Environmental managers – increasingly charged with not just implementing sustainability initiatives but with ensuring those initiatives boost the bottom line – are becoming more involved in shaping a company’s overall strategy. These executives play an important role in accomplishing their organizations’ business goals, Dennis Hu, director of EHS for Ball Aerospace, told Environmental Leader. “As a result, how they interact and collaborate with C-level executives is important and vital,” he said.
First, Be a Business Leader
Interacting with C-level execs requires strong communication skills and basic business acumen. “For every EHS and sustainability professional out there, I challenge you to be a business leader first,” he says. By doing so, “you will be more successful garnering support for your technical EHS and sustainability solutions and ideas. You have to compete to get resources for your activities. This applies whether you’re in the public or private sector. Last I checked, no one has an unlimited budget.”
With business skills well-honed, an environmental manager will be better prepared to collaborate with others, another key element of success, Hu says. “Engage all the other groups in the development phase, not just the implementation phase. Practice good listening skills and take the perspective of others when trying to come up with practical solutions. And lastly, get your internal communications department involved to ensure that the project has a strong communications plan for all phases of the project.”
Influence Corporate Culture
But even with the best business and communications skills, even by snagging a seat at the table with those who shape a company’s business strategy, it can still be a challenge to ensure that sound environmental, sustainability and energy management is an integral part of the company’s corporate culture.
To do so, Hu says he meets with business leaders frequently to ensure operational alignment. “In addition, I spend a lot of time building relationships, both internally and externally, to help support my team in getting work done,” he says. “In general, I am always looking at how the EHS and SSE functions can help support our business units and future company growth while maintaining EHS performance and compliance. I like to think of my job as setting strategic direction and then supporting my staff and removing roadblocks so they can meet our team’s objectives.”
Hu will address these challenges and offer practical guidelines for meeting and overcoming them at the Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference in Denver, May 15-17. His workshop, Employee Engagement and Leadership, will take place on Day One, May 15, from 9-12. Space is limited, so register soon.
Dennis Hu has more than 24 years of EHS, sustainability and business experience in chemicals, oil and gas, and aerospace and defense. He has a proven track-record of leading diverse and collaborative multi-functional teams.