Access to earthmoving equipment

I developed a gut feel that we were having a lot of injuries when people were getting on & off the massive, open-cut earthmoving equipment. My statistical analysis said it was a major loss area so a project was mounted to investigate the issue. Field investigations and discussions were carried out and a report with recommendations developed. I quickly realized the problems being experienced were not unique to my employer. Through the employer association we successfully applied for Federal Government funding to extend the original research work. This work( led by Geoff McDonald) provided significant input into the writing of an Australian Standard for “Access to Earthmoving Equipment”, detailed access purchasing and maintenance guidelines were developed and subsequently most earthmoving equipment in open-cut Australian mines now have hydraulically operated access arrangements. A taxonomy of the industry access personal damage occurrences was part of the process. Many of the recommendations are applicable to access to non-earthmoving equipment, eg. Trucks.

There was considerable resistance to change from maintenance staff during the above process, as far as they were concerned the operators were careless buggers and no design changes were required. Extensive consultation only went part way towards managing the resistance to change.

BHP-Coal Internal standards of OHS excellence

Standards were developed for the safety management system e.g. Visitor safety, contractor safety, compliance with statute law, use of personal protective equipment, management commitment, hazard identification/risk assessment, safe working procedures, loss prevention &control, employee involvement, emergency procedures, accident investigation, education/communication, inspections, health & fitness, injury management, etc and compliance with these standards must be audited.

BHP-Coal introduced the above standards and it put a massive increase in the focus on safety. What excellence in implementation of the standards would look like was defined and people were trained in this. A detailed set of audit questions, based on the fore-going was developed as was a detailed set of auditing guidelines and roles of auditors defined. Sites to be audited were briefed on the auditing guidelines and auditors were trained on the audit questions and auditing guidelines. A series of annual Executive Safety Audits was introduced at the various sites with an audit team led by a senior manager to give the process significant management horsepower. The largest audit team I was involved in had 10 auditors and audited the site for 4 days. A quality assurance approach where NCR (Non-compliance reports) were issued was used and formal processes were introduced to follow-up on audit recommendations.

The above was a highly successful process because there was extensive stakeholder involvement at every step.

Tertiary study

I completed tertiary study in management of organisational change. The main message seemed to be that it is essential to involve those affected by the change process in the change process. Another message was that most change processes do not meet their desired goals fully. Based on this study I have adopted the motto “When initiating change, remember, people support what they create” It is obvious that change must be driven from the top of the organisation.

Qld. Main Roads Department

I accepted a 12 month secondment from my normal duties to join a major organisational change project examining all aspects of how safety was managed in the Road Tek section of the Main Roads Department throughout Qld. This project saw me acting as an OHS Project Officer for 5 major projects:

§ Developing new safety learning approaches;

§ Developing a new safety management system;

§ Introducing risk management approaches;

§ Managing the introduction of new methods of managing safety responsibilities and accountabilities;

§ Introducing new safety measurement and reporting systems.

This was my first introduction to project management software and I found the discipline of preparing a project management plan very beneficial.

Ergon Energy

The biggest test of my leadership and teambuilding skills was my contract role as OHS Project Manager with Ergon Energy. I had a geographically dispersed team of 6 electrical workers and 2 OHS professionals with the task of developing control plans for 21 identified high risk activities. There were few guidelines for our work and we had to develop innovative ways of going about our task. The teams work received much praise from Ergon management and our recommendations were incorporated in the organisations strategic and operational approach.

This was a highly structured project from both a project management and change management perspective and I had to give regular reports on progress to a Project Office. Detailed project management and change management plans were prepared.


My role as OHS Project Manager saw me auditing the existing safety approach and developing recommendations for implementing a new Safety Management System. Once again the development of a detailed project management plan was beneficial. There was a certain lethargy in the response to the project, this was overcome by a senior manager taking a lead role in driving change.

Where to from here for me.

I continue to follow the Prosci web site and believe it gives good insight in this area

What I see around me

I see some OHS people struggling to make necessary change and believe project management and change management processes can assist.


Properly resourced, planned and led project teams, using change management methods, can be a great way to drive OHS change.

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below