How to Succeed as a Young Safety Professional

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The first decision people make in the morning affects every other decision they make throughout the day. It’s a choice that goes beyond whether to hit the snooze button or reach for a glass of water.

“The day doesn’t decide how it’s going for me,” says J.A. Rodriguez Jr., CSP, SGE, global senior leader of environmental health, safety and sustainability at Raytheon. “I decide how the day’s going to go.”

That philosophy is at the heart of Rodriguez’s advice for young safety professionals who want to succeed in their careers. On the job at Raytheon and as an in-demand speaker and author, Rodriguez lets what he calls a “winning mind-set” guide his behavior and the message he shares with others. A winning mind-set has nothing to do with the financial motivation driving people to perform on the job, he says. While most professionals work because it’s the only way to provide for themselves and their loved ones, Rodriguez doesn’t believe the pursuit of money is enough to sustain a career-advancing attitude. Instead, he says people starting out in the OSH profession should take these five important steps.

1. Learn what your employer needs from you.

“By focusing on performance as it relates to your employer’s success, a safety professional is better prepared for how business really works,” he says. “Young professionals should understand how their company defines ‘superstar,’ because businesses reward people who get it.”

When employers increase profits as a result of an employee’s performance, they are bound to notice. Getting the attention of decision-makers is the first step toward building solid professional relationships and earning a promotion.

2. Use your passion.

Earning more money and gaining more prestige for the work you perform should be the result of and not the reason for showing up, according to Rodriguez. Instead, young and seasoned professionals alike should focus on their passion, the driving force behind the successes that really matter, such as keeping workers safe.

“You feel that professional satisfaction when you have contributed to minimizing or eliminating the events that are causing injuries or near misses for people,” he says. “You know that workers are going home safely because of the things that you did.”

3. Look below the surface.

The number one thing Rodriguez says he wishes he’d known when first starting his career might seem unusual for a person with an intensely positive outlook.

“Not all is what it seems,” he says. “Often, the filters we place in front of our eyes blind us to what really is and what needs to be undertaken for an effective and collaborative solution.”

According to Rodriguez, it’s up to young safety professionals, for the sake of their careers and their companies, to figure out the deeper truth behind the systems and attitudes that aren’t serving their interests. That could include recognizing an unproductive mind-set, or even a workflow that impedes effectiveness. By uncovering hidden weaknesses, employees create opportunities to find solutions and add value for their employers.

4. Own your career.

To own your career is to be willing to pay the price for your aspirations, Rodriguez says. It means holding yourself accountable for the successes and failures of your team and your company. Most of all, it means ditching excuses.

“If things are not going well, then it’s time to make a change,” he continues. “And who can make that change? You can; either by securing professional development or finding a mentor or working with your employer to learn what’s important to them.”

5. Have a life.

Rodriguez considers having a life outside of work to be one of the top three tenets of being successful at work as a young professional. Without taking time to enjoy family and friends, rest and relax, or pursue hobbies and personal goals, it’s much harder to stay energized during the work week, he says. In other words, a fulfilling career is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Notice that when I name things that make people successful at work and in life, I don’t mention, ‘Make a lot of money,’” he continues. “That will come naturally as a result of these considerations without having to focus all your energy on it.”

As an active and proud ASSE member for 25 years, Rodriguez says he is excited to bring these ideas and more to Safety 2018 in San Antonio on June 5. His session, “Young Safety Professionals: This is How It Really Works” (S626), will provide people with alternative ways to think about their careers, their companies and their most urgent workplace concerns. He will offer examples from his 30-year career that illustrate how simple mind-set adjustments can change the entire trajectory of a young safety professional’s life.

“But this session is not just for young safety professionals,” he says. “I titled it that way on purpose to help the next generation to come forward and to help them advance. However, this session is also for those who feel stuck, who feel like they’ve reached an impasse in their careers and want to do something about it without leaving.”

J.A. Rodriguez, Jr., CSP, SGE is a senior leader for Raytheon Company and directs the EHS management systems of contracts valued at over $6 billion annually at 500+ sites in 100 countries. Follow him on Twitter @JARodriguezJr

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