Potent Compound Corner

Five Uncomfortable Things that will Make You a Better EHS Manager

November 28, 2017

As we near the end of 2017, it becomes that time of year where we start to think about how we can do better in 2018. From a professional standpoint, often these plans take the form of establishing goals and objectives for the year.

However, just as important as the goals and objectives are for the company, it is equally important that you establish a few personal (and private) goals that will make you a better (and happier) EHS Manager.

Based on over 31 years of professional experience, here are five things, that while they might make you feel uncomfortable, it will go a long way to making you a better, happier, and more effective manager.

Tell Your Boss What You Need to be Successful

Depending upon your relationship with your boss, having an open and honest conversation about what you need to be successful is tough. The main reason for this uncomfortable feeling is that often the EHS manager doesn’t know what they need to improve their program. And often, when asked what they need, they will default to the standard requests for more budget or staff. That’s a copout, and while these two items are important, often adding budget or staff results in no significant benefit due to the additional coordination costs and time that are involved.

It’s been my experience that throwing money and people at a poorly-defined problem often makes things worse, not better. A better approach is to do a deep-dive into the last year or so’s worth of data and determine where you’ll get the best return on your money and time invested.

In most cases, having greater executive management support and involvement will produce the largest benefit, but it will be the responsibility of the EHS manager to define the specific visible and tangible action items that they need the executives to perform. It is quite rare to find an executive team member that has much experience with EHS. However, the action items can be something as simple as having executive management discuss EHS at their periodic senior staff meetings. Just bringing the issues to the forefront and knowing that it’s on the executive team’s minds can make a world of difference.

Learn to delegate and to say “no”

As a busy EHS manager, you shouldn’t be expected to do it all. The most effective EHS programs have significant employee and line management involvement. If your location has “Safety Committee” meetings, the EHS staff should not be the ones leaving the meeting with all the action items. These action items should be delegated to personnel in the appropriate departments. However, the EHS Department should be the ones to track the EHS-related corrective actions that need to be completed.

Additionally, if your staff attends a conference and comes back to work with all these great ideas that they want to implement, if it doesn’t fit in your overall strategy, you’re better off just telling them “no - that’s a great idea, but that doesn’t currently fit into our strategy.” Don’t be the passive-aggressive manager and say “Let me think about it” when you have no intent on doing anything with it.

Arrive Early to Work

Numerous research studies have shown that people are most productive and focused early in the morning before the chaos of the day begins. Rather than using this time to grind through your email inbox, it may be a better time to invest in writing the report you have been trying to finish, or reading several chapters of that article you have sitting on the corner of your desk. Almost all of the successful EHS managers that I’ve seen are usually at work 1-hour or more before the rest of the employees. If you’re the type that is running in the door 1-minute before your first meeting of the day, it’s going to impact your stress-level and performance.

Don’t sacrifice your integrity or reputation

Working in the pharmaceutical industry can be tough - tight development timelines, large capital projects that hinge on getting the environmental permits in a timely manner, regulatory inspections, and the constant pressure to keep all projects moving at a rapid pace. The EHS manager is often faced with questions such as “Is that permit really necessary? Do we really need to get a potent compound categorization report on that compound? Can’t we start using the isolator before we get back the containment validation results?”

As an EHS manager there will be this constant pressure to get things done quickly and the temptation to cut corners. It is critical that you don’t sacrifice your integrity or reputation just to get something done quicker. Do it once and you’ll be considered an easy target the next time. Besides the legal implications, while you may change jobs, your integrity and reputation will follow you on to the next one.

In addition, you don’t want to be the one laying awake at night unhappy that you caved into the pressure. If the pressure becomes too much, and your company lacks the ethics, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.

Understand and adjust to the Culture of the Company

If you’re fairly new to a company, it will take sometime to learn and adjust to the culture of the company. Items that will be important to you to figure out include the following:

  1. How do people prefer to communicate? Do they prefer just giving general information and letting you fill in the gaps, or do they list detailed information? Do they prefer scheduled face-to-face meetings or emails? Communication styles differ greatly between companies and between different culture. How your facility communicates in the U.S. will be much different than how they communicate in India

  2. What is the decision making style of the company? Do they try to have committees and get consensus, or is it top-down? Again, this varies widely amongst companies. In the U.S. companies go to great lengths to build consensus, but in many Asian countries, they expect the boss to make the final decision.

  3. How do people disagree in the company? Is it direct confrontational in meetings, or do they say the often heard of “Let me get back to you on that one.”

  4. What is their scheduling style like? Do they prefer an establishment agenda prior to each meeting and start those meetings exactly on-time, or do they wander into meetings 10-15 minutes late?

Unless you’re tasked with specifically changing the culture of the company, you’ll have to adapt to their culture, not the one of the company that you just came from.


I’m sure there are many other things that will be uncomfortable or challenging in your job, and I’ve love to hear them. Please send your comments and feedback to pcc@affygility.com.

Published November 28, 2017

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