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What competences should you look for when hiring an environmental professional?

Hiring an environmental professional or a manager for your ISO 14001-certified EMS (Environmental Management System) is one of the most important choices an organization can make, given the benefits that can be derived from good environmental decisions, and the penalties that can be incurred if legislation is not met. Given the importance of this decision, it is wise to prepare by having a list of expectations and, consequently, an idea of the attributes that this individual should possess, both to ensure that he/she is competent and able, and to ensure that your organization is hiring a professional who can help you meet objectives and become an asset to your company. So, what attributes should you look for in this individual?

Assessing the qualities of your choice

In the previous article, Six key benefits of ISO 14001, we examined the benefits that a company could derive from ISO 14001 implementation, whether your organization is working towards the standard or is simply looking to maintain certification. In this case, the environmental professional you hire is highly likely to be the key person in helping to achieve this objective, as well as all of the accompanying tasks that go with making sure all terms of the clauses are met. So, let us look at what the desirable attributes for that individual should be, and why they are important:

  • Maintains formal qualifications: Whether formal qualifications are required, or not, is usually a matter for the individual organization, but given the implications of non-compliance with legislation, this is certainly something that your organization should consider. With the rise in colleges and universities providing professional qualifications in environmental topics, a candidate with relevant qualifications can be an asset to your organization.
  • Possesses strong knowledge of the ISO 14001:2015 standard: This is also a major advantage, particularly if your EMS is (or will be) certified. Even if this is not the case, the principles that underpin the standard are applicable to reducing the environmental impact of any organization; therefore, sound knowledge of the ISO 14011:2015 standard is preferable.
  • Commands respect within the organization: The environmental professional must deal with many different stakeholders and employees, and must be responsible for various environmental programs and initiatives. For this reason, he/she must be able to command respect from other employees to ensure project success, so a level of assertiveness is preferable.
  • Is an effective communicator and team player: Communication is a vital element of the operation of any EMS, as we discovered in the article How to perform communication related to the EMS. The EMS professional will need to be involved in critical elements of communication – to top management, employees, stakeholders, and in the case of some large organizations, the media. It is therefore important that the candidate is a skilled communicator, and is comfortable with presenting to large groups of people. If the candidate can do this professionally and enthusiastically, all the better – an inspired workforce will perform better than an uninspired one.
  • Understands your industry: While it is not always possible to hire a professional from the same industry, it can be an advantage if you do. Quickly recognizing the environmental aspects that may exist, the challenges that may present themselves, the inherent risks and opportunities, and the legislation relevant to your sector can bring instant benefits, and will ensure that your candidate has an immediate and positive impact. Hiring a professional from a different sector may mean that a grace period is required to allow the candidate to familiarize himself/herself with the above elements, and may result in a temporary dip in results in the meantime. This is a decision each organization will need to make for itself after internal evaluation.
  • Is results driven: Does your candidate have a track record of success? Is he/she receptive to talk of KPI- (key performance indicator) driven performance management? Environmental management is about delivering performance against targets, and then ensuring continual improvement. If your candidate is confident with this concept, and can prove a record of achievement in EMS management and the delivery of ISO 14001:2015 certification, this is a major plus.
  • Has the competence to perform EMS training: The candidate should be able to provide refresher training to meet the training needs of your EMS and ensure all employees remain competent.
  • Has awareness of ISO 19011: The candidate should be mindful of ISO 19011, as he/she will be involved in the internal audit process – and will certainly be involved in understanding and correcting any non-conformances from that process.

Ensuring the right fit for your organization

There are obviously other traits you will look for in a candidate when seeking an environmental professional: Will they fit in with your culture? Are they on board with the methods of working within your company? However, if the candidate can demonstrate that he/she possesses most or all of the qualities above, then your organization has an excellent chance of hiring a suitable candidate for the opening. It is also likely that the correct candidate will understand the relationship between good environmental performance and cost savings for the organization. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your EMS is a results-driven management system, and a candidate with a history of producing results may give you the best chance of achieving your objectives. Positive results not only make your EMS and organization successful, but also help the greater environment.

Use this free online training ISO 14001:2015 Foundations Course to learn what the job of the EMS Manager should be.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.