In 2019, I was honored with the Pulp and Paper Safety Association (PPSA) Executive Eagle Award and for that I’d like to thank the PPSA Board of Directors and the Awards Committee. I’ve been asked to share my philosophies on safety for this article, so here is my challenge: Where to begin and how do I explain that to a vast and diverse audience?
From my eager beginning as an intern, a safety philosophy seed was planted and has since sprouted and grown in me to what it is today in my leadership responsibilities as the director of operations for Paper NA, Sonoco Products Company.
Setting the Stage…
I recall the first conversation during my initial interview at Sonoco and how the topic of safety consumed a majority of the conversation. The questions and replies introduced the importance of not just setting, following, and enforcing safety rules, but also the impact safety has on employees and day-to-day operations. This focus emphasized how I, as a leader, would need to be engaged on a daily basis in the process and with employees so that we could safely make a product and send our employees home safe.
One of my first assignments at Sonoco was at the Newport, TN, paper mill. I was given the task of assessing and providing feedback, as well as my personal observations on the crew’s work habits, safety processes, and safety systems. The mill manager met with me, explained the assignment, and scheduled regular meetings to discuss my findings.
As the assignment progressed, I began to see that the value derived wasn’t only to gather knowledge for the mill or the mill manager—the point was for me to learn not just the safety process, but how people manage their job activities in line with the safety process. My observations were meant to show me how, as a leader, I could impact that interaction and direct activities in such a way as to get the job done safely.
Looking back, the experience I gained during that assignment exposed me to the most important, fundamental foundation at Sonoco: the safety and security of co-workers, friends, family, and loved ones. That first assignment set the stage for me throughout my career as a leader in the safety arena.
…and Setting a Standard
As a leader, my philosophy is not complicated. I believe that our employees are our most valuable resource. I believe that working safely is a condition of employment. We are committed to providing a safe work environment. Compliance with laws and regulations is the minimum standard; we should always strive to set the bar higher and be better. Employees’ opinions matter and we should listen to them. As a leader, you must set the standard and have a foundation on which to build from.
I was given a great opportunity to build the foundation on which I stand today. A philosophy is just a philosophy without action. I encourage and challenge each and every one of you reading this article to ask yourself: Am I truly leading the safety effort and how can I continue to be a better leader?
I especially encourage young, up-and-coming leaders to take advantage of every opportunity to learn. In the safety business, human beings are the main ingredient. We must continually nurture our relationships so that our philosophy and expectations are clear and concise—without ambiguity. When your philosophy becomes the culture, that is when you will harvest the fruits of your labor. You will rest assured that when upset conditions, problems, and difficulties arise, you’ll have confidence that your employees will make the right decisions—even if no one is watching.
Steve Glenn is the director of operations, Paper NA, at Sonoco Products Company. He was awarded PPSA’s highest honor, the Executive Eagle Award, at the 2019 Annual Health and Safety Conference in San Antonio, TX. The 2020 Conference will be held June 14 – 17 at The Renaissance Orlando at Seaworld. Visit ppsa.org for details.