What Makes a Great QHSE Compliance Manager?

Posted by Craig Thornton

And how not to end up with a dud

I meet a lot of compliance managers working in the QHSE arena.  And whilst most are pretty good at their jobs, some are frankly not.  Don’t get me wrong – they are perfectly fine individuals, and with some good professional skills, but that doesn’t make them good compliance managers. 

Also, because it’s not the fault of the individual, it’s not a particularly easy problem to fix.  The harsh reality is that they’re in the wrong job and need to move on. 

So why does this happen and, more importantly, how can it be avoided?



Square Peg in a Round Hole

Ending up with an ineffective compliance manager usually comes down to a lack of foresight and lazy decision-making.  Here’s a typical scenario that I see time and time again…

The business is puttering along quite happily until one day they reach a size or scope that places urgent new compliance demands on them.  These new demands can come from either customers and/or regulators.  Of course, they should have seen it coming (but that’s another story) so suddenly, action is required!  They’ve got to get somebody in fast “to do this stuff”.  But they don’t actually understand the nuances of compliance, or the terrific value that a kick-ass management system can bring them.  All they know is that they will lose the order/right to trade/valuable customer unless they get someone in quick to do the paperwork.

The Peter Principle then comes into play.  They’ve got a hardworking manager in another role who is great with paperwork. Perfect - let’s move them into compliance.  Problem solved!  

If only it were that easy…

The problem is, not only has the wrong person been selected but they receive little, if any, training.  Plus, there is no understanding about how compliance systems add value.  So the keen-as-mustard new manager flounders around before eventually losing interest.  With no direction and little support, he or she hides away in their office, messing with documents, forms and procedures, unaware of the important parts of managing a system.

Then an external audit happens and the mistake of getting the wrong person to fill the role is fully revealed.  By this stage, the horse has bolted and the business has already been exposed to unnecessary risk.

Of course, with a little more attention to detail this entire mess could have been avoided – but only if the business knows upfront what makes a good compliance manager.


Identifying the right candidate

In my experience, here are the main attributes you should be looking for in a compliance manager: 

  • Motivated & passionate

    First and foremost, you need someone with a passion for compliance; someone who can formulate a vision, set targets and ensure they’re achieved.  If you don’t immediately see the passion and motivation, they’re not the right person.

  • Great communicator

    Value-add compliance is all about communication.  You’ll therefore need an excellent communicator who can relate to both management and employees.  Sure, they need to be a “people person” but they also need to be influential - if you want employees to buy into compliance, you need someone who can SELL it.

  • Strategic thinker

    The best compliance managers understand the business, where it needs to go (strategically) and how compliance can help get it there. They align compliance initiatives with the strategy of the company and focus on achieving tangible outcomes.

  • Good writer

    You need someone who can write simply, get to the point quickly, and who can adapt the message to its intended audience.  Someone with an allergy to confusing business-speak is highly desirable candidate!

  • Flexible and adaptable

    A good compliance manager can’t afford to be stuck in their ways or averse to change.  There’s enough red and green tape inherent in compliance without your manager adding a whole lot more. They need to be a change-agent and open to modifying course as new issues and opportunities arise.

I know what you’re thinking - this is a special skill-set that is not easily found.  And you’re right – but then aren’t all the important roles in your organisation?


The takeaway

Compliance is a specialised area that needs a multi-talented person to do it well.  Whilst cutting corners with the recruitment process may initially save you some time and money, unless you get lucky, you’ll end up paying for it big time later on.

A broken system is an expensive system so it’s best to do things right the first time.  Here's how:  

  • If you don’t have someone within your organisation with the necessary skill-set, widen the net as far as you need.
  • Once you’ve appointed the right candidate make sure they’re properly trained and provided with on-going support. 
  • Closely monitor what’s going on because it’ll be too late once the auditor starts raising non-conformances.

Tags: Compliance, Compliance Management