Reflections by Steve Taw
I write this piece with a hint of sadness knowing that it will be my last contribution as a board member.
I take some comfort as a look back over the many years that I have been involved with the Charter (not that I am leaving the Charter in its entirety) and can see how the Charter has evolved as a result of the changing needs of not only the construction industry, but as a supporter and influencer of health and safety practices and approaches over a number of symbiotic industries.
Starting from a need to combine our collective resources and thinking as a result of the Christchurch Earthquakes, the Charter now finds itself as a leader in BIM development, supporting and mentoring of people whose core function is in the health and safety space and ongoing support to those people and organisations who have a genuine interest in health and safety development of their organisations. No matter which angles you look at it from, it always comes back to people and the admirable quality of ‘caring for others’.
We all know that this ‘caring for others’ approach makes for some robust and sometimes difficult conversations when we add external and internal influences into our thinking, but this should not deter us from remembering ‘why’ we commit the time to think about safety.
A number of years ago I had the absolute pleasure of listening to a presentation from a gentleman by the name of Harold Hillman, not once but twice.
Harold’s real-life experience shared with hundreds of people was, in itself, a true reflection of the ethos of ‘being true to yourself’. Being true to yourself is a philosophy of being honest about who you are, what you stand for and what is important to you.
Harold’s story started as a young African American boy who started life in the American armed forces, was married and had children while he progressively worked his way through the ranks to become a higher-ranking officer. For many years Harold suppressed his true identity in that he was gay, he openly admitted that he locked this away for so many years that even his family were unaware of this, and so when he was handpicked to sit on a panel set up to reject submissions to allow gay people being allowed into the armed services, even to the point where a bowl of fruit was placed on the table where the people submitting the proposals were sitting, Harold found himself in a position where he realised that he was not being authentic or true to himself, his family or those around him. Harold described how his world came crashing down as he found himself conflicted with what he knew in his heart of hearts (that he was gay) and here he was being expected to provide objections to a pre-prescribed outcome, which was being ordered by the General in charge of the panel. Harold also described how frustrated and upset he was that he had not been true to himself, and how that had a long-term effect on him personally, simply because he was not honest about himself to others, but more importantly, how he was untruthful to himself.
‘So what does this mean for me’ you might ask. Don’t worry, I am not suggesting that you need to rethink your sexuality or whether you align with any gender, I am suggesting that you remember and are always conscious of who you are, what drives you, why things are important to you and why you have an enduring belief in what you do. Be your true self, in your personal life and your work life.
Ask yourself this simple question, are you the same person at home as you are at work? Why is there a difference? Should there be a difference? Is it just a case of hiding who you really are or are you comfortable in your own skin? Being true to oneself is about authentic leadership and true leadership is not about power or dictatorship, it is what makes people freely do the things that you ask them to do, uniting us all in a common goal.
A health & safety way of thinking is not always going to be popular. I have seen the eye rolls when I even mention it in some forums and some people have even gone to the extent of arguing about why this doesn’t apply to them. Whatever the situation, be true to yourself, don’t let others sometimes poorly construed and short-sighted approaches (which are mostly self-serving) have a detrimental effect on what you hold dear, that being the safety and wellbeing of both yourselves and others.
One thing that has not changed in all the time that I have been in the industry is that we are people leaders and managers. Sometimes we need to let others find their own path, with guidance and ongoing communication, we will collectively achieve greater outcomes. We must continue to clearly outline our expectations, these are the rules of the game, that doesn’t mean that we can change the way in which we play.
I have spoken before about process and the concern that I have about generic types of documents that are pathways to compliance, not pathways to better health and safety culture. I urge you all to remember why you are on this journey and why you play this game, it’s about enjoyment, getting better at what you do and enjoying the human need of community. Remember, be your true self, there is no practice run for the journey you are on.
Wishing you all the best, hope to see you at future events and thank you for supporting the Charter in its future endeavours. I have enjoyed my time immensely on the board, not just for what it set out to do or what it stands for but also for the people involved with it.