There are two things we all crave: recognition and working with nice people. When we gather a team and find that perfect mix, we love going to work and love those we work with. George Tolbert of Liberty Mutual once said, "We are too reluctant to acknowledge we love those we work with."
As an aging safety professional, my focus is on the next generation of experts. This article provides a few examples of that next generation (my thanks) and tips to recognize and acknowledge those around us who are often overlooked—those doing great work each day.
During a recent call, a team was going through all the work needed to close out 2021. From determining plans for 2022 and staffing needs to specific breakdowns for the next few months on what they hoped to accomplish, everyone discussed what they wanted to get done. I added that my first goal was to thank everyone for what we had done.
Thank Those Who Matter
There is no better time to thank those we work with than the Christmas holidays, so first, a few examples of my own recognizing the next generation of safety professionals.
While working on a tunnel project in California, I got the call from Andrew Leone, who was studying safety at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His request was for a summer internship. Andrew came out and spent some hard months with me on a tunnel project supported by the US Department of Energy. It was my first experience with a world-class safety program and a great opportunity for Mr. Leone to learn what "right" looked like in construction safety. A professional from his first day, we brought Mr. Leone back to California full-time, and he remains the top safety professional in the area for Turner. We spoke this week, and I still love the guy.
Jen Wycisk was a project engineer working on a semiconductor plant in Silicon Valley. She had expressed an interest in safety and was transitioned to our safety team. What was discovered was her gift of working with the trades and her leadership. With a slight understanding of Spanish and a strong love for people, she soon became one of the leads in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I moved along a few years later to cover the Northeast, Ms. Wycisk stepped into the position. She soon took the role as the corporate safety director for Webcor and now holds a similar position with Truebeck Construction, overseeing California and Oregon. Her claim to fame is the first Ladders Last project in California and, on that very complex project, not one recordable injury. As shown (see photo), construction safety is a small world. You learn that quickly.
Prachi Gaude is one of my favorite examples of youth with vision, youth with passion, and keeping promises. I was manning a booth at a career fair at the University of Buffalo. Ms. Gaude approached me, and her first words were, "Hello, sir, I am Prachi Gaude, and I want to work for Turner." She had done her homework and was very familiar with the firm … and me. We chatted, and I suggested that she graduate and get some experience in the safety field, and I would bring her aboard.
Several years later, I was driving down from Sacramento near the Ghost Harbor, and I saw a call come in from Buffalo. I pulled over soon and returned the call. It was Ms. Gaude asking for a position. She had spent some tough years working for a demolition company and was now ready for Turner. And we brought her aboard. Many years later, she is now a project manager for one of the largest social networks in the world. A project manager steeped in safety: the perfect mix. We met for lunch a year or two ago, and I miss her. Only a few safety professionals I have met could be described as strong and sweet, and that's Ms. Gaude.
I was introduced to Raghuvaran "Raghu" Chakkravarthy by Carol Fried, easily the best boss I ever had. Mr. Chakkravarthy is an international safety director for Gilbane Federal and has worked in some pretty hot, dangerous, dusty, and rough country. We touched base and soon became brothers. My best friend today still.
Often hard to understand (he gets so excited when he speaks passionately), he has a grasp of people and construction that few others have. With a family in India, working out of the Mideast, he oversees some incredible projects while, in most cases, they run injury-free for millions of hours. I know … I have the cool T-shirts. And he has saved lives. When a crane arrived on his project, inspected by a third party, he put on his gear and inspected it himself and found a critical error in its assembly. Working with people speaking over seven languages, he has found a visual approach to safety that is being copied here in the United States. His approach to working with the workers and showing them what right and wrong look like—that is his superpower.
To sum up, the construction industry as a whole needs to either start or strengthen how they recognize those that do a great job every day. Following are a few tips to share that work very well, cost very little, and mean so much to others.
Remember Those on the Outskirts of Your Team
During National Safety Week, I was at a gathering of 600 workers. Aside from vendor giveaways and a free barbecue, long sleeve T-shirts were handed out; I grabbed one. When I went over to drop the shirt in my car, I noticed a guy vacuuming out the port-a-lets. Stopping over to meet him, I found he was a young man from Yemen. We chatted, and I felt the pride he had for the work he did—cleaning toilets. Think that over a bit.
I asked how long he had been on the project and found out he was one of the first on the site. I asked if he had been invited to the celebration. He had not. I gave him my shirt. From there, I got his name and the name of his boss and called his shop. I then found out that he was one of the most loved guys in the company, and most of the customers asked that only he service their toilets. The boss promised to recognize him when he returned to the shop. A few months later, as I walked the same site, he ran up to me to say thanks; I never felt so good. Look for these good people on the margins of your project and thank them too.
Certificates to Their Home
If you're a parent, you know refrigerators are for storing food but most important as a flat, vertical surface to post your child's accomplishments in school. I believe the most powerful motivator is being recognized by a peer or a leader; it is for me. That acknowledgment helps each of us confirm we are doing something well, driving up our confidence and our happiness.
This year, our clients safety professionals truly stood out as advocates for our teams and as sounding boards for how we can do better. Individual certificates were printed, nice wood frames (not plastic frames) were used, and they were wrapped for Christmas and sent to their homes. As I type this, these "gifts" are nestled under a Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas morning. Consider the pride they will feel as they open these simple recognitions in front of those they love. Again, a simple acknowledgment from others that someone's mom and dad are loved at work and at home.
Shirts Off Your Back
If you're a safety manager, you have access to all the gloves, safety glasses, and safety vests you want. Those doing the work often don't. So, here's a simple tip but a powerful one: give away your stuff.
I was walking a site in the Mideast and noticed a worker struggling with a concrete form. His safety vest had been torn and faded. As we spoke to the area interpreter, I noted he was looking at my vest. I emptied my pockets and went over, took off my nice vest, and reached out for his. We swapped, I put on his for the rest of the day, and two things happened. First, that fellow understood safety managers were not all bad, and the following day, a lot of guys were wearing crisp new vests. A good safety manager will carry an extra set of safety glasses or gloves as they walk. If you spot someone who forgot their gloves or theirs are too worn to wear, make their day a bit easier and share. They say when you do one good thing for others, 11 people will hear about it. That's a superpower we often forget.
Too often, I forget to take a photo of a team when leaving a project. For example, on an overseas project, I spotted a group of workers putting together rebar mats on stands so that they did not need to stoop over all day tying on the ground. Most were from Pakistan or India, and none spoke any English. As we looked over their immaculate work area, I recognized professionals.
I asked the interpreter if we could stop the work for a group photo, and we did. I thanked the guys for their professionalism and promised to send along copies of the photos as soon as I could. But I also explained I would be sending two prints to each and asked them to promise to send the extra print home to their family "to those who miss you." As I was leaving (with Mr. Chakkravarthy), one of the Indian workers stopped us. He said the group wanted to know if I would autograph the photos before sending them. Pride is a superpower we must embrace often.
A group photo of several hundred workers at a safety gathering is nice, but the opportunity to grab a shot for a smaller group is important for three reasons.
The individuals understand they are seen as a team. That's a powerful idea in any setting. As they assemble for a photo and look around to see who is missing, that confirms their strength, for they understand they are not a complete set until everyone participates. That's cool.
We love the idea that we are or were part of something big. A group photo of those who we loved to work with and helped accomplished something will be treasured long after that worker or supervisor has taken another role at another firm.
Taking a group photo as you leave a project confirms those you worked with or met were important to you as a leader. Think about that for a bit.
This column reads more like a blog than an expert's opinion piece. As a middle-aged, gray-haired safety manager, I recognize this style of writing is likely more palatable for the next generation of safety professionals. My goal is to share what I know works in construction, to thank those doing great work, and to provide some ideas to motivate and acknowledge the individuals and teams we work with. A savvy reader will recognize I used the word "love" many times in this column. I hope that message sticks.
Please take a minute today or the next time you visit a site to focus on the people—not the project. We routinely form "focused inspections" on electrical cords or people not wearing their safety glasses. That's easy. The next time you head out with your checklist, ignore the housekeeping or guys not wearing their gloves and instead meet with the teams, listen, take a few photos, and make the time to say thank you.
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