NSCA Foundation

Dr Kirstin Ferguson: future of leadership


Monday, 30 March, 2020



Dr Kirstin Ferguson: future of leadership

How can aspiring safety leaders build a positive health and safety culture in the workplace in 2020? Can health and safety executives build a culture that meets the needs of a diverse workforce, evolving cultural norms and emerging technologies? The NSCA Foundation’s inaugural Future of Work: People, Safety, Culture conference will answer these questions and more. Dr Kirstin Ferguson will be a keynote speaker, addressing the skills every health and safety leader needs to motivate others in the workplace, ASHNA MEHTA reports.

Future of Work will feature notable industry leaders and speakers addressing a range of topics pertaining to the future of workplace health and safety (WHS). In her keynote, ‘Developing a Safety Governance Framework’, Dr Kirstin Ferguson, Deputy Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, will be combining her leadership experience with her academic research to discuss the skills needed to inspire and engage others in the workplace. Dr Ferguson’s keynote will also address the importance of emotional intelligence in building trust and credibility, thereby creating a safer workplace. Dr Ferguson holds a PhD in safety governance and safety leadership, and received the Queensland University of Technology Colin Brain Governance Fellowship and the Dr Eric Wigglesworth Medal from the Safety Institute of Australia, for her contributions to the fields of corporate governance and WHS, respectively.

Dr Ferguson began her career in safety leadership at a global health and safety consultancy that offered cognitive-based safety training to hazardous industries, and has written extensively about safety governance and leadership in a range of publications, including National Safety and OHS Professional. The NSCA Foundation strives to help health and safety executives (HSE) develop the skills to improve WHS standards beyond those established by safety legislation. This goal is achieved through events such as Future of Work, as it provides an opportunity for industry leaders to share their experiences and meet like-minded people from a range of industries. “Events like the Future of Work conference challenge the ways we do things and allow us to meet and share with colleagues from different industries who will broaden our knowledge in so many ways,” Dr Ferguson said.

Leaders play a vital role in managing safety in the workplace; by placing high importance on workplace safety, employers can motivate workers to follow safety procedures and raise safety issues. The ‘Key WHS Statistics 2019’ report from Safe Work Australia reveals that, despite the considerable strides made towards WHS over the last century, an alarming number of fatalities and injuries are still occurring across Australia. From 2017–2018, 563,600 people suffered a work-related injury or illness, while 144 workers lost their lives. The report revealed that machinery operators and drivers reported more fatalities (51) than any other industry in 2017–2018, with labourers (36 fatalities) and technicians and trade workers (27 fatalities) following close behind. The report also revealed that 75% of workplace fatalities from 2017–2018 occurred in the ‘transport, postal and warehousing/agriculture’, ‘forestry and fishing’, and ‘construction and mining’ sectors, indicating that more care needs to be taken by leaders in these sectors to prevent similar incidents in the future.

For safety professionals to implement effective strategies to maintain WHS, they must develop a deeper understanding of their industry. Future of Work will allow attendees to hear from speakers who are leaders in the field of people, safety, health and culture. These events can help HSE leaders understand and develop strategies for upholding health and safety standards, and share them with board members. This can be challenging, as HSE leaders must engage and involve workers in decisions to promote a culture of collaboration in the workplace, while communicating the tone of safety leadership set by board members to workers. “Frequently the health and safety profession find themselves primarily focused, as examples, on collating and analysing incident data, overseeing safety investigations, ensuring timely close out of corrective actions or conducting safety observations. For those health and safety professionals, the administration of health and safety can often make it challenging to find the time and space needed to add value to the senior executive team and board at a more strategic level,” Dr Ferguson said.

Future of Work will address the challenges faced by HSE leaders in establishing a positive health and safety culture, with Dr Ferguson delivering a keynote address. The keynote will help safety professionals develop an understanding of what it takes to become effective HSE leaders. “Health and safety professionals are the thought leaders in their businesses for their areas of expertise and ensuring they are effective leaders themselves will help drive and influence change. In my experience, the health and safety profession generously thinks about how they can enable the leadership of others to improve safety outcomes but are often forgotten in terms of being supported to become the best leaders they can be as well,” Dr Ferguson said. To become effective health and safety leaders, safety professionals must have technical expertise and be able to develop strong relationships across the organisation. By communicating effectively to workers and board members alike, safety professionals can fully appreciate their impact on the health and safety culture of the workplace.

Safety professionals looking to advance their careers would also benefit from attending the Future of Work conference, as it features a range of seminars about driving a positive safety culture, and improving safety culture through collaboration with workers and board members alike. Dr Ferguson’s keynote will also address how the health and safety profession can develop credibility with their organisations, so they can effectively lead and drive change. “One way for health and safety professionals [to] understand how they can best add value is [to] put themselves in the shoes of their CEO or the board and ask themselves what information would they want to hear from the internal expert in this field during each interaction?” Dr Ferguson said. Moreover, safety professionals can also contribute to their organisations by understanding the strategic context behind their role, and by understanding the broader industry in which their organisation operates.

Dr Ferguson’s research into safety governance has identified four key leadership criteria for board members: vision, personal commitment, decision-making and transparency. When used together, all four criteria can help safety professionals and board members alike build a health and safety culture that considers the needs of a diverse workforce, evolving cultural norms and emerging technologies. Safety professionals occupy a unique place in an organisation, as they are able to educate board members who do not have operational experience in safety management, while communicating relevant WHS decisions to workers. Attending events such as Future of Work enables safety professionals to share experiences with experts and practitioners from a range of industries. “Attending and speaking at conferences or events, networking with industry colleagues outside of your organisation or developing an online professional profile so you can engage with health and safety colleagues around the world will all help to raise [your] profile so that further professional development opportunities may be offered,” Dr Ferguson said. Networking and interacting with health and safety professionals from all over the country at Future of Work can help further professional development opportunities for HSE leaders. “It will be an incredibly valuable opportunity to learn more about yourself and your profession,” Dr Ferguson said.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson will be drawing on her expertise in the fields of safety governance and safety leadership for her role as a Keynote Speaker at Future of Work: People, Safety, Culture, an NSCA Foundation conference being held 24–25 June 2020 at the Hilton Brisbane.

Ashna Mehta is Editorial Assistant of National Safety.

NSCA Foundation is a member based, non-profit organisation working together with members to improve workplace health and safety throughout Australia. For more information and membership details click here
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