Former ASSE President Trish Ennis, M.S., CSP, ARM, CRIS, is presenting two sessions at SeminarFest 2017 – “Strategic Thinking for Excellence in Safety” and “Policy Writing for Better Control of Safety.” Recently, Ennis took some time to discuss why strategic thinking and effective communication are essential to OSH professionals.
As the title of Ennis’s first seminar “Strategic Thinking for Excellence in Safety” indicates, strategic thinking is vital in safety today. However, challenges can come when trying to get executive support. “When we talk about strategic thinking we are talking about looking at the overall context of the organization and identifying the initiatives you are trying to implement that are in line with the goals of the organization,” says Ennis. “You may want to look at the strategic plan, vision, values and goals of the organization and see if you are pulling your initiatives in the right direction. If you understand that, the financials and some of the challenges, that will make you more successful when you implement your programs and policies.”
Additionally, Ennis says that applying strategic thinking can be a challenge with employees. “People confuse strategic thinking with strategic planning. When I think of strategic thinking I think that it is looking at all different ways of approaching a problem,” she says. “It is applying a little bit of creative thinking, it is applying some strategy, some planning and working in groups.” When trying to get employees to buy in to strategic thinking, showing the value is important. “You have to understand what is the reality of the employees, and what motivates them, what do you need to give them so that they feel like it is a value proposition,” she says.
Effective communications is key to sharing strategic thinking. “It is about thinking, but it is also about understanding the organization you work in,” she says. “We are slowly transitioning from being compliance-based to more holistic and enterprise-wide thinking. It is getting harder and harder to focus just on compliance and work in silos in organizations that are looking to be more broad-based.” Additionally, Ennis explains, people are having to do more with less, and within some organizations there is a growing understanding that employee health as well as their safety provide more avenues for success.
Ennis has some helpful tips for those looking to be better communicators. “Listen more and ask more questions,” she says. “I think we [OSH professionals] frequently come to the table with what needs to be fixed and a decision of where we need to go, and we fail to listen to information that may redirect us.”
Also, she explains, practice makes perfect. “Talk to other people. Find out how they are perceived by their peers,” she says. “Take some professional development sessions on communication. Look at YouTube videos, listen to TED talks. I think people feel like it is something they work on their own, and not something that should be researched and studied. I think it should be something that should be studied.”
Presentations are often part of communicating, and Ennis offers a suggestion of what not to use right out of the gate when developing effective visuals. “It’s not words on a slide. We tend to put a million words on a slide and it is death by PowerPoint,” she says. Instead, she suggests, include an image that reinforces the message you are trying to convey, and not the message itself. Ennis recommends putting notes in a handout or a reference document that attendees can takeaway from the presentation; this helps them better grasp the concepts instead of reading them off screen.
Ennis says that it is also important to understand the context of the questions being asked and what is needed by clients to tailor the message to fit their needs. “You definitely need to understand what their concerns are but you have to give them information they do not want to hear,” she says. “You need to know the pain points, the strategy behind where they are going, and give them the information that is relevant.”
Learn more about Ennis's seminars here:
Trish Ennis, M.S., CSP, ARM, CRIS, is a senior loss control consultant for Holmes Murphy in Denver, CO. She served 10 years on ASSE’s board of directors as Region II vice president, vice president of the Council on Professional Development and the 100th Society President in 2014-15. She holds an M.S. in Organization Leadership from Regis University, and a B.S. from Evergreen State College.