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MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: Seven tips for buffing your image

August 1, 2007
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Image consulting is one of the hottest new businesses today, according to the Guide to Becoming an Image Consultant — http://www.FabJob.com/imageconsultant.asp. We see examples of image consulting often on reality TV through programs such as “Extreme Makeover,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” etc. Politicians and celebrities, of course, are careful to project the proper image. And when Tiger Woods tees it up on the final day of a golf tournament, he always is wearing a red shirt.

EHS image
The image of EHS is changing. This past May in Philadelphia, for example, the American Industrial Hygiene Association rolled out its new logo and tagline (shown above right).

Modern is one way to define the new image of IH, but could we dare add “sexy” to the list? People magazine’s June 25, 2007, issue features America’s “Hottest Bachelors” — including Aaron Rourke, a 44-year-old industrial hygienist “who tests workplaces to ensure they’re safe from toxic substances.” Rourke, in the category of “Lean, green sexy machines,” is shown bare-chested tugging a kayak from a river (see page 128). Could this be the new image of an IH? Maybe so in the public’s mind.

Changing your image
An image change could boost your career or job success and may even help improve workplace safety and health. Here are seven tips that might help you project a more appealing and winning image.

1) Clean and modern safety equipment
You thought how you dressed would come first? If you drive a beat-up and rusted clunker car, would people think you’re a good car mechanic? Probably not.

I have old air sampling pumps that show their age but still function OK. But in IH jobs, especially where a new client is involved, I always use my newer SKC Airlite™ pumps held in a clean SKC black holster with a matching color belt. I even make sure that the outside of the Tygon tubes that connect to the sampling pump is wiped clean of any stains from previous IH work. There are no hand-written labels stuck on the newer equipment. If a note must be affixed to the equipment, wording is always typed on an appropriate sized label neatly affixed to the equipment. The safety equipment you use is a very important extension of your image; as well as an employee’s image of themselves when they wear or use your equipment.

2) Clean and modern PPE
Safety shoes, protective eyewear, hearing protection, hard hat and other PPE should be clean, modern and fashionable. Your safety supplies salesperson will confirm that most employees will readily wear and maintain PPE when it is also a positive fashion accessory. Safety shoes should be polished and buffed, where appropriate. Coveralls don’t need to be pressed, but they shouldn’t look like they just came crumpled out of a dumpster. Start the job off with PPE that is clean and looks good even when the PPE is expected to become dirty or heavily wrinkled during the job.

3) Body condition
One doesn’t need to be lean to be sexy or professional looking. Being obese or clearly out of condition — breathes heavily when walking up stairs — however, is a perception obstacle for an EHS pro who should project a healthy image. As we age the body naturally begins to sag. Taking care of your health and fitness through exercise, proper nutrition, enough rest, etc., will help delay the effects of aging and contribute to a positive body image that has energy.

4) Work attire
Blue collar, white collar — the image is there for a reason. You should attempt to wear clothing that is one step above your subordinates and doesn’t exceed what your supervisor may wear. Wear clothing that mostly conforms to the workplace norm. If you’re not sure of what is appropriate, look at people who impress you and see how they dress. If in doubt, ask the HR manager what they suggest you should wear. HR managers, with some extreme exceptions, generally know how to dress for success at the business site. Jewelry and cologne, perfumes and deodorants are part of a person’s attire. So is maintenance of body hair.

5) Off-site business functions
What’s “business casual”? You’ll hear this term often when you ask what you should wear at off-site business functions, such as training programs. If you will be meeting clients, prospective new employers, or speaking to groups, start off the first day of the event in professional business attire. This means a jacket and tie for men, and similar business attire for women. If you appear over-dressed when you arrive at the event, you may remove the jacket and tie, open your shirt collar or even roll up long sleeves. Remember, you can’t dress-up if you start off dressed down. On succeeding days of the same event, you may begin to dress down to meet the norm for the group.

6) Words and actions
During encounters with new people and groups, listen more than you speak. Give people a comfortable space. Refrain from smoking, chewing tobacco, and even chewing gum. Don’t talk sex, politics or religion, engage in potentially polarizing discussions, or use profanity until you are very comfortable with your audience.

Before you bring up any of these topics, ask your audience if they feel such discussions or comments are appropriate. Always treat service staff — waiter, receptionist, etc. — with respect. Initially, express your views in plain language with as few words as possible. Rehearse what you want to say before you say it. Don’t try to express more than three points of view during any one casual discussion. Watch your body language; leaning toward or pointing at a person or tapping on a surface is generally viewed as being overly aggressive.

7) Catch-all
What image do you need to project? It’s impossible to look in a mirror and see our faults or weaknesses. Here’s where you need a friend or mentor to tell you things straight and honest. You need to evaluate comments and advice even when it may hurt emotionally. Sometimes an image doesn’t require any change. The point is for you to be viewed better by others.

Most of these tips for improving your image are common sense, but they are often overlooked because we fail to step back to give them consideration. Form today, however, is just as important as substance in providing an image that helps someone become successful.

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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