With the global economy heading downward and talk of a recession or worse getting louder, organizations that represent EHS pros are ramping up efforts to help demonstrate the value of environmental health and safety functions.

It’s not just the loss of membership revenue that concerns organizations. A lack of jobs will hinder students from entering the field, for example. Fewer students may eventually slow EHS research studies. And the cascade continues.

Value studies and strategies

Fortunately for EHS pros, the ASSE and AIHA released studies this year with strategies to help demonstrate our value. The ASSE’s Safety Function Value Perception: Report of Findings was released in February. (Seehttp://www.asse.org/professionalaffairs/to obtain a PowerPoint on the study.) And in May, the AIHA issued Strategy to Demonstrate the Value of Industrial Hygiene. (Visitwww.ihvalue.org.)

Beyond EHS

Now is not the time to hunker down and take a low profile. Stand out from the crowd and improve your image by volunteering for assignments beyond EHS. Once during hard times when my employer was pressed to get products to customers, I spent the better part of a month as a production employee.

CEO face-time

When I chaired a local United Way campaign (another volunteer effort), I met one-on-one with every senior manager, including the CEO, to obtain their commitment to pay their “fair share” to the campaign. In every meeting, I dropped a hint on how safety was particularly valuable, or may be improved, by that manager. There is a skill to dropping hints without being obvious. But if you plant the seeds correctly, they may grow into far-reaching assets, and you become more valuable to the organization.

Influence power

At work you have three powers that impact the perceived value of EHS: knowledge, position and influence. Knowledge power is acquired by your education, experience and credentials. Position power is your title or rank within the organization. Making friends and getting CEO face-time may bring you influence power, the most valuable of all powers.

I was involved once in a very serious EHS discussion with the corporate VP and general counsel and a senior attorney. The general counsel called the president of one of the corporation’s operating companies demanding to know how the problem related to one of his worksites would be resolved. On the speaker phone, the president of the operating company said, “Is Markiewicz aware of the problem?” “Yes,” was the response. “Then we’re going to do whatever he says must be done,” was the reply.

It was not my knowledge or position power that brought about the reply. The president of the operating company was my friend. We both enjoyed tailgating at University of Michigan football games, for example.

Fall on your feet

Not long after the encounter above, our corporation was acquired by another corporation and all corporate positions, including mine as a senior industrial hygienist, were eliminated. That’s when I became a full-time EHS consultant. And who was my first client? The operating company discussed above.