5 Leadership Characteristics Every Safety Pro Needs

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December 2, 2023
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Patrick J. Karol,

I was conducting forklift training recently, and this young man wanted to pass so badly that he took notes during the classroom portion. He had never been on a forklift. I worked with him for several hours, getting him comfortable. Later, when I told him he passed, he responded, “That made my day!” He couldn’t wait to tell his coworkers!

As safety professionals, we’ll never know the injuries that we prevent. We press ahead, knowing it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll make a difference one day. That was that day for me! I made a difference in this young man’s life!

As I reflected on this day, several questions came to mind. What does it take for a safety pro to make a difference like this? Are their specific leadership characteristics, and are some more important than others? How can I have this kind of impact at every level of the organization? How can I reach the employees who aren’t intrinsically motivated as this young man? I didn’t come away with a hard and fast answer to these questions, but I did identify these five key leadership characteristics that can improve our ability to make a difference with front-line employees:  


1.     Persistence – Never say die! In spite of the difficulties. Too often, we give up too soon because we haven’t seen the success or results we were hoping for in the time frame we expected. It takes time. When you get the small wins…CELEBRATE! That’s fuel for the long haul.  


2.     Humility – (and humilities close cousin, empathy) Don’t assume you know more about their job than they do. Be a good conversationalist and ask. Be more interested than interesting. People love talking about themselves and what they do. It builds trust; you don’t get out of the blocks without it.


3.     Resilience – Stand tall, especially when your idea or initiative gets shot down or your time on the agenda gets deleted. It just means the time wasn’t right. You know it’s the right thing to do. Return to the drawing board and determine what you need to do differently. Maybe you need a sponsor, strong ally, or informal leader on the floor to deliver your message. Count on failing or coming up short at some point, and learn from the mistakes. You can learn from successes as well.


4.     Learner – Sharpen the knife. Be a lifelong learner and recognize that sometimes we need to relearn or reinforce lessons learned. Read a book or professional journal (ASSP’s Professional Safety Journal is one of my favorites), take a course on public speaking, or attend a conference. There is no shortage of opportunities to build your knowledge and skill set, which builds your credibility.


5.     Altruism – Concern for others. Feeling compassion for front-line employees and a desire to create a safe work environment without expecting anything in return. Compassion is the feeling that motivates altruistic behaviors. Those behaviors made me feel so good after helping the young man pass the forklift training.


These leadership characteristics came to my mind after conducting the forklift training. Be persistent. Press ahead. Never give up or give in. Be diligent! Be respectful! Be patient! You will make a difference!

These characteristics also help us build trust, improving our ability to influence behaviors and decisions at all levels of the organization. Influencing without authority is a requirement of safety professionals. Certifications establish credibility and trust, increasing our ability to influence. Nito Solutions offers ASP, CSP, and OHST exam prep workshops to help you achieve certification. Schedule a workshop through ASSP or contact us directly. Exam guidebooks and practice exams are available under the Exam Materials tab.