Qualities of an Excellent OHS Professional

Qualities of an Excellent OHS Professional

A classic by the late George Robotham – with a little help from me.

George - guidance book coverWe were originally going to call it the “Perfect Safety Professional” but decided that “perfect” wasn’t the right word as perfection could never be defined or achieved. If you were perfect then you wouldn’t be quite real as it is our imperfections that give us character. Perfect in one environment may be totally useless in another. If you don’t want to read any further because you think that you are already excellent, then guess what – you’re not! so you should read on, for the key to excellence is continual improvement:

I do not generally refer to people who work in OHS as professionals, as being a professional implies application of a unique body of knowledge, I do not believe that a defined, unique body of knowledge yet exists in the OS side of OHS in Australia. When I did my tertiary study in Management of Organisational Change and Adult & Workplace Education I was surprised how robust the body of knowledge is in comparison with safety.

Defining the core body of OHS knowledge will make an enormous contribution to safety in Australia, if only a cursory approach is taken it will be regarded as a de facto standard and mislead badly.

Skills of the excellent OHS professional

  • Interpersonal skills – Techniques such as reflective listening and appropriate self-disclosure can make a real difference. If you cannot get on well with people your technical OHS skills will go to waste.
  • Communications skills – The biggest and commonest mistake is written communications that rave on to many pages, succinct written communications is the way to go. Not much use having a great message if you cannot get it across.
  • Leadership – Some people say leaders are born, not made, I do not know about this but do know learning programs can enhance leadership abilities. The number 1 job of a leader is to transmit and embed high value standards. In modern business shared leadership is of more relevance than individual leadership.
  • Get your priorities right – Recognise safety never has been and never will be the number one priority (you can say it all you want but is it – really?), safety must be fully integrated into other business functions with equal priority for all are interdependent and none can thrive without the other.
  • Humility – Be humble and recognise the knowledge and worth of the front line worker, they are the only ones who know how things really happen
  • Broad thinking – Think outside the square and challenge the status-quo
  • Legislation – Recognise that while compliance with legislation is important it is only a minimum standard
  • Pareto Principle – Remember the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule, identify the 20% of things you do that give you 80% of your results and concentrate on them
  • A commitment to a continuous improvement philosophy and ability to implement Quality Management.
  • Change management – OHS management is all about change management and generic skills can be learnt.
  • OHS technical skills – Tertiary training is important but practical experience and critical reflection on practice is vital. Practical experience not only in safety but in management and getting your hands dirty
  • Auditing – Well developed auditing questions are the important first step.
  • Project management – OHS lends itself very well to a project management approach for major change.
  • Learning – Avoid the lecture, use Adult Learning Principles & Process and promote interactive approaches and avoid “Death by Power-Point”
  • Team-building skills – These essential skills can be learnt
  • Time management skills – Relatively easy to learn this
  • Sharing – “People support what they create” Not involving the workforce in decisions about OHS change is the road to disaster.
  • Well developed bull-dust detector!

OHS Technical skills


Facilitating learning

Interpretation of legislation

Safety leadership

Personal damage occurrence investigation

Undertaking safety research

Development and implementation of Safety Management Systems

Development and implementation of Safety Management Plans

Management of workers compensation and rehabilitation

Risk management

Industrial hygiene sampling

Managing safety responsibilities and accountabilities

Measurement, recording and reporting

Fire safety

Using job safety analysis to develop safe working procedures

Management of safety committees and health & safety reps.

Safety inspections

Contractor safety management

Provide advice and training on personal protective equipment

Some people see first-aid as part of the role, if one is not careful this can be a distraction from the main task


A commitment to continuously learn in your speciality and related fields is vital

One thought on “Qualities of an Excellent OHS Professional

  1. Hi There,

    I am a OHS diploma student in Canada. I would like to know after successfully graduating with co-op practice experiences, can I apply for OHS Advisor jobs or any OHS positions in Australia? I know that the knowledge of the local legislation required. However, is there anything else that I should done before applying?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.