Top 5 Quotes for the Distracted (and too busy) Safety Professional

It’s 7:00 am and your day is off to a good start. Your to-do list annotated and day scheduled. Then your phone rings. By 10:00 am the to-do list is scrapped, the fires of the urgent are raging, and a day of meetings and investigations erases the important work you’d planned.

That’s why this book should be on every EHS pro’s shelf. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport, takes the reader through the dangers of a life and career filled with distraction and offers a construct (and hope) for a more focused and purpose-filled plan.

Here are my 5 favorite lines:

“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”

“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

“We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.”

“If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game.”

“Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward.”

Too busy to read a book? All the more reason this book must be read. Your work (and those around you) will thank you.


The 10 Top Drucker Quotes for EHS Professionals

Some of the best books for EHS professionals aren’t written for them. For example, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker is written for leaders in a multitude of professions.

Here are my favorite 10 Drucker lines:

  1. “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
  2. “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”
  3. “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”
  4. “No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.”
  5. “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”
  6. “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete – the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.”
  7. “The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do but the absence of doing it.”
  8. “Converting a decision into action requires answering several distinct questions: Who has to know of this decision? What action has to be taken? Who is to take it? And what does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it can do it? The first and the last of these are too often overlooked—with dire results.”
  9. “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”
  10. “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done is a must read.

Do you have a favorite Peter Drucker quote?

I have a new team…now what?


During my first few years in EHS, I struggled with the constant change in team makeup. Here’s one method that helped me move past the change to deliver real value.

In The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded, author Michael Watkins offers six criteria for team and direct report evaluation. Each manager should rank each quality according to relative weight in their organization. The criteria are: Competence, Judgment, Energy, Focus, Relationships, and Trust.

Which matter most to you (label them 1-6)?

Which is a quality that must be there, otherwise nothing else matters (called a Threshold issue)?

Now look at the criteria you numbered 4-6. Does this point out possible blind spots in your internal evaluation matrix? Possibly something you undervalue in a team member?

For more on managing change in an organization, you’ll also want to read the chapters on STARS, building credibility, and negotiating success with your supervisor.

Why You Probably Don’t Need a Mentor

With so much talk on personal/professional development, does everyone really need a mentor?

No, I don’t think everyone does.

You probably don’t need a mentor if:

You have a stable job, plan to stay there forever, and nothing ever changes.

You don’t want to improve anything.

You already know everything (nothing new under the sun, right?)

You have no bucket list.

You feel that all feedback is a personal attack.

However, if there is a chance you might need to make a change, want to improve something, or aspire to do more, and have been disappointed in the past with a top-down mentoring model, here are a couple of non-traditional recommendations.

Sarah Friar, CFO at Square, recommends a personal board of directors. Four people to be exact.

  1. Someone you work with as both a colleague and role model.
  2. Someone you aspire to be.
  3. A mentor from a previous life.
  4. A person not senior to you, maybe a child.

James Altucher, investor and author, writes that the best way to learn and grow is to find a plus, an equal and a minus. A Plus is a real or virtual mentor who can teach you, an Equal is a person who can challenge you, and a Minus is someone you can teach and help you learn at a deeper level.

Personally, I use a board of director approach and wrote about it here (link). Specifically, this has helped me learn to handle criticism, speak in public, give better feedback to senior management, and write more clearly (I’m still trying).

How about you? Is there an area or two you’d like to improve? Would a personal board of directors help you?



The Mediocrity of SMART Goals

“I’ve got to give my boss some SMART goals for my team this year. I figure I’ll do something similar to last year’s goals and since my goal attainment is tied to my boss’s annual performance report, I’ll make sure that all of my goals are achievable.” – Overheard at a high-level safety conference

SMART goals. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound)

It’s the “A” that bothers me the most. “Attainable”

It’s the lie that annual goals foist on the organization.  It takes the wind out of sails and makes others pull down their sails “just in case.” It limits vectors and reinforces comfort zones. Attainability is average, status quo, and simply mediocre.

Turning away from SMART, authors like Jim Collins introduced the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). In the more genteel companies, “hairy” is removed, reducing the acronym to BAG.

Whatever the acronym…how do we break from attainable? How do we begin to think a bit (or a lot) bigger than “I’ll do something similar to last year”?

Here are a few resources that help me. Two books (short but with big ideas) and a podcast.

The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure – Grant Cardone writes about replacing the idea of 10% increases with multiplying everything by 10.

The Compound Effect – A short book that took me two weeks to get through because of all the questions it asks the reader to answer. You’ll learn a ton about yourself and eschew “average” forever.

Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions that Changed My Life (Tim Ferris Podcast) – I listen to this episode at least every 3 months and it always inspires new ideas.

Like SMART goals? Then make the “A” stand for something else, like Awesome, Audacious, Atomic, or even Astonishing!

Do you use SMART goals and why?

Have you tried this safety app?

When I began studying for safety certifications, this was the equation they warned me about. The NIOSH Lifting Equation.

For those unaware of the equation (and I’m a bit jealous of you), it goes like this:

LC (51) x HM x VM x DM x AM x FM x CM = RWL

Thanks to NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), now there’s both an Apple and Android app for it.

If the links don’t appear, you can find the app by searching for “NLE Calc” on your applicable app site.

Confused by the variables and want a step-by-step description? Here’s a link to Ergo-Plus and they do a thorough job on simplifying the topic.

Want more NIOSH apps?

NIOSH Heat Safety Tool

Sound Level Meter (NIOSH SLM)

Ladder Safety

Do you have a favorite EHS app? Let me know what you use in the comments!

The next great safety leaders aren’t going to be safety people

It’s a question I get in my inbox nearly weekly. So often, in fact, I now include it in presentations to audiences of safety professionals.

The question is usually phrased, “Should I get a graduate degree in EHS?”

The answer is both yes and no.

The answer is yes: If you think that the way we are doing things is correct. If compliance is the answer. If better workers equals better safety. If more rules and regulations are what the world needs. If you wish to be a superior technician.

The answer is no: If you want to change how we define safety. If you’re tired of blaming the worker. If being a technician isn’t enough. If you’ve taken a course in psychology, education, or engineering and glimpsed what the current models of EHS are missing.  If the risk of being wrong is worth the chance of being right and making a real difference.

The next great safety leaders that are going to exist in our world aren’t thinking about safety, they’re running things like DevOps or artificial intelligence or driverless cars. They’re not going to be safety people, they’re going to be people who understand systems and understand complexity…and that’s kind of a fine place for it to go, that’s pretty cool.

– Todd Conklin, Pre-Accident Investigations: An Introduction to Organizational Safety Podcast # 142

What’s Your Week Look Like?

“If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.”

– Anthony Robbins, Get the Edge

What are your priorities this week? This year? In your life?

Open up your weekly calendar.

  • Is it full of your priorities or someone else’s?
  • Does your schedule reflect your priorities?
  • Are you making time for what really matters?
  • Do you see actions necessary for goal accomplishment in your calendar or just reactions to last week’s emergencies?
  • Are you proud of the way you spend your time?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”

–  Annie Dillard

Are We Cheating By Building Better Safety Programs?

The harder things are to do, the more we cheat.

If the sidewalk isn’t the fastest route to the building, we take the grass.

In the case of worker safety, if wearing PPE is difficult, inconvenient, or slows down the task, the PPE will find a new home in the bottom of the drawer or truck box.

In the case of EHS, if worker safety and injury reduction are challenging, we may instead focus on structural improvement, better worded policy, and conference attendance, ever seeking the safety “flavor-of-the-month.”

But what if program structure, policy, and the latest in BBS are distractions from the real work?

Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, asks readers where they’d prioritize qualities such as “’being comfortable with other people,’ or ‘engage people in a way that makes them want to talk with you,’ or ‘even be persuasive’?”

Developing these qualities (social intelligence) is far more difficult than tweaking programs and policies. So we convince ourselves that the latest version of a Job Hazard Analysis or an automated SDS system is the way to success.

There is no shortcut to building the capacity to work safely. No new app, no shiny PPE, no bright orange backpack from the latest safety conference. These are distractions along a path that will empty your budget, make you feel like you’re doing something, and worse, take time away from the real work.

Because if we can’t be comfortable around people, engage with others in a way that makes them want to talk, and be persuasive…we’ve really just tossed the PPE in the back of the truck.

Some Days You Have To Get Plastered

Benjamin Franklin knew it. He spoke about it, argued with people about it, detailed the science behind it…and no one listened.

He’d discovered that lime, also known as Plaster of Paris, helped crops grow.

Then he stopped talking.

Later that year, when fall temperatures brought color to the leaves, he picked up a large brush and walked to the middle of a field on his farm in Burlington, New Jersey. He walked back and forth with his brush and a bucket, painting lines of white.

The winter snow and rain washed the white away. Next spring, neighbors walking past the field exclaimed on the dense green color in the field. There, in tall capital letters of thick dark green grass, they read, “THIS FIELD HAS BEEN PLASTERED.”

Sometimes, it’s not enough to talk, advise, cajole, inspire, argue, or even present a logical position. Even for Benjamin Franklin.

Some days you have to get plastered.