Angela Gray CMIOSH on how to be an effective communicator.
To be an effective OSH professional in a workplace means you have to be ‘all things to all people.’ You can find yourself surrounded by people from all walks of life and backgrounds. They will all have their particular attitude towards OSH, based on their knowledge of the subject (often out-of-date), as well as their experiences in previous workplaces and with previous OSH professionals (positive and negative). They will all have their own organisational purpose and will all have their own foibles.
Depending upon the size and structure of the organisation, you will have different groups of people that you will need to interact with on a regular or irregular basis.
And for each of these groups you may need to adjust your approach: your mannerisms, your vocabulary (what you say and how you say it), your speak:listen ratio, and maybe even your attire!
Whether it’s your direct line manager, direct reports (team) or the wider organisation stakeholder groups, it is crucial that there is an element of mutual trust in those relationships.
A definition of trust is ‘a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’. As an OSH professional employed to guide an organisation to improved OSH performance and culture, this definition is wholly apt. You need people to trust you if you truly want to influence and take your organisation in the right direction.
Being the ‘trusted advisor’ can, at times, be a tricky road to navigate. Depending upon the OSH maturity in your organisation, there can be a lot of expectations placed on you, and quite often these expectations can be conflicting from the different groups of people.
So where do we start? Here are some of my thoughts.
Be authentic – bring the real you to work. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, it’s exhausting and it is not sustainable.
Stay curious - take time to really understand the organisation you are working in. Spend time in different people in different functions and facilities to understand their purpose, goals, and challenges. Find out what is important to them.
Make connections – find shared interests or things you have in common. This sets a foundation to build the relationship on. Discuss how their goals are aligned with yours, especially when you need to influence a change.
Be transparent and truthful – your integrity is key. Never fake your knowledge, your colleagues need to see you are competent enough to admit what you don’t know. So, if you don’t know something, say you don’t know (you can find out later). If your answer is not what they want to hear, be brave. If you make an error or change your mind, put your hand up.
Demonstrate your competence – this doesn’t mean being able to quote legal requirements. Organisations don't want specialists that are too legally focused or talk in the riddles of their own technicality. OSH professionals need to find ways of advising the organisation without constantly referring to the respective legislation, codes and standards, there is a time and place for doing this. The ability to interpret legal requirements into understandable advice for the specific audience is perhaps the corner stone of building trust and achieving positive engagement.
With that, we need to use the language of the business (the ‘operational speak’) so study and use the frequently used terms and acronyms, and align your narrative to the business objectives and strategies.
To be a trusted advisor, OSH professionals must display a wide range of behaviours and personal competencies that illustrate they are disciplined, professional and trustworthy, and act consistently with integrity.
Angela is a senior OSH specialist at IOSH