What Are Your Fundamentals?

I caught part of a podcast today in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was interviewed. He kept referring to the fundamentals of basketball as he answered callers’ questions. Even a caller question about working with Bruce Lee compared to John Wooden was met with the F word again – FUNDAMENTALS!

It got me thinking, “what are my fundamentals of safety?” It’s such a simple concept, and I became a bit frustrated with myself that I couldn’t rattle off a list of 3 to 5 things that guide my actions as a safety professional. I made a voice note to revisit this topic as a blog, and here I am 12 hours later, brainstorming.

To gamify the process, I gave myself 5 seconds to come up with 5 Fundamentals. Here’s the result:


I recently facilitated a safety retreat for a large company’s safety team. We kept coming back to classic advice from Stephen Covey, it’s the 5th Habit of highly successful people – “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Or as we described it as a group – “listen to understand, not to reply.” People, by nature, want to be heard. As a safety professional, I’ve found that showing your caring side is important towards earning trust of workers, and listening is the simplest path to trust. Caution – the simplest tasks are often the most difficult!


Once I’ve listened to a safety concern or question, I begin to analyze. If I do not have the answer immediately, I let the person know that I will get back to them. I value staying on top of the latest in technology, legislation, gadgets, and other solutions and concepts related to safety. I approach the work as a lifelong student, aiming to learn something every day. Someone once told me that if you stop learning you may as well die. Harsh, but true!


Just like people desire to be heard, they also want to be validated and treated fairly. When I say I will get back to someone after some research – I follow-through! I’m lucky that this instinct has always come naturally. In fact, this accountability and follow-up was praised by my first supervisor in safety, Mr. Pete Filanc (RIP). I remember him introducing me to his fellow members of the company’s management team before I gave an annual “state of safety” update at their retreat – he explained that I had quickly earned the trust of the company’s “field forces” by listening to their concerns and actively following up with collaborative and practical solutions in a timely manner. I’ll never forget that moment because it was such high praise from a person I respected and that it was due to something I was doing naturally!


Einstein said it best, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Boom. If I can’t pass the Einstein test, I go back to my other fundamental of Research.


This is another Fundamental that comes naturally to me. If the element of fun is missing from my work, it’s tough to get through the day. I had fun at oppressively stinky and hot wastewater treatment plant jobsites and I have fun conducting training in air-conditioned conference rooms. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the fun, but keep looking.

What about you? Give yourself 5 seconds and make your own Fundamentals list. Let me know if we share Fundamentals or if you have a completely different take!

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