NSC 2014 Speaker Q&A with Shawn Galloway: Individual careers evolve from being the grunt to the guru
What are the key milestones in “the ideal safety career path?
I believe there are two different ways to best answer this, in a chicken-and-egg, which-comes-first manner. The initial key milestones in the ideal safety career path are recognized when the individual evolves from being a grunt (e.g., does the research, writes policies) to a guardian (e.g., oversees the efforts of grunts to ensure completeness and value) to a guru (the subject matter experts shaping the business decisions and culture).
All three are immensely important.
I feel guru offers the most value as they have a broader influence and can ensure status quo is always challenged to maintain a continuous search for a better way. However, this only occurs when the safety professional moves from being a doer to one who doesn’t act (search for a program, change a policy, etc.) until there is certainty of contributed value to both incident prevention and the safety element of the culture.
This means the individual must become strategic in thinking and focus on adding new value every day, or keep their resume updated. We can never become complacent, and if we think our goal is to work ourselves out of a job, we are failing to see how the contribution of safety excellence to a business adds value beyond cost and risk reductions. Focus on value, not reductions. Zero injuries is the byproduct of the contributed value of safety excellence, not the end goal, true rising stars get this.
What are a couple of essential steps young pros should take to become a “rising star”?
Adding to the comments on adding value, anyone can be an effective leader if provided the right focus, skills, tools and support, and continuously leverage the principles in what I call the Safety Excellence AcceleratorsSM which are:
i. Focus on Value Over Cost Considerations
ii. Develop and Execute Against a Strategic Agenda
iii. Be Transformational in Thinking and Acting
iv. Maintain Positive Discontent
v. Learn Continuously
vi. Be Insatiably Curious
vii. Lead by Not Leading
viii. Develop and Coach Coaches
In what industries do you see strong future demand for safety pros and why?
The energy and infrastructure industries are growing at unprecedented rates and will demand the services of safety professionals.
However, in traveling frequently internationally and working in all major industries, I’m hesitant to discount any particular industry as I’ve been quite impressed to see the increased attention on safety excellence from companies in all industries and in newly developing parts of the world. Sharing the stage with and working with many CEOS and board members, I’ve learned the key to determining the need for safety leadership is to pay attention to the language of the senior executives (internally and public-facing). People pay attention to what their boss pays attention to. When safety excellence becomes a common phrase of the top leader, the demand for safety professionals will naturally increase.
Many veteran safety pros are nomads, moving from job to job. Do you think this will continue to be a common career path for young professionals?
We are continuing to be a more mobile society and newer and, dare I say it, younger professionals are looking to find their calling and make a quick difference.
While respecting the importance of individual personality, I do believe it is fair as a generalization to say that the generation entering the workforce today is in greater search of more immediate feedback and recognition. I believe this is a healthy infuse of the need to focus on value and results, rather than on new programs or initiatives.
With the growth industries and the increasing amount of companies searching for excellence in safety performance and culture, the competition is increasing for grunts, guardians, and gurus. Moreover, not all companies are in the same position for what type of safety professional (grunt, guardian, guru) would offer the most value to where they are on their individual company journey.
Safety leader capabilities will evolve as will the maturity of safety efforts in the company. When the growth timeline doesn’t match, the leader or the company becomes an awkward fit, thus it will be natural for changes to be made.
There will always be need for companies to internally develop their leaders and, unfortunately, companies better develop operational and executive leaders than safety leaders. Until safety leadership development becomes integral to the company university curriculum, safety leaders will seek new opportunities to grow and expand their influence, not only because of the impact on business, but because unlike many other areas of business leadership, safety is often an altruistic calling for many. If we can’t make a difference in the lives of others on and off the job, we will find a place where we can.
Shawn Galloway is president and COO of ProAct Safety, Inc.