Does this sound familiar?
Many safety and health professionals face this dilemma: How do you present (and yes, sell) both short-term fixes and long-term investments to a CEO and conservative line management team who face intense competition and have recently trimmed the work force to reduce costs? Since neither OSHA nor EPA has paid a visit in years and even minor accidents are rare, your manufacturing operation is perceived as "safe" by your superiors.
So what’s the best way to go about selling environmental health and safety to upper management -convincing them that significant investments are required now, even though it appears they’re unwarranted?
Top managers, as we all know, are looking for results for virtually all medium-to-large expenses, whether operations-related, maintenance or EHS. But inherent in this mind-set is perhaps a silver lining. If you can properly and convincingly present your case, and document meaningful financial returns, it’ll be hard for your top decision-makers to say "No" -and your EHS job will become easier because you’ll have the right "tools" in the right places.
This article presents eight steps to follow when selling EHS to upper management.
Real numbers have real meaning to executives. They can relate to what their peers have experienced, even if it never happened to them. If you use financial penalties or fatalities, do it tactfully. Don’t insult or intimidate.
If at all possible, use companies as examples that are within your own industry. Or use a workplace citation or accident that is common to your operation. Use the "tip of the iceberg" analogy to let them know you have investigated all of the ramifications of work-related injuries -including the hidden costs.
For example, during your presentation or "selling" a request for $50,000 needed to purchase and install machine guarding hardware and training materials for 80 affected workers, if you show that it all relates to Subparts O and P in CFR 1910 -and all are part of your written safety plan- you stand a better chance of getting the funds.
If you meet any resistance, you might (skillfully) interject "What would a severed arm cost us?"
Finally, take total accountability for improved EHS. It’s another excellent way to enhance your credibility. Start off by conducting an EHS audit. There are software programs available today that allow customization to your specific operations. Don’t hide the results -executives want to know the truth.
One final tip: clearly state your quantifiable and qualifiable objectives. This will allow you to better show tangible results after your improved EHS program has had time to work.
You might also opt to use some recent research findings by Liberty International: 1) Worldwide safety programs are most often influenced by corporate culture than by any other factor; and 2) Safety professionals say the most important benefits of their worldwide occupational health and safety programs are a more productive work force and higher quality standards.
Insist that top management becomes involved and committed to safety or it will be very difficult to get workers involved. One suggestion might be to include a "Safety Mission Statement" as part of the corporate mission statement, thus sending a message to all workers by showing a corporate commitment to safety -from the top down.
Today, a growing number of CEOs insist that the safety director or manager report directly to the president -to prevent operations’ priorities from getting in the way of a safer workplace. That’s possibly the best way to let employees know: "Top management is involved." But be careful how you suggest it. It might help to use the analogy that many QA/QC departments now report to a CEO or COO -and not the plant manager. Most top managers have read about this somewhere.
For presentations that go beyond the regulations, use overhead transparencies to show charts and graphs, and "how-to-comply" software to show your regulation-based solutions. Studies show that executives prefer overheads during a presentation. Be sure that the quality of the overheads is top-notch, because poorly drawn charts and unclear photographs can have negative effects on your presentation.
If you can get a PC with an MPEG board, and can interject even a small segment of video (on fire safety, for example), use it. Video with narration on a computer is very impressive and gets remembered and talked about -much to your advantage.
Another important medium to use during a formal presentation is the Internet. There is now a growing number of suppliers of EHS products and services that have home pages, some even have entire catalogs accessible.
Most large companies have TQM to some degree already in place. And EHS is a natural fit with TQM. This idea is recognized by the Malcolm Baldrige Award, which the U.S. Department of Commerce annually gives to a company that best represents quality principles. In fact, about 40 percent of the Baldrige Award criteria covers employee, consumer, or product safety.
Your job is to work with your quality manager to make EHS a more prominent part of his TQM plans.
There is at least one training kit on the market that stresses this "safety starts with the individual" approach, and several companies that provide products and services based on behavioral safety training. Show your superiors that you want to take your EHS program beyond the OSHA, EPA and DOT requirements and you’ll make a good impression.
But be prepared: these concepts are still "soft" areas and you might encounter intense resistance from your top people.
Then, after your EHS enhancements have had time to work, if you can show tangible improvements that go to the bottom line, you will have succeeded at selling EHS to upper management.
The eight points stressed in this article represent only one of many possible approaches to selling EHS. Depending on the line and staff structure, culture, and solvency of your firm, you may, of course, opt to alter your approach to make it more attractive -and successful. The combination of your EHS prowess, business acumen, corporate culture, intuitiveness, and presentation skills will result in your final sales "package" -hopefully, one that gets a big "OK."