Zealots – A Cause For Concern?

Zealots – A Cause For Concern? Classic post by the late George Robotham 


After many years involvement in OHS I have found I handle the technical issues fairly well but often fall down on the people issues. Over recent times I have developed the belief people in OHS roles should receive education in psychology so they can better understand and manage themselves and those they interact with. I was lining up for a Graduate Diploma in Psychology but recently have been looking at Dr. Robert Long’s post graduate Risk offerings.

Zealot: An immoderate or zealous adherent to a cause, a fanatical commitment

Examples of zealots : During my time I have been unfortunate enough to have been associated with a number of zealots. These people have popped up in OHS, religion, politics, environment, quality and management. They appear to think they have the God-given right to tell me where I am going wrong and insist that their way of doing things is the only way forward.

I do some adventure based training with at risk youth and one night in the bush a group of adult helpers were sitting around the camp fire after we put the boys to bed. I poured myself a scotch and dry from the esky in the back of my 4wd. One bloke decided to give me a lecture on where I was going wrong by drinking grog, I was not amused.

I did some university study in Environment Management and during introductions told my fellow students I had worked for mining companies for 20 years. It was like a wall of hatred descended on me from my fellow students.

Sometimes one’s reaction to zealots can have adverse effects. I once missed out on an almost certain night of passion because I voted for the wrong political party.

Zero harm approaches to safety sees some zealots, personally zero harm does little for me.

With one manager we used to say it is my way or the highway! Another manager vigorously imposed his way of doing things on his team in an overbearing manner. That only worked when he was around and people found ways to sabotage him when he was not around.

Lessons learnt

Let me say I adopt a continuous improvement philosophy to most things I do and am always on the lookout for ways to improve. I am also a believer in being balanced and flexible and find extreme views unhelpful.

Many of the zealots are quite arrogant but their saving grace is that they are often well intentioned and genuinely trying to help. People are different and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. I have learnt to keep an open mind with zealots, there may be occasions when they have special skills, knowledge and experience to add to the mix that is not readily available elsewhere.


Some of the zealots waft into academic and theoretical approaches. I take the pragmatic approach that what matters if what your people will do a 2am when it is pissing down rain and there is no supervisor around.

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