Reframe Your Vision

Sponsored Article by Hugh Maxwell

Hugh Maxwell has seen a major transformation in the influence of health and safety over the last 30 years: on both a personal level – where his own experience has grown from that of a non-safety-specific lab technician to a Chartered Fellow of IOSH – and in sector-wide initiatives such as the IOSH competency framework.

‘I didn’t start out in safety,’ Hugh says. ‘I began my career in 1987 with a degree in chemistry from Heriot-Watt University and a lab job performing routine chemical analysis with a company called Foseco, which supplied chemicals to the foundry industry.

‘Initially, I had a strong technical background but not a great understanding of the business. I spent the first eight or nine months in the lab, then I shifted into a demanding three-shift quality-control management role, enabling me to learn much more about the products and the processes. Over the first couple of years I learnt not just about being technically competent in chemistry, but also how to apply those technical competencies to the environment I worked in.

‘At that time, we didn’t have a competency framework, so I learnt the technical competencies the hard way. But I was fortunate to have a couple of managers who helped to develop me, and I took it upon myself to study subjects such as operations management, which enabled me to gain additional skills and management qualifications.’

Safety and management

Since those early days, Hugh has occupied senior safety and environmental roles in the global steel and foundry sectors, led a number of major health, safety and environment (HSE) and risk reduction programmes at corporate level, and developed teams internationally. For all these undertakings to be successful, he has employed certain key skills that now feature in the IOSH competency framework – not least the core and behavioural competencies.

‘When the IOSH competency framework came along, it was a eureka moment – something we really needed,’ Hugh says.

‘I use it as a blueprint now with my local teams. The framework is an invaluable tool for personal development, not just to be a good safety professional but also a good manager. As you move further up the management tree, the softer skills – such as influencing and the behavioural competencies – interrelate more with the technical competencies.

‘Of course, technically you should be strong. But the important thing is also to have those management and leadership skills that allow you to achieve what you need to achieve in the business, and which also allow you to develop and influence others.’

Hugh points out that it’s not only on the shop floor where that influence is important – the ability to help shape an organisation’s approach to risk through the tiers up to senior management is crucial.

‘Influencing managers and securing their buy-in is vital. To be effective in your job you have to have that interaction and these days, it’s much more a case of selling rather than telling people,’ Hugh says.

‘Culture change doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important that you get people to embrace it.

‘New professionals coming through can have a really strong education and a desire to make a big difference quickly. They might see things in black and white, but life isn’t black and white. So personal development circles back to those core competencies, and the framework offers the perfect opportunity to learn them. It’s a guideline for how you need to develop, not a shortcut.’

Competencies in action

In Hugh’s career, skills outlined in the framework have often proved invaluable.

‘In 2008 I became global HSE director for Vesuvius, the world leader in steel consumables for the foundry business. After just three days in the job, I was in Teesside investigating a fatality in a steelworks. Many of the skills that are now part of the competency framework were crucial to dealing with that,’ Hugh says.

‘Some of those skills – such as handling the emotional and empathetic side – can be difficult to learn. I advise the people I mentor to use the framework and to honestly rate themselves against it. Then they have to ask their friends or colleagues to be absolutely honest and also rate them against it. Then we look at any gaps between where they perceive they are and where they actually are.’

Moving into new environments is an ideal chance to revisit the framework.

‘Working with different companies, the bias in terms of the weighting they give the different competencies and business-specific values may change,’ he says.

‘Last year, I started a new job as principal HSE consultant for Chubb Global Risk Advisors. One of the first things I did was to go through the framework with my boss, identifying what were
the key elements of the business that I needed to develop and prioritise.’

Hugh believes anybody in senior management in a forward-thinking firm should have some level of familiarity with the framework – not only in relation to safety but also to understand their business needs and the importance of effective communication.

‘As HSE professionals, our influence is in the particular specialism of safety and risk management, but senior managers have to try and approach it from a higher plateau strategically – pre-cradle to post-grave – where they must take into account everything from sustainable production to the potential for adverse press coverage.

‘So they’ve all got to be risk managers as well – which allows us to spread the influence of adopting this framework even further.’

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