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 2006

The power of knowledge isn’t about having it, it’s about using it. As SH&E professionals, we must use our knowledge of workplace safety to persuade management to take action.

2006-2007 ASSE President Donald S. Jones, Sr., MBA, PE, CSP

Part of the Group: Expanding Our Influence

We’ve all heard the expression, “Knowledge is power.” But in my experience, the power of knowledge isn’t simply about having it, it’s about using it. For example, as SH&E professionals, we know that injuries and illnesses are devastating—physically, emotionally and financially. But if we don’t use that knowledge to persuade management to take action to correct problems and prevent future incidents, we aren’t using our knowledge well—we aren’t “influencing up,” to use a term coined by Marshall Goldsmith, a well-known executive coach and consultant.

In the book Leading Organizational Learning: Harnessing the Power of Knowledge, Goldsmith and his associates offer guidelines to influencing upper management. I’d like to share these guidelines and some of Goldsmith’s insights with you. I believe these ideas can help us as SH&E professionals to expand our influence with corporate decision makers.

  • When presenting ideas to upper management, realize that it is your responsibility to sell, not their responsibility to buy. “If more time were spent on developing our ability to present ideas, and less time were spent on blaming management for not buying our ideas, a lot more might get accomplished,” Goldsmith explains.

  • Focus on contributing to the larger good, not just on achieving your objectives. “Focus on the impact of the decision on the overall corporation,” Goldsmith says, adding that it’s a mistake to assume that executives will easily make the connection between the benefit to a particular department and the benefit to the larger corporation.

  • Strive to win the big battles. Focusing on the trivial only annoys people, Goldsmith warns. “Don’t waste time on issues that will have only a negligible impact on results,” he says.

  • Present a realistic cost/benefit analysis of your ideas. Don’t just sell benefits. “Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea,” Goldsmith says. “Acknowledge the fact that something else may have to be sacrificed in order to have your idea implemented.”

  • ”Challenge up” on issues of ethics or integrity. “Enron, WorldCom and other organizations have dramatically pointed out how ethics violations can destroy even the most valuable companies,” Goldsmith says. It’s also important to recognize that misunderstandings or poor communication are often to blame for what appear to be inappropriate requests.

  • Realize that upper managers are as human as you are. “Is there anything in the history of the human species,” Goldsmith asks, “that indicates when people achieve high levels of status, power and money they become completely ‘wise’ and ‘logical’?”

  • Treat upper managers with the same courtesy you would treat customers. According to Goldsmith, too many people spend hours trashing the company and its executives rather than asking themselves whether their comments will help the company or the person involved.

  • Support the team’s final decision. “Managers who consistently say, ‘They told me to tell you’ to coworkers are seen as ‘messengers’ not leaders,” Goldsmith says.

  • Make a positive difference. Don’t just try to win or be right. “It’s important to always remember your goal is to make a positive difference for the organization.”

  • Focus on the future. “By focusing on the future you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, rather than on what was not achieved yesterday,” Goldsmith concludes.

As SH&E professionals, we know that safety is good business. We also know that we cannot succeed without true management commitment and involvement. To gain and sustain both, we must learn to craft a consistent strategy and a strong message that resonates with our corporate executives, engages them in our mission and prompts them to take action.

Donald S. Jones, Sr., MBA, PE, CSP