Three major challenges for HSEQ Management and leadership

HSE and quality management has traditionally been subjected to misconduct which have contributed to problems in achieving desired standardization and continuous improvements. In the following, three major challenges to such problems will be examined.

Strategy and leadership

Strategy traditionally addresses an organization’s commercial interests and aims at providing an organization a unique market position. In short, such a positioning requires to opt out what the organization does not want to be associated with, does not want to be and further ensures that all activities across the organization complements each other in accordance with the organization’s values, mission and vision.

Consequently, it is often seen that strategy can initiate rather large changes to an organization’s processes, the organization and even the business model which in many cases would be normal and even expected in case of executing a turnaround strategy. However, who has ever experienced such measures being executed in the aftermath of setting strategic objectives within the areas of HSE or quality or the desire to achieve ISO standard certification?

The reality is that many organizations operate based on compliance-based management systems which have been adopted or fitted into the organization’s existing processes and organization for the sole purpose of demonstrating compliance to market and/or legal requirements. Such management systems – and the processes they should optimize and standardize in a meaningful business context – are not established as tools for strategy execution. In the end such systems do not sustain permanent improvements to bottom line business results nor the organizational culture.

It must consequently be prudent to examine the organization’s mission and vision statements and address existing practice which does not contribute in achieving strategic business objectives. Similarly, it is of no use if only parts of the business are preoccupied with questions relating to HSE and quality.

The only possible way forward is to fully integrate HSE and quality into the business strategy – on equal terms with other business objectives – and make use of the management system as a tool for strategy execution and further to mobilize the required leadership to the effective implementation of the system.

Process understanding and organizational barriers

A large barrier for the achievement of high quality is lacking understanding of processes and their interrelationship and dependencies across the organization. Such conditions often promote the establishment of silo-based organizations which can work against cooperation and development across the organization.

The lack of process understanding will undoubtedly lead to noncoherent management systems having the effect that leaders and staff will experience much difficulty in navigating the system and achieve a clear understanding of their own role and how to contribute to strategy achievement. All they can rely on is their network which – in a systemic context – is rather inappropriate.

Working across a silo-based organization will often create management responsibility unclarity including (lacking) role definitions. Especially during project work, the lack of assuring the right authority and resource allocation to the project manager can be a significant showstopper.

Much have been written about organizational developments; however, it is important to realize the danger in setting an organization without knowing what processes that organization is supposed to adapt into and what is required to actualize requirements and expectations.

In other words, it is the lack of knowledge for how to produce desired results that can lead to organizational barriers which can counteract the achievement of high quality and a healthy and safe working environment.

The HSEQ function

Ever since the ISO management standards came about the promotion of a ‘Management Representative’ role has unquestionable caused distraction and confusion when appointing such a person (often the HSEQ Manager) for the purpose of anchoring the management system implementation far away from commercial interest. Obviously, management cannot delegate the implementation of the management system to anyone.

The role as the ’Management Representative’ ceased to exist following the latest – and much needed – revision of ISO 9001 in 2015, however, within shipping the role continues to exist under the name of a ‘Designated Person Ashore’ (ref. the International Safety Management (ISM) Code). The existence of such a role has undoubtedly created precedence and remains a trouble spot in many organizations by which the responsibility for HSE and quality is not sufficiently anchored in the business where the results are created.

In the end, the HSEQ function is far to often expected to solve operational matters – typically accidents and service or product nonconformity – and is the de facto force driving the management review process. With such a practice why should a line manager feel any responsibility towards quality or HSE when having the HSEQ function to solve his or her problems? Or even worse, if the line manager is not being held accountable for HSEQ performance?

The corporate HSEQ function should in conclusion constitute a staff function supporting top management and principal line managers on the following:

  • Corporate and business advisory concerning HSE related legislative requirements, industry management standards, risk management practices and Operational Excellence
  • Planning and execution of internal audit continually debriefing and updating top management on audit results
  • Undertaking accident and nonconformity investigation
  • Provision of HSEQ statistics and analysis for management review (should, however, be part of a good business intelligence solution).