Awesomely Simple
Restructured Fall Conference to Focus on Leadership and Management
“Making the very complex awesomely simple”—this is how John Spence, the business leader and author who will deliver the opening keynote address at the 2016 AIHA Fall Conference, describes his method of distilling volumes of business-related research into discrete, practical tips. But this catchphrase could apply just as well to the conference as a whole, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio Oct. 22 through 26.
This year, the Fall Conference will present its usual eclectic mix of OEHS topics in a variety of formats structured in a way that allows attendees to easily pursue the individualized educational experience they’re looking for. The changes to the conference include a thorough organization of sessions into tracks, a closing session, a new “quick talk” format, and a special advanced workshop conducted by Spence that will explore the issues raised in his keynote.
But perhaps the most significant change is the adoption of a “leadership and management” theme that will guide conference organizers for years to come.
"Innovation is all around us. We’re bombarded with it every day. But what are we doing to innovate how we evaluate and change risk profiles?"
John Spence
WHAT BUSINESS NEEDS “The focus on leadership and management is really to complement the professional training we get,” says Robert Bacci, CIH, chair of the Fall Conference Planning Team. “But it’s also critical to the future success of the profession. We need to start blending technical concepts [with] leadership and management acumen, because that’s what business needs going forward. We don’t have to focus just on the chemicals. We don’t have to focus just on the physical hazards. We need to focus on the overall health of the business.”
Such a focus comes naturally to Bacci, whose background includes a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene, a master’s in business administration, six years as an independent IH consultant, and several management positions at Nektar Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in San Francisco. Having attained a VP position at Nektar in his early forties, Bacci is well aware that OEHS professionals of all ages and levels of experience can benefit from the Fall Conference’s emphasis on leadership and management. 
“We’re uniquely placed in organizations,” Bacci says of OEHS professionals, whose role requires them to work across teams and departments. “Even at the lower levels in your career, even when you’re starting out, you have the opportunity to really influence the business.”
Attendees interested in pursuing these topics throughout the conference can choose among several sessions in the Management and Leadership track. Other tracks include:
  • Thought Leader: these sessions address topics related to the priorities identified by AIHA’s Content Portfolio Management Team. For a refresher on the CPMT’s work, see Barry Graffeo’s article in the November 2014 Synergist.
  • Enterprise Risk Assessment and Management: the conference’s largest track includes several of the pre- and post-conference professional development courses. Among the PDCs in this track are a “risk assessment boot camp” and courses on Bayesian statistics, Legionella, OELs, hazard banding, and industrial ventilation.
  • Emergency Response and Preparedness: one PDC in this track will focus on assessment of inhalation hazards during a response. Other presentation topics include pre-emergency planning, conducting table top exercises, and using drones to conduct air monitoring.

INTO THE WEEDS In John Spence, the Fall Conference has an engaging opening speaker who has won acclaim for his work as a consultant to businesses as varied as technology start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been listed as one of America’s top 100 “small business influencers” and one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. In 2015, the American Management Association named him one of its “leaders to watch,” an honor previously bestowed on luminaries such as Google founder Sergey Brin and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
When discussing the value Spence will bring to attendees, Bacci places him in the context of last year’s keynote speaker, the futurist Michael Rogers, who helped attendees envision how technology will affect life and work in the next decade.
“[Rogers] talked to us about his vision of change,” Bacci says. “And what John does is really build upon what Michael did. John talks about the future of leadership, but focuses on change and the disruption that’s going on, especially technologically. And that’s going to allow us to really focus on practical things we can do as leaders and managers to help drive toward that change and support businesses along the way.”
Following his keynote address on Monday, Oct. 24, Spence will conduct a workshop titled “Advanced Leadership: Energizing Organizations, Powering the Profession.” In a video posted to the Fall Conference website, Spence promises a collaborative and interactive experience that will help attendees develop what he calls a “personal leadership competency model”—a philosophy that identifies specific actions a person can take to become a better leader. The workshop will last the afternoon. Seating is limited and an additional fee is required.
Bacci notes that most OEHS professionals typically do not get the opportunity to participate in this kind of training within their organizations. “John works with huge companies,” Bacci says. “And a lot of the companies we come from, especially smaller companies, you’re never going to get a chance to work with a John Spence. So this is really a unique opportunity for us to get into the weeds with somebody like John to develop something that we can use in our day-to-day work life.”
NEW FORMATS Not every session at a conference can or should provide a comprehensive review of a given topic. For a change of pace, the Fall Conference Planning Team incorporated the “quick talks.” These sessions include two twenty-minute presentations, each followed by a ten-minute question-and-answer period with the audience. In most cases, talks on related subjects have been paired together and fit into one of the four conference tracks. Topics include exposure to diesel particulate during fracking, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, global EHS management, and more.

Another experiment in format will occur during the breakfast session on Monday, when members of AIHA’s Fellows Special Interest Group will engage in a public debate about the name and branding of the industrial hygiene profession. The presenters will summarize the arguments for and against a change. It’s a topic that everyone has an opinion on, and Bacci says the Planning Team is hoping that the debate helps clarify how—and whether—the professional IH organizations should pursue a change.
“What we’re trying to do is bring a new concept to the conference as a way to take on positions that affect multiple organizations, and try to work together to sort some of those issues out,” Bacci says. INNOVATION EVERYWHERE Wrapping it all up on Tuesday, Oct. 25, is a closing session, “Risk Innovation and the Workplace of the Future,” delivered by Andrew Maynard, a professor at Arizona State University. The closing session will describe the anticipated impact of technologies like additive manufacturing, robotic systems, and the Internet of Things on future workplaces. Maynard will examine these technologies through the lens of “risk innovation,” which essentially argues that new technologies and new workplaces require new approaches to risk assessment. 
“Innovation is all around us,” Bacci explains. “We’re bombarded with it every day. But what are we doing to innovate how we evaluate and change risk profiles? How do we stay innovative enough that our methodologies, our approaches, our practices can keep up with the rate of change?” Much more awaits conference attendees in San Antonio, including a lunch discussion on NIOSH’s Total Worker Health program, opportunities for networking, a Monday evening Welcome Reception, and more. To learn about all of the opportunities available, visit www.aihafallconference.org. ED RUTKOWSKI is editor in chief of The Synergist. He can be reached at (703) 846-0734 or erutkowski@aiha.org.
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