But Officer I Have Excellent Contacts!

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

A lady was pulled over for speeding. The police officer, upon examining her license, noted that she was required to wear corrective lenses while driving. He started to write out a ticket, and the lady exclaimed in protest, “But officer, I have excellent contacts!” He promptly responded, “Listen, I don’t care who you know, I’m giving you this ticket.” A very old joke, but what’s the connection to environment, health, and safety? It
is this: Having excellent contacts is absolutely essential. Indeed, it may be the most important aspect of your career, yet is often the element that is managed haphazardly, if at all. This article offers guidance for building your own network of contacts.

Collectively, the authors’ careers span nearly 60 years. We have seen tremendous changes to the environment, health, and safety (EH&S) profession over these years, and there are no signs that things are “settling down.” If anything, the only “constant” that we could rely on is that the company or department we were working in would be substantially different in about five years. Maybe a little longer, maybe sooner, but our own work environment would be different. We could depend on it. You should count on this inevitable change in managing your own career. If you work for a non-government organization, consulting firm, industry, or government agency, it is the same situation.

Much has been written about the changing work force and the improbability of working with one company over an entire career until retirement. Keeping your skills current, being flexible, learning new skills, and so on have been extensively covered. Relentlessly devoting energy to improving your skills is especially important for environmental professionals. So is building a network of contacts. Let us explain.

Standards for corporate EH&S performance are emerging. They are moving beyond a focus on compliance to lessdefined territory that can cover a wide range of management options. The direction can shift significantly with the arrival of a new CEO, management team, or in the case of a government agency, elected officials. How often have you heard that management support is critical and that “top-down” support is essential for success? It’s true.

Changing direction from above applies to any profession, but we believe that the swings can be especially unpredictable in the EH&S area. EH&S management is a relatively new element of corporate strategy. The implications are that you may need to deal with another layer of uncertainty on top of a sea of change.

Many EH&S professionals whom we have met over the years are motivated by deep-seated personal convictions on doing right by the environment. It’s not just a career, but a mission! Jake and Elwood, in the hilarious movie “The Blues Brothers,” were not just raising money to pay off a mortgage—they had a mission. It matters.

If you are not satisfied with the direction in which things are headed and you are powerless to control the outcome, it may bother you and provide another motivation to look elsewhere. It is not a question of compliance versus non-compliance strategy. The profession has moved far beyond this simplistic view of the field by management to concepts such as the triple bottom line and a sustainable future. Pick up any issue of this EM magazine and you’ll find one or more articles that advocate these concepts. The higher you are in the organization, the greater the impact that business management’s direction and philosophy will have on your job satisfaction.

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