by Phil La Duke
I have received a lot of crap from bloated, overly educated, mouth-breathing windbags who mock me for describing myself in my LinkedIn profile as a safety expert and thought leader. Now normally I would verbally blow this empty high-viz vest out of the water, but instead I decided to go easy on the smug pile of steaming pig excrement. But it got me wondering, what does it take to BE considered an expert or thought-leader in safety.
But let me be clear, this is not about having my feelings hurt, that is an impossible feat for a person I’ve never met, nor for one do not I respect. Nor is this a response to being offending by a drooling buffoon, I am only offended by the fact that these internet trolls walk freely among us breathing the same air as we do, when in simpler times the would have been stripped naked, beaten, driven from the village and branded an outcast and outlaw—someone that no law would protect and there for easy prey for any who would victimize them.
But one thing has me got me thinking: what is the nature of an expert? I have met PhDs and Harvard MBAs without the sense to come out of the rain who seemingly earned their credentials when daddy donated enough to the University to buy the Dean a private jet, and yet I have met people with no credentials at all who are smart, eloquent, and wise (an astonishingly rare combination). Make no mistake, time does not necessarily confer wisdom. In many cases it just makes you older and more physically, mentally, and morally decrepit.
For the record, I am not a self-proclaimed expert or thought leader. Those appellations were conferred on my by magazine editors and professional organizations. Am I an expert? I don’t know, but others seem to think so. I have (as of this writing) 241 published works eligible for citation in academic and professional journals. In the creation of those articles (published worldwide) I have to do copious research and provide, in some cases, three credible sources where I got the information. What that means is unlike self published works like my blog, these works have been vetted by folks who are in a position to know whether or not I am full of crap. They have fact-checkers on staff who pour over my work looking for and correcting any inaccuracies. These works have been edited and re-edited (I rarely even get to name them) until the point where these publications are convinced that my work has merit and credibility. So in there minds, these editors feel comfortable in calling me an expert in the topic covered. 241 articles represent over 250,000 words in print. But does the fact that others have called me an expert make me one, people have hurled all manner of insult at my and called me all manner of loathsome things, but it their saying these things can be dismissed so too can being called an expert.
Does all this mean I’m an expert? I don’t know as I would necessarily say so, because I can think of a couple of south of the intellectual borderline authors who have published 10 or more books and while it kills me to say it, just because I disagree with the self-serving snake-oil dreck they churn out, doesn’t make them any less expert. Edison and Tesla hated each other over AC versus DC power, but does that make either of them any less an expert in electricity?
I’ve also spoken at scores of local and international training conferences both publicly and privately to people eager to hear my opinion and they have called me an expert, but again, I am not a “self-proclaimed” anything. My work has been referenced in at least two text books on worker safety, and I was quoted as an expert in Dr. Paul Marciano’s best selling book By Paul Marciano Super Teams: Using the Principles of RESPECT to Unleash Explosive Business Performance and around 10 Doctoral dissertations (not counting the one who plagiarized word-for-word one of my blog articles resulting in him getting thrown out of his PhD program for plagiarism (don’t weep for him, one less PhD in the world is not a tragedy.) My work has appeared on the European Society for Process Safety’s list of recommended reading, and I just discovered I was cited in a U.S. Department of Labor Department of Labor Scholars Program Working Paper Series, a series of serious research papers “prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Federal Government or the Department of Labor”, but does that make me an expert? I was one of the first people accepted as an expert by the website “Expert File” and am listed on some database for researchers who can access my qualified works to use as source material.
I was an editorial advisor to two safety magazines and a contributing editor to two others, but again does that make me an expert?
I am absolutely not an expert because of my blog. My blogs are, for the most parts, the barely coherent rantings of a man who is sick of people congratulating themselves on a job well done when in many cases their sole reason for believing this is that they killed less people than the competition, or because their injury rates go down—the equivalent of extolling the effectiveness of a rain dance by whether or not it rains sometime afterwards. My blogs generate a lot of emotion and make a lot of people think. Some actually hate me for saying the things that I do. Most take the non-committal “I enjoy reading your work, but I don’t always agree with it” route, and I don’t mind that. Publicly stating your agreement with me could lead to career consequences. For the record I neither want nor expect universal agreement with my work, I just want to make people think, and more specifically question WHY we do the things we do. I hear continuous grousing about how little respect and resources are given to safety practitioners and yet I continue to see them waste resources on ineffectual fads and do things that draw derision from the company. When it comes to resources you have to play the cards you’re dealt and when it comes to respect, well that’s something you gotta earn and it’s not something you earn by whining. So maybe I’m a thought leader and maybe i’m not, but with somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 (I honestly can’t get an accurate count because I continually guest blog).
None of this seems to matter to the indolent boobs too lazy to accomplish anything so they mock me because I use terms to describe myself in ways other already have. This is coming off a lot more defensive that I wanted it to be. I don’t really care if people think I’m an expert or a thought leader or a mackerel for that matter. My “expertise” and influence isn’t all that respected by my employer, which is fair. In the consulting business you are only as respected as the value you bring to the organization in terms of dollars and cents. That’s not a knock on my employer, that’s just the nature of the beast. And to, date all of my speaking and writing and blogging hasn’t resulted in any money—at least not the kind of money that I am expected to generate.
So why do I do it? Because being the egotist that I am I believe that I fill an important role in safety. I do most (if not all) of my writing on my own time (on top of a 40-60 hour work week) for a good many people who read it for the sole purpose of being offended, looking down their pedantic noses at my spelling errors and grammatical liberties so they can offer condescending comments to others of similar ilk and disposition. I’m not looking for Safety Man of the Year award like some blue ribbon pig at the county fair, but is it too much to ask that I not be attacked by some jerk I’ve never met. I’m at the conferences, say it to my face, I DARE you.
I do admit to no small disappointment at the cowardice of those who do find value in my work but who say nothing when it is attacked. It’s been a long time since someone told one of these naysayers to shut up or just to ask what THEY have done to contribute to the advancement of safety thought leadership? Most have done nothing but produce carbon dioxide and occasionally methane and are worth more to society in parts as organ donors (if anyone’s body wouldn’t immediately discard their toxic organs.)
So what am I? I am the perpetual malcontent that says here and now, what you’re doing isn’t good enough. If you want credit for trying, all I can do is quote my departed father (who died from a workplace illness) “we can get a monkey in here to try hard, you don’t get any points for failing, results are all that matter.” When I would say, “i’m doing my best” he would respond, “well your best isn’t for (expletive)”. On the other hand, I can quote a colleague of mine who has told me more than once, “nobody cares what you have to say”.
In the end some people can only feel expert by tearing down someone else; hell maybe that’s me—I honestly can’t tell anymore.
No matter what a man achieves it will never be enough and nobody likes being told that what they are doing isn’t anything shy of magnificent. I won’t be knighted, I won’t be made a saint, hell I won’t even be liked, but I won’t shut up.