What differentiates a good WHS consultant from a great one? What skill-set can ensure that clients refer you to others? What does it take to get repeat work without having to seek it out?
What is good consulting?
Consulting is often defined as ‘giving advice’ but giving good advice well takes more than just having good advice to offer. In their book ‘The Trusted Advisor’ Maister, Green and Galford state:
“The key to professional success is not just technical mastery of one’s discipline (which is…essential), but also the ability to work with clients in such a way as to earn their trust and gain their confidence.”
There are many lists on the Internet regarding the ‘Top Eight’ or the ‘Top Ten’ that a consultant needs, (two of which are hyperlinked in this article), but from my experience in working in the industry with many different WHS consultants, I believe you only need four ingredients to become a great WHS Consultant which will ensure longevity in the profession:
The Top Four Skills of every Great WHS Consultant
1. Be Trustworthy
A great WHS Consultant should always show the greatest integrity, do whatever they say they will do, complete what they say they will complete and do it in the time they said they would. Building trust with a client takes time and to progress from ‘new friends’ to a depth of collegiate trust means getting those basics right. Be confident and professional in every respect but leave your ego at the door. This makes the client feel at ease, believing and trusting that you are interested in solving their problems. The founding principles of rapport-building, along with a good work ethic, will set you up forever for referrals and repeat business. A good start for any new consulting work is to listen to the client, (not tell them what you think they need), develop a draft of recommendations and review them with the client, then act on delivery with the end date being 2-3 weeks.
Then on to the next project! Some WHS projects may need more time, of course, but this is an excellent framework to build your WHS projects on, keeping chunks of work scheduled for feedback and/or delivery in 2-3 week cycles.
2. Be a People Person
If you prefer the company of your laptop or your new iPhone more than getting out and meeting new people, then it would be hard to consider becoming a WHS Consultant. Working with clients, working alongside new people, becoming their ‘expert WHS friend’ takes constant energy, drive and effort. This is made so much easier if you enjoy being with people in the first place – clients can always tell whether someone genuinely enjoys their company, and it makes for better business!
3. Be Persistent and Resilient
WHS Consultants aren’t hired when everything is rosy – it can be thankless work. Most likely you will encounter safety cultures with “tough nut” inhabitants who will not understand why you’ve been hired in the first place and who are resistant to change. Being able to persist even when the project seems doomed, being able to motivate the team and being able to assist the client in seeing the value of the end product which they have initiated is a skill. In the hard times, remember that we learn and grow so much from mistakes and when the going gets tough, the tough go cold calling! Now that builds resilience where no other experience can!
4. Know Your Content
Great consultants in any field are experts in their trade and they should never stop learning. It is a given that consultants should have several years of experience in their chosen field (ten or more years as a rule of thumb), along with practical and in-depth knowledge of their subject matter. In Work Health and Safety, that means knowing the WHS Legislation, the Regulations and the Codes of Practice for the states, territories and countries the consultant will be working in. A university degree in WHS, Health (such as Occupational Hygiene or Ergonomics) or Risk are widely recommended. Having a wealth of experience as a WHS professional, along with solid IT and technical skills, are very important capabilities for dealing with multi-faceted clients and businesses as it means that the WHS Consultant has more to offer the client. A tertiary qualification in another professional field, such as Project Management, could also stand you in good stead, particularly at executive level.
For more reading on what makes a Top Consultant in WHS, I would definitely recommend ‘The Trusted Advisor’ by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert M. Galford. This book, which I’ve mentioned earlier, was recommended to me by one of the best WHS Consultants in the business. I have read it so often and highlighted it and dog-eared it so much that it is falling apart. It is the ‘must have’ book for every WHS Consultant who not only wants to be good at their profession, but great!
Let me know what your thoughts are, by sharing this article!
Gaynor Renz, WHSE Compliance and Risk Expert, WorkPac/BHP
Gaynor has a strong background in WHS, Risk and Compliance, with many years in mining, construction, fabrication and utilities (electricity) and prior to that, a solid background in compliance and leadership positions in the education and training sector. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Education, Diploma in Work Health and Safety, Cert IV in WHS and Training and Assessment and a Graduate Diploma in Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) completed with Dr Rob Long in Canberra. She continues to study SPoR in Master Classes held by the Centre for Leadership and Learning and Risk (CLLR). Currently she is working in multi-million dollar mining projects as a WHS and Risk Consultant.
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