Reviews
Gary L Winn, CRC Press

Practical Leadership Skills for Safety Professionals and Project Engineers

Gary Winn is a former industrial engineer, but is now Professor at West Virginia University in the US, where he is co-ordinator of the OSH doctoral programme. In this book he draws on his past and present roles, mixing summaries of academic research and writing on leadership – some of it his own – with personal observations and anecdotes.

book_review_-_practical_leadership_skills_for_safety_professionals_and_project_engineers

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The book’s purpose is to help equip safety professionals early in their careers with advice on the qualities, techniques and experiences they need to become leaders at any level. In line with the promise of a practical guide, he provides long lists of down-to-earth tips on self-organisation, conducting effective meetings and even conference presentations. Some of this advice verges on the homespun – the chapter on etiquette and appearance, for example, has several paragraphs on choosing and polishing business shoes – perhaps he feels such dedication to appearance cannot be taken for granted in the intended audience of millennials.

But the meat of the book is in the extensive material on what makes a good leader, based on research in the military and throughout industry. Winn suggests different models for leadership for business as usual and times of crisis and, in a chapter headed “Toxic leadership”, picks out the characteristics, such as self-absorption, treating others as mere resources and encouraging infighting, that canker an organisational culture. By contrast, a section on how to lead in a “depleted environment” argues that a grounded OSH leader can foster a sound safety culture even when they have little support from the highest levels of management.

Winn emphasises repeatedly the need for leaders to be authentic, true to an honour code and not go through the motions – looking at your watch when visiting an injured employee in hospital or focusing on your phone at work social events undoes any value your attendance adds, he argues.

He makes a strong case that experiential learning – learning by doing rather than studying, even if the doing is in the form of crisis simulations and role playing – is essential to developing safety skills in general and safety leadership skills in particular.

Some material is a little weak. The chapter on gender in safety and engineering offers the growing minority of female safety leaders little advice beyond an exhortation to read Facebook chief operative officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book on how women can succeed in male-dominated businesses.

But the book is extensive, contains ideas for anyone in management, wherever they are in their career, and Winn has a conversational style that makes even the academic material easy to digest.

 

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