‘You can do the impossible when you set your mind to it’

A Q&A with NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin

Lorraine Martin

Safety was a daily concern for Lorraine M. Martin while serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1980s.

“In the service, you’re looking to make sure that the people we ask to do things on behalf of our nation come home safely every day to their families,” said Martin, who took over as president and CEO of the National Safety Council on June 3, during a recent interview with Safety+Health.

After serving in the military, Martin spent the next 31 years at Lockheed Martin, where she oversaw thousands of employees working on unique projects, which called for safety as a primary objective.

“Folks who build aircraft are in very high-consequence areas, sometimes on scaffolding,” said Martin, who retired from the global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company in 2018. “One of the aircraft I worked on was the C-5, and literally the tail of the aircraft is seven stories in the sky.

“As you’re doing maintenance and other actions on it, you have potentials for falls, injuries and risk. You have to make sure everybody is watching each other’s back and that everything is done in a safe way and done right every single time.”

Martin sat down with S+H to discuss her connection to the council’s mission, the importance of building teamwork, the challenges of change and her anticipation of the NSC 2019 Congress & Expo – set to take place Sept. 6-11 in San Diego.

Safety+Health: What appealed the most to you about the NSC mission to keep each other safe at work, at home and on the roads?

Lorraine M. Martin: I started my career in the U.S. Air Force and spent 31 years in the aerospace and defense industry. After serving the men and women around the world – both in the United States and our allies – I knew I wanted to continue to give back in a way that helped people live their fullest lives. I looked at where I could bring my leadership skills and my experience in serving others in complex environments. When I thought about how I could do that, the National Safety Council was squarely in that target. It gave me a chance to give to a broader community and to use the skill sets that I’ve developed.

S+H: How has your experience prepared you for your new role as president and CEO?

Martin: At Lockheed Martin, which was an industrial company building complex systems, I got a chance to be part of all different kinds of product lines. That is an organization that is centered on making sure that work is done well with excellence and that employees have the right environment to do that safely.

That ethos was ingrained in me very early in my professional career. I really enjoyed being part of an organization where safety and respect for the employees was baked into everything we did.

I’ve had a lot of leadership positions, and I really enjoy working with diverse organizations with diverse expertise and helping teams do really hard things. That’s a lot of what we do here at the National Safety Council.

S+H: Describe your personal journey to understanding the importance of safety.

Martin: I started my career in an office environment, then very quickly it translated to helping men and women do their jobs safely.

One of the experiences I had that was really eye-opening was in pilot training and creating high-end simulators to put pilots and those who maintained the aircraft through their paces in a way that was going to be, by definition, injury-free. We subjected them to emergency procedures and the things that can happen in the environment that could cause them to have an injury or, in some cases, loss of life.

If you can train so your heart is racing and you really think you’re in that condition, you can learn how to be prepared and to avoid whatever it might be that could bring you harm.

I saw the power of training and the power of helping human beings go through that experience so that when they’re in a real-life experience, they’re going to come out with a better outcome.

From there, I got a chance to build aircraft. Along with ensuring the safety of workers, it was also about making sure they have the right tools for the operations they’re doing. If it is ergonomically challenging, you have a leadership team to look at those issues and solve the problem.

Any kind of change of culture or safety has to be leader led. You have to live it yourself, show the example and show up where the work’s done to make sure you’re providing the right tools and procedures to enable every human being to go home the same way they came in to work.

S+H: How would you describe your leadership style?

Martin: I am very focused on teamwork. I’m focused on helping people come together, bringing their voice and their diverse backgrounds to solve problems and make things happen in the world.

Teamwork is often at the core of how I look at a problem, and making sure things are healthy, running well and that I have a role in serving teams as the leader. I’m also very focused on commitment. I have a tagline that says, “Every commitment, every day.” That is about the commitment we make to the people we work with, the commitments we make to our health and well-being, and to our families and communities. That is an important piece of how I show up, and how I hope the council will show up when we make commitments to the people we serve.

It’s also important to me to make sure all voices are heard, and that we have an environment where the diversity of opinion and background is included and welcomed. We’ll solve problems differently when we have all voices at the table.

S+H: How do you approach change?

Martin: Change for all of us is trying and sometimes challenging. But it can also be exciting. I think of change as necessary when we’re taking an organization to whatever its next plateau is, whatever the next challenge is. Change is something that you can actually use to help grow an organization and help an organization become something it didn’t think it could.

I do think change can be built into your DNA. An organization that can accommodate change to meet an objective, or for us all to band together and do something we haven’t done before, can be extremely powerful.

S+H: What do you hope to achieve at NSC?

Martin: First and foremost, I hope to learn about the mission and all the incredible work that’s going on here, and has gone on for decades. With that learning, I want to bring a fresh pair of eyes.

Any new leader or new member of a team comes with a whole new perspective. Everything’s new. Everything can be looked at for the first time.

I also hope to bring leadership and my experience from both the business side and the manufacturing world to make sure we’re listening to our members and we’re bringing the best value proposition we can that they need for their work environments.

S+H: In September, you’ll be taking part in the NSC Congress & Expo, the world’s largest annual event for environmental, safety and health professionals. What are you most looking forward to at Congress?

Martin: With 15,000 people coming together to talk about safety, best practices and being able to learn from each other, I’m thrilled to be part of that.

I’m looking forward to meeting those professionals and the member companies that are a huge part of the National Safety Council. I’m excited to hear our speakers talk about how we challenge ourselves to do something we might think is impossible. When I say “impossible,” I put it in the realm of saying we want zero work fatalities in our nation. We have our Work to Zero initiative. This is a challenge that we can lay down for ourselves to understand how we make that a reality.

It may seem impossible today, but we’re going to hear at Congress that you can do the impossible when you set your mind to it.

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