If you perform your job as it is intended to be performed, you will inevitably be an unpopular person many times over throughout your duration in that position or career. The only way to prevent unpopularity is to not do your job. This holds true for every position in every profession. My profession is in oil and gas and so for the purpose of this article that is where my focus will be.
So, where does unpopularity come into the equation of good work performance? Well, when you are the only one that steps up and makes a call or executes a specific work duty because it is the right thing to do. Sounds easy, right? For many, it is not especially individuals who are new to the inspection side of the industry. This also holds true for individuals who have just filled the role of a supervisor or manager.
An inspector’s position is viewed as one that impositions others in the work environment. Inspectors are correcting unsafe work practices that require going to either the foreman or individual worker (depending on whether the infraction is imminent danger or not) and informing that person of the correction needed. The inspector is the one who says whether the work is acceptable or not regardless of the number of attempts it takes to make it right. The inspector is the one who walks up to a president of a company and while standing in the middle of his upper management entourage, informs him he can no longer go any further because he does not have the required PPE on. Inspectors are continually doing the things that make most individuals uncomfortable and nervous to execute. Inspectors who are not comfortable with being the unpopular one will “dodge” these situations by making excuses or will blatantly act like they never saw anything that required them to act.
Another example of unpopularity is someone pulling the “stop-work” card. To this day it remains to be a challenge to get someone to speak up (be unpopular) when they feel the situation is unsafe. The remedy to this challenge is simple, start running off chief inspectors, construction managers, superintendents, foremen, project managers, etc. until these positions get it through their heads that the culture starts with them not the field personnel. Field personnel as a whole will follow orders and work by examples set. If the leaders are not leading by example and instilling this culture, it will continue to be a challenge. I do not care what kind of rewards are offered to build a safety culture, nobody will buy into it until the field personnel witness the leaders of the project stepping into the unpopular role and acting on it. Then holding a 5 min in-field education session why it was time to be unpopular. The leadership (supervision and management) are the cultivators and enforcers of stop-work authority. Until everyone understands what it will take to rectify the stop-work authority problem, you be the unpopular one and stop work if you feel it is unsafe because it is the right thing to do. Being unpopular saves lives.
To step into an unpopular role takes self-confidence and maintaining a professional demeanor regardless of the reaction or verbal response you get. At the end of the day, know you did it right.
Take care and be safe!