Lessons from a Life in Safety: #3

Lessons from a Life in Safety: #3

Jill James

Jill James

Chief Safety Officer

Jill James brings an unrivaled perspective on risk, regulation and liability. With 14 years of experience as a Senior OSHA Safety Investigator with the State of Minnesota, and nearly a decade in the private sector as a safety program manager, Jill is a passionate advocate for training ROI.


Now this one is only fun if you say it out loud, and in your most whiney, annoying voice, so go ahead and say it with me now . . . Nana nana boo-boo I know more than you do!!

Remember that person in high school or college who was always editorializing on what they knew, or how much more they knew than you?

You can picture them right now can’t you? Maybe you even work with one. Annoying, right? 

Know-it-alls do not become trusted advisors.

Here are things I know for sure:

  • You’ll never know it all in this field. And I hope you never feel that way. I’ve been at this over 20 years, long enough to know that I don’t know it all, long enough to know better. In fact, there are many subjects where I am weak. When I attend a conference I almost always learn something new, and try to acquire new knowledge at every turn. Frequently, I meet other occupational safety professionals who know more than I could ever hope to learn about a particular subject.
  • Keep learning, bit-by-bit. There is always something to learn in this practice.
  • There is power in humility. Saying, “I don’t know” or “I’ll find out” and then following-up—that’s powerful.
  • Asking “Tell me more” or “Say more about that” and actually listening, builds trust along with knowledge. “Tell me more” and “Say more” combined with active listening skills, are powerful words and skills for a trusted advisor.    

As you go about your work in this field, remember to talk with the people your work affects. You never know what nugget you’ll turn up from employees and colleagues who have been doing the same jobs for years, all while thinking of better ways to accomplish tasks. Place yourself in the workforce, in the trenches, and maintain visibility and action amongst the employees you are tasked with protecting.

It is important for your credibility that those employees see you and that you see them in their working environments. Establishing credibility and earning trust may be hard for new environmental health and safety professionals for several reasons…

  • Safety is a different job, so it’s hard for the relate to your role
  • The workplace safety experience is often punitive for workers, or a boring distraction
  • May be seen as the arm of management, someone caught between levels of natural mistrust or conflict
  • You have not had time to learn about all hazards or existing safety practices
  • You might be a young person
  • You might come to the role without formal safety experience or education

Seek out leaders in the workforce and work to make them your ally. Ask for feedback, fight to fix or correct the hazards they identify, seek them out as an advisory committee, etc.

This should be an ‘always on’ daily focus for you.