Influencing Up, Sideways and Outside Your Sphere

In order for any person, group or department to function well within an organization it must be able to effectively influence. This is especially true for the environment, health and safety (EHS) function, which oversees processes that affect the entire business. Here are four strategies you can use as an EHS leader to strategically influence outside your sphere.

  1. Have a Clear Purpose: Your purpose and the purpose of your function must be clear. As the responsibilities of a group evolve and change, its purpose or mission must be updated and communicated. While the EHS function remains primarily responsible for setting environmental goals, waste management, pollution prevention and regulatory compliance, its scope has increased over the last decade. According to NAEM’s 2012 EHS & Sustainability Staffing and Structure report, the EHS function also plays a lead role in setting sustainability goals, developing sustainability programs and reporting the results externally. This puts onus on EHS departments to redefine and communicate their role within organizations.
  2. Establish a Business Case: The benefits that the group contributes in terms of operations, services, products and management needs to be calculated and communicated in business terms. When it comes to demonstrating the value of its EHS and sustainability programs, the EHS function should consider the cost-savings, return-on-investment (ROI) and other metrics that align with broader business goals.
  3. Maintain a Direct Connection: You need a direct connection with those you intend to influence. As NAEM found, sustainability is most often managed through a cross-functional team, led by EHS. Working in teams composed of representatives from multiple departments allows EHS to influence up, sideways and outside its direct sphere/department. You can facilitate this influence through regular meetings, collaboration on projects and reporting.
  4. Commit to Continuous Improvement: Your group’s work, how it’s shared and the results of the work need to continuously improve. Because the EHS function takes the lead in data management, regulatory compliance and auditing, there are ample opportunities to identify areas that need improvement. You can influence your organization by sharing your values, gathering feedback from others, learning from weaknesses, using new technology and exploring smarter ways to work. By communicating a personal commitment to achieving excellence in environmental management, workplace safety and sustainability programs, the EHS function can help improve how the company operates. Success, in turn, can demonstrate the value of the work and increase your integration into the business operations.

Here are a few discussion questions. If you have any reaction, please share your comments. How do you encourage other departments to collaborate with you? What communication methods are most effective for you? How has your organization modified its EHS function to keep up with changing times?


About Scot Holliday

Scot Holliday, Ed.D. is a Partner at East Meets West Solutions, LLC (EMWS), a problem solving company that leverages the power of people within an organization. Previously he served as a Senior Organizational Change consultant, both at IBM and Accenture. He also writes for GreenBiz and Thomson Reuters.

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1 Comment
  1. Margery

    June 3, 2013

    Thank you, Scott for that overview. It’s a good approach, and good advice. For new EHS leaders this will be very helpful. At BNA we do not have an EHS department, but rather a group of talented folks managing our buildings and energy. Luckily one of the team is a VP and can approve new energy efficiency programs and other green initiatives. However, we always have to justify the cost and benefits before putting anything forward, and that gets people’s attention.

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