ISHN's most recent White Paper survey of 2,000 environmental health and safety professionals depicts the current state of the profession, including salary levels, staffing, job security and top priorities in 2003. The survey highlights the widespread and serious concern pros have about their role in the workforce.

With this in mind, it's imperative for you to chart a career strategy now in order to navigate the uncertainties of the current economy and an increasingly competitive environment for jobs. These are the top skills to hone as you chart your course:

1) Business acumen

Know your company's business. Align how you manage worker safety and health risks with your company's business goals, corporate culture and values. Learn how to read a profit/loss statement, balance sheet and annual report. If you work for a publicly-traded firm, know what the analysts are saying about your company's long- and short-term strategy and its impact on earnings per share.

By demonstrating how worker safety and health risk impacts franchise risk, your business's leadership will look at you as a resource, essential to business planning, not as the safety and health "police."

Also, start planning for a career move well ahead of a corporate meltdown. If you see real and insurmountable problems on the horizon, start devising strategies to find other opportunities before you are forced to act precipitously.

2) Communication & presentation

Clear, concise verbal and written communications are essential to develop a business case for deploying a new process, program or implementing an integrated management system. Your ability to articulate objectives and required outcomes to your leadership, middle management, line management and line employees directly impacts how effectively you will achieve safety and health results - demonstrating the value safety and health professionals bring to your firm.

Presentation skills tie in with verbal communication skills. Learn how to use multimedia such as video, interactive Web sites, PowerPoint, LCD and CD-ROM. Technology helps to assure that you are on point and communicating your message succinctly and to the right audience. Outcomes, as well as your value to your company, are significantly affected by how you are perceived.

Demonstrating expertise to an audience outside your company is critical to seeking wider career opportunities. Consider speaking at local professional association or industry group meetings, or regional and national conferences. This builds your credibility and positions you as a recognized "expert."

3) Environmental skills

It's the big "E" that drives many companies and where a lot of the competition for EHS management jobs comes from. So develop your "E" expertise. One resource to investigate is the new National Association of Environmental Management-sponsored, "Foundations for Management Excellence" Program at the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Mellon (www.naem.org). The program provides an advanced certificate in business management for environmental health and safety managers and focuses on broadening the business knowledge and leadership skill set of EHS managers.

Other resources for developing and demonstrating environmental expertise include the QEP (Qualified Environmental Practitioner - http://www.ipep.org) and Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM - www. IHMM.org) certifications.

The QEP is a certification administered through the Institute of Professional Environmental Practice (http://www.ipep.org). It's an accredited credential that establishes standards for environmental professionals but does not take the place of specialized certifications or registrations such as the CHMM.

The CHMM is a designation requiring a national certification exam administered by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management and accredited by The Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards. The CHMM verifies competence in the management of hazardous materials, a skill valued by business leadership.

4) Networking

Develop and keep your network active - it will be your ticket to your next job or speaking opportunity. It can also help you solve a safety challenge in your current role.

Networking 101 begins with meeting people, exchanging information, developing resources and trading business cards. Where are some of the best sources to meet other safety professionals and leaders? Join a professional association and attend its chapter meetings, seminars and conferences. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) provides excellent professional development conferences at both the national and regional level. With 150 ASSE chapters throughout the U.S. and in the U.K., Middle East and Egypt you'll have plenty of opportunities to meet individuals who might be the link to your next job.

Other networking sources include local Chamber of Commerce meetings, standards development committees (such as the National Fire Protection Association) or attending industry forums and meetings such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (www.SPE.org), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (www.phrma.org) or Organization Resources Counselors' (ORC) Occupational Safety and Health Group (www.orc-dc.com).

5) Technical skills

Hazard communication, respiratory protection, supervisory safety training and lockout-tagout are the top four program priorities of pros for 2003, according to ISHN's White Paper. To deal with such issues, you need to continuously improve your technical skill base. This includes keeping current on new information technology involving interactive training, statistical incident investigation and audit finding tracking systems, and MSDS management.

Professional development and networking with peers provide opportunities to keep up-to-date technically. To demonstrate technical expertise, attaining accredited certifications is essential. Currently, the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) are the certifications most recognized by businesses today.

6) Management systems skills

Know how to develop and implement an integrated management systems approach to workplace safety and health. This skill base extends to include a working knowledge of Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 and ILO-OSH 2001: Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems. As noted above, management recognizes the impact of environmental issues on business. Knowing how to integrate environmental (ISO 14001) and quality (ISO 9001) management systems with an occupational safety and health management system is vital.

7) Regulatory/workers' compensation knowledge

Compliance is fundamental to the role of safety professionals. Non-compliance impacts franchise risk. This also means keeping current on workers' compensation laws and trends in your state as well as at the national level. For many companies, the financial aspect of workers' compensation is a business driver, particularly in the current insurance market where costs are rising far faster than what can be passed along to customers.

8) Global management know-how

If your company is not global today, wait until the next merger or acquisition when it acquires an Australian company or it is acquired by a European multinational. If you're in an EHS leadership position, you'll be expected to develop global safety and health management skills to meet future challenges. Build this skill set by setting out to learn best practice strategies used by successful multinational companies to manage worker safety and health globally.

9) Leadership

Leaders make solid business decisions; they have strength of character, project a powerful image and put personal feelings aside. Develop your leadership skills, take risks and seek opportunities to demonstrate that you can take the lead and inspire others to follow.

How? Volunteer to chair safety committees, company management teams, or lead an audit team or incident investigation team. Write an article for the company newsletter or intranet. Seek opportunities to demonstrate your expertise as a leader in a topic area by writing articles for professional or trade journals.

When you do, make sure your firm's communications department is aware of your activities. Seek opportunities to speak at conferences and industry forums. Get your name out there and demonstrate your leadership abilities as well as your contribution to your company's performance.

10) Personal flexibility

Here's one guarantee: change will happen. Recently a colleague called to tell me that, while his company is very pleased with his work, it is relocating the EHS leadership position to the U.K. This colleague now hunts for employment in the U.S. The lesson: have a current resum¿n hand and work on your career plan to continually find ways to demonstrate your value to an organization (current or future).

Managing your career is up to you. With these ten skills for survival and success you will navigate the uncertainties of the current economy, amid growing competition for jobs.