September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - September 2002

2002-2003 ASSE President Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE

Looking for a Few Good Leaders

I initially thought that leaders were surrounded by people who were content, smiling and appreciative, all seeking a willing mentor. Leaders, I believed, led a life of thinking, studying relaxed research on the latest trends, unchallenged respect and endless harmony. No conflicts or arguments to deal with. After all, you're a leader and people listen to you.

Then reality set in-it's amazing what time, a few gray hairs and a passell of useless theories can do to a person. Over the years, I have learned that a good leader takes a little more of the blame, a little less of the credit and does a lot more of the work. If you want to be an effective leader, consider these five questions:

  • Do others' failures annoy me or challenge me? Every company has employees who need extra attention. A true leader looks for ways to help them conquer their shortcomings and continuously encourages others to seek ways to improve.

  • Do I manipulate people in my interactions or do I cultivate and mentor them? When you manipulate people to achieve your own ends, they ultimately discover your devices. As a result, you will lose their loyalty and that of others as word spreads about your tactics. By cultivating and mentoring people, you help them become better professionals.

  • Do I direct people or do I develop them? Rather than telling people what to do, a leader seeks out ways for staff to learn from every task. As a leader, you must focus on the "why" of the task at hand rather than on the mechanics of getting it done. You also work to demonstrate the company-wide benefits of what is being done.

  • Do I criticize or do I encourage? Our first instinct is to criticize: Why didn't you do it this (my) way? A good leader takes every opportunity to encourage people to innovate-and encourages them to try again when they fail. You must construct people, not destruct them.

  • Do I shun controversy or judiciously pick my battles? Many managers strive to avoid controversy and conflict, while others look for any opportunity to argue, often simply for the sake of argument. To be a successful leader, you must choose your battles carefully and fight them to win. Be prepared for controversy, but do not seek it out.

When you choose to become a leader, you surrender yourself to others. You must have a listening ear and an ability to withstand severe scrutiny. Being a leader takes a thick skin, a sensitive heart and a strong will. The benefits far outweigh the costs. Seeing others grow along with the maturation of the organization provides long-lasting satisfaction. Being able to look back and see the positive impact you have had as a leader provides a great sense of accomplishment as well. John Gray once said, "Developing the mind is important, but developing a conscience is the most precious gift we can give the next generation." All true leaders leave something behind that those following will desire to emulate. The SH&E profession needs a few good leaders. Give it a thought.

I have learned that a good leader takes a little more of the blame, a little less of the credit and does a lot more of the work.

Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE