In many cultures saying “no” can be uncomfortable and difficult. However, the role of the EHS leader requires us to do this on a regular basis in order to ensure that the core values of environmental, health, and safety are maintained.
First and foremost, an EHS leader needs to emphatically say “No” whenever these core values may be endangered. Any instance which would put people or the environment at risk or that would be illegal require an immediate and emphatic “No” so that there is no confusion about your position and to prevent inappropriate activities from occurring. Many times, we must be the conscience of the organization for these core values as well as subject matter experts and technical leaders. More difficult are those instances where core values would be eroded or subtly compromised in pursuit of business or other needs. Success in these cases requires a broad variety of relationship, communications, and diplomacy skills to achieve this without losing the trust of the organization.
Knowing when to say “no”, is essential for EHS leaders, but even more important is to find a way to say “yes” by finding solutions in support of actions that support these core values as well as business and other objectives. If we get a reputation of only saying “no”, we run the risk that people will stop coming to us for advice and will proceed without us. We need to work to “yes” in technical and business discussions as well as all of our interactions with people on the job. I reinforce this by trying to find at least one instance a day in which I see someone upholding EHS values and then thank them for their behavior. This can be as simple as thanking someone for holding a hand rail, turning off their cell phone before driving, or cleaning up a spill in the break room to eliminate a slipping hazard.
So stand firm and say “no” when you need to, but work to find the “yes” in every situation that can grow support for all core values as well as the bottom line.