Across the province, there appears to be a renewed focus on creating healthier, safer workplaces. With this increased awareness, it is fitting that Safety Services Manitoba (SSM), the foremost safety services provider specializing in full-service programming in occupational safety, road safety and community safety, has put a renewed focus on strong leadership.
"Safety and related issues are everywhere, but at the same time, we also have a long way to go in terms of ensuring awareness and compliance," says SSM president and CEO Judy Murphy, who joined the organization in May.
"Employers need to understand that not only is ensuring the health and safety of their people the right thing to do, it has a positive impact on the bottom line. You reduce risks, injuries and lost time, plus you have employees who are more competent in their jobs. It makes sense."
SSM has 17 full-time employees and 75 contract trainers and consultants delivering both occupational safety programs and mandated driver programs for Manitoba Public Insurance, in addition to ATV, snowmobile, defensive driving and corporate driving programs.
"In terms of occupational safety, we offer training and consulting services for sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, all levels of government, aerospace, warehousing and distribution, utilities, service and health care. We conduct audits to assess gaps, look for compliance or to see where a best practices program can improve safety. We can also provide total training management where we go in and deliver a company's entire safety training program for them."
The organization also facilitates a number of important activities throughout the year, ranging from the annual SSM SAFE Work Conference every January, to being the co-ordinating body for Operation Red Nose, the volunteer-run designated driver program.
"As a result of the increased emphasis on safety we have been seeing across Manitoba, it is a very exciting time for our organization," Murphy says.
Q: As a new leader, how did you strike the balance between introducing and improving processes without upsetting the apple cart of what was working well?
A: The first thing I did when I arrived was to meet with every member of the staff and board. Because I'm not a safety expert, nor profess to be, it was important for me to address that upfront and gain their confidence, knowing that we have plenty of expertise within the organization. I also discovered that all of the people working here are tremendously committed to safety and to the growth of this organization and that there is a passion to really want to move forward. Part of the culture here is that it's informal; we work hard but we have fun, and that was also an important element to retain. I've asked people what they like most about working here and they told me that they enjoy the type of work they do, the people they work with and that it's possible to maintain a good work/life balance. As a new leader in an organization, you need to assess the environment and say, "OK, here are the things I don't want to mess up." That's why my philosophy is to build on the pieces that we want to retain. That being said, after talking to every member of the staff and management team, I also recognized areas that needed work, which is why we are now concentrating on improving such key areas as decision making, accountability and team engagement.
Q: What steps have you taken to help the organization grow in these areas?
A: After speaking with staff, the next step was determining the strengths of our management team. We conducted something called the Strengths Finder, a tool which allowed us to discern and discuss our strong points both as individuals and as an organization so that we can maximize them. The next thing we did was assess our strategic plan. The management team and I also completed a priority-setting exercise and presented the results to the board. It's provided some structure to hold the screws in place until we our new strategic plan is finalized and implemented at the end of this year. We are also in the process of finalizing job descriptions, operating policies and guiding principles -- which define what we do, why we do it and how we demonstrate the values behind it. This encompasses integrity; responsible and ethical decision making; and the engagement of employees and contractors. Because the principles were designed and word-smithed by the entire management team, it sets the tone for how we work together. Ultimately, we want everyone to take ownership and go to the ends of the Earth to deliver these principles.
Q: What qualities are you seeking in future leaders?
A: I am looking for creativity and the ability to find creative solutions. They also need to be able to understand the dynamics of group decision making. I want people who can work effectively on a management team, which means they are not afraid to bring different views to the table. I don't want "Yes" people, I want frank and honest discussion so that afterward, we can all walk out the door in agreement on the way to move forward. I want leaders who will hold themselves accountable and who are good communicators so that we stay in touch and gain an understanding of what's happening in every part of the organization.
Q: You are currently chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and have served on a number of other boards in various capacities. Would you say this made you a better leader?
A: Serving on a board is a great opportunity to build leadership skills and I see it as an important component of professional development. It has certainly made me stronger as a leader in that I truly understand what it means to work with a board and how to meet their needs. I've personally gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from the boards and committees I've been fortunate to sit on and will be encouraging my management team to get out and participate more in the community. We have had discussions with organizations we want to liaise with, but in my view, if we belong to something, we need to be active in it. There is tremendous value in the experience because as an individual, you bring the skills you learn back to the organization while at the same time, the visibility and the networking opportunities it presents is beneficial to us as a whole.
Q: What is the best piece of leadership advice you have ever received?
A: Actually, it wasn't so much advice as it was admiring the way a certain volunteer board chair conducted meetings. She was very inclusive and respectful of differing opinions, and I found that to be inspiring. As the leader of an organization, there's very little that you can't talk about and share with your team. That's what builds a stronger team and empowers them to do what needs to be done to achieve the goals of the organization. The other important piece is that whether you're leading the organization or in a completely different role -- after all, everyone requires a bit of leadership in their jobs -- never try to be something you're not. Stick to your strengths, know where you're comfortable and find places where there's a natural ease to what you are doing. If you're not quite in the right role, it will be an uphill climb. Know thyself and the types of roles you thrive in.
Q: As you have grown as a leader, would you say that your focus on people has increased?
A: I would certainly say my focus has evolved over the years. That comes from being a strong believer in tending to your own personal development before you can help others focus on theirs. I've done a tremendous amount of self-development work that started with reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. That was the portal for shifting my emphasis toward the people side of business. The Seven Habits, along with Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell, executive vice-president of operations for the Walt Disney World resorts, and The Soul of Leadership by Deepak Chopra have inspired me with the reminder that leadership comes from within; but you first need to know who you are and what your strengths are before you can bring out the best in others.
-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai
John McFerran, PhD, F.CHRP, is managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org