Putting Together a Winning EHS Team

by Jessica Sarnowski, Head of Content Marketing & Thought Leadership 24 Oct. 2019

Growing up in a household with a big time New York Giants fan, I spent quite a few Sundays watching American football. Succeeding in football, like most sports, requires strategy, the utilization of the right teammate at the right time and, of course, a talented group of athletes. The quarterback is often the “star” of the team and, while the QB position is no doubt important, the offensive and defensive lines can be said to be just as vital to team success. Different physical and mental attributes are necessary for each football position; it would be a strategic foul if a coach told a wide receiver to play as part of the defensive line for a game or two.  

So, you might be wondering what this has to do with your EHS team. Well, your EHS team should have the robustness and balance of a football team, with different staff playing varied—but vital—roles. Let’s huddle for a minute:

  • EHS VP or Director: This is your team coach. In an ideal world, you have a centralized EHS department with all local EHS managers reporting into an EHS VP or Director who has a bird’s eye view of compliance. This person knows where all facilities are located, the compliance status of each facility and where he/she needs to dedicate resources in order to continually improve. This is also the person who sets overall strategy and dedicates budget for items such as compliance services and software. This person justifies the EHS budget to the CEO.

    Your VP or Director should have the following attributes: strategic thinker, extensive past-experience as an EHS manager and business acumen.

  • Compliance Officers: If your company is large enough, you may have a compliance officer. Compliance officers are your quarterbacks, keeping up to date with the status of regulatory developments that impact your business and adjusting accordingly to ensure that the end goal, compliance, is achieved. Compliance officers must proactively identify instances of non-compliance and rally the team to fix them as soon as possible. Compliance officers would benefit from performing internal audits so that they can keep track of the various facilities and they would also benefit from regulatory tracking to keep abreast of new and changing regulations.

    Your compliance officer should be: detail-oriented, ethical, able to handle stressful situations and able to explain legal requirements to others on the team.

  • EHS Managers: EHS Managers are your wide receivers. Ideally, you have more than just one; you can spread your managers to different locations where you have facilities. These managers may also play the role of the compliance officers; these managers are mostly focused on carrying out the day-to-day operations of the facilities, tracking and reporting on items such as worker injuries or exceedances of emissions limit. These are your problem solvers, carrying out the strategy of the VP or Director and keeping track of failures and successes. EHS Managers must understand how legal requirements apply to the real world (e.g. what technology is required to curb emissions? what are the permit limits and how to we ensure that we stay within them?).

    Your EHS Managers should be: technologically savvy (e.g. use of EHS software), responsive to change, collaborative and observant.

  • Technical Staff: The staff that works for the EHS Manager is like the offensive or defensive line. They are your core players strengthening operations, producing your product and—at times—working longer hours to get the job done. These are also the people who do quality assurance/quality control for products, carry out processes and strategy set by others in the company and serve as the eyes and ears of the company when it comes to compliance. EHS Managers should keep an open mind when their technical staff raise issues, problems or suggestions for improvement because, simply put, they are the ones doing the tasks that ensure compliance. In addition, EHS Managers need to equip their staff with the right personal protective equipment to do their job safely.

    Your technical staff should be: hardworking, diligent, calm under pressure, confident and motivated.

These are just examples of different roles on your team. Depending upon how large your team is, you may have one person playing multiple roles. Regardless, the best way to succeed is to make sure that your team works in harmony. Football coaches design elaborate formations in order to get to their end goal. EHS teams should have a formation that leads to one centralized view on compliance, consistent and accurate reporting and a strategic approach for continually improving processes. We can call it the “EHS Success” formation, one that ensures that your company is doing all it can to meet and (hopefully) exceed compliance obligations.

Therefore, the next time that you are looking to add to your EHS team, think about who you are hiring and whether you need a quarterback, wide receiver or a defensive lineman to create a winning team.