It has been interesting in the last few weeks how many times I have had to recount how I chose the safety field (or how the safety field chose me). I owe so much to have great mentors early in my career. At one point, I was able to host a summer intern and have had various positions where I had the distinct honor of leading others. All this has really got me thinking about what makes a great safety mentor. Now I am not saying that I am the living embodiment of a great mentor. What I do have is perspective and lots of time to reflect on the moments that helped shape me (both good and bad). I also have a desire to be a great safety mentor. It is important that those of us with experience and perspective help guide and coach those that are new to the profession.
The first principle that I find important for a great safety mentor is to be available. Taking on an intern or hiring someone into an organization that has little experience is not a decision to be taken lightly. They are coming to your organization in hopes of gaining experience that will help them find that permanent job or grow in the position they are in. For that dynamic to be successful, it takes time. I have heard the stories of interns going to a position and day one they are told to perform a mundane task such as inventory the chemicals and reconcile the SDS. The intern then sees their supervisor again on the last day, and then it is over. Granted, the life of a safety person is not all glitz and glamor. We do have to maintain those SDS and any help is always appreciated.
The idea is that there should be time set aside regularly to talk about progress, what the person is observing, who they are meeting, what are their questions, what are some goals they have, and so on. As a mentor, honor that open-door policy. Encourage them to come by and chat. One of the most important factors that I found made a profound impact was how my mentors never turned me away and never made me feel I was an inconvenience. If I had a question, they were there. I remember not only asking job-specific questions but safety career questions. I was not a traditional safety student. I was learning on the job and being able to hear about experiences and ideas from someone who had lived it was so valuable.
One of my processes as a supervisor was to do my best to be available. If someone needed to call me at 2am, so be it. I wanted to be available. If I was in my office, I wanted them to come to see me. It is amazing the influence that we can make when we are simply open and available. To let our team know that there is someone who will be there to listen, care, and act where appropriate. Can we fix it all? Nope! We can, though, be available to have the experience with our team and that is how we embody empathy.