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5 Leadership Skills Every EHS Professional Should Have

During the pandemic, EHS professionals have been fast-tracked into a much more prominent leadership role within their organizations.  

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That's a good thing, but it also means more responsibility and a new set of challenges. Let’s take a look at some of the skills EHS professionals are going to need in order to step into their new role with confidence. 

Top 5 Leadership Skills 

Here are 5 leadership skills every EHS professional should have: 

  1. Communication
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Decision-making
  5. Delegation

1. Communication

EHS leaders must have strong communication skills in order to convey messages to executives, EHS team members, and employees. You must be able to accurately convey what you want your team to do, when it comes to both short-term and long-term tasks. Strong communications skills allow you to express your ideas clearly to motivate staff and promote strategic alignment. You’ll also need these skills in order to produce presentations and reports, such as ESG reports

How to improve your communication skills:

  • Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Not everyone in your organization will be familiar with EHS terminology, so it’s best to use simple language that everyone understands. 
  • Check for understanding. A common reason people don’t carry out your request is because they don’t understand the directions. Checking for understanding can help avoid miscommunications. 
  • Remember that communication is a two-way street. Effective listening is just as important as speaking.

2. Strategic thinking

Being a good leader means being able step outside the day-to-day and look at the big picture, whether that’s your overall sustainability strategy or your safety program. Strategic thinking involves the ability to analyze trends and patterns and see how things are connected. It also means thinking about how your work ties into the organization’s overall goals and mission; for example, how your ESG initiatives affect the organization’s financial performance. 

How to develop strategic thinking skills:

  • Ask big picture questions. Questions like, "How does this fit into our overall strategy?" and "What is the long-term impact?" will help you focus on the big idea instead of getting hung up on the details.
  • Acknowledge that there's often more than one right way to do things. When you adopt this perspective, you open up a world of possibilities.
  • Look up. It might sound silly, but experts suggest that physically looking up can help you to focus on the big picture, while looking down keeps you focused on the details. 

3. Problem-solving

Leadership requires you to constantly manage the problems that come your way. Strong problem-solving skills enable you to quickly identify issues and come up with potential solutions. Additionally, they allow you to think creatively to come up with multiple different solutions and discern the most effective one. Finally, problem-solving skills help you to reflect on why the problem occurred in the first place and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Some practical ways to develop problem solving skills:

  • Practice coming up with at least five possible solutions for each new problem before you make a decision. This will get you used to flexing your problem-solving muscles.
  • Play games and do puzzles. Playing chess or Sodoku is a great way to practice problem-solving skills like creative thinking, analysis, and pattern recognition.
  • Brainstorm with your team. Each person brings a unique perspective, and if you work together, you'll be able to generate more creative and innovative solutions than you would on your own.

4. Decision-making

Problem-solving skills go hand-in-hand with decision-making skills. In order to lead your team effectively, EHS leaders need to be decisive. This is especially critical in the event of an accident or unplanned event. You have to be able to quickly evaluate your options and make a decision. You also have to be confident in your decision-making skills and ability to rise to challenges. 

To hone your decision-making skills:

  • Familiarize yourself with decision-making tools like SWOT diagrams, Pareto analysis, and decision maps. These tools help simplify decision-making by giving you a framework to evaluate information and make a decision.
  • Set a timer. If you're someone who can endlessly agonize over your options, set a timer and when the time's up, make the best choice and move on.
  • Remember that no decision is usually the worst decision. Even though it might seem like the easy way out, indecision often carries unforeseen consequences and opportunity costs.

5. Delegation

One of the biggest shifts from "employee" to "leader" has to do with delegation. Contrary to popular belief, delegating isn't about pawning work off on your subordinates. Rather, it's about empowering your team to do their best work. To delegate effectively, you must give clear guidelines on how to successfully complete the task and check in periodically to monitor progress. At the same time, you need to be able to relinquish control and trust your team to get work done without your direct supervision.

If you want to get better at delegating: 

  • Start small. If delegating is difficult for you, start by handing off small tasks. This will help you get used to the idea of delegation and improve trust in your team.
  • Get to know your team members' individual strengths. Delegation works best when everyone on your team is utilizing their unique skill set and talents.
  • Don't overload your top performers. It's easy to keep handing work to those employees you can always count on to get work done on tight deadlines without complaining. This is a mistake that can cause your best employees to get burned out and quit. A centralized calendar will help you keep track of who has too much on their plate and delegate tasks effectively

Communication, strategic thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and delegation are among the most important leadership skills for EHS professionals today. By following the tips above, you’ll be in a much better position to lead your team and guide your organization’s strategy effectively. For more tips like these, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

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