This week’s guest on the Work Done Right podcast is Bobby LeBoeuf, who joins us to discuss his nuanced approach to safety management, his experience working on international projects, and why mentorship is so important to him.
Bobby is a 30-year construction industry veteran, with decades of experience in HSE roles such as Project HSE Manager and Director of Health, Safety, & Security.
Throughout his career, he has worked for companies like Shell, Chevron, BP, BG and Petronas.
Connect with Bobby on LinkedIn.
- In Bobby’s view, a successful project must satisfy three criteria: on-time, on-budget, and nobody gets hurt in the process. And it’s the same whether you’re in Texas or South Korea.
- Safety is all about communication. To effectively communicate, planning is key. What’s coming up in the next 30 days, 60 days, 90 days? You have to be repetitive and communicate key events clearly to ensure everybody gets the message.
- In an industry where the skilled workforce is rapidly retiring, it’s our duty to mentor workers who are new to the industry. As a mentor, it’s important to build self-confidence and also challenge people by placing them into new positions where they can learn—and hopefully thrive.
You have a great background in safety, and with all that experience, I don’t think I need to tell you that on projects, most of the time, safety people don’t always have the best reputation. It’s oftentimes viewed as working against the project and just kind of a necessary evil.
Bobby, how do you view your role in safety and what are some of the hallmarks of a successful project in your mind?
So I’ll start off with that. What do I consider a successful project? It’s a project that’s on time, on budget, and we don’t get anybody hurt in the process.
And it’s that fundamental of approaching safety as a support function, not as. Policing function. I’d rather be a safety coach than a safety cop. And normally interacting with the guys, interacting with the crews, because that’s where the impact comes in.
It’s how you’re delivering your message to the workforce, how you get it down to the lowest guy out there. Once you can start reaching level of guys, that’s when you can really start making an impact on a project.
And when you can come across as sincere and actually build relationships with those guys and work with the guys and be out there, and it takes not being in your office. You have to be out there making that connection and start building those relationships.
And a lot of guys say, like, well, I can’t be their friend. I got to be their safety guy. And I’m like, no, man. No, that’s not the way you want to be their friend. Because if I’m out there and they see me building those relationships, talking to them about hunting, fishing, whatever, it doesn’t matter.
It’s about establishing that communication line with those guys, building that rapport. And when it’s time for me to do my job, like, if the guys aren’t doing something 100% right or if it’s something that we could do better, when I have that conversation, they know I’m not coming in as the guy that walks around and just nitpicks them all day long.
I’m the guy that built that relationship and can talk to them that I really care. And I do. I’m really passionate about my job. I care about everyone that’s on our project. I don’t want to see anybody go home hurt.
And that’s the most philosophy on most safety people. That’s why we do what we do. But there’s different ways to get that message across.
No, absolutely you do. At least from my experience working alongside you, you do take a more nuanced approach to it than a lot of other folks.
Like you said, you’re not going out to be the safety police, right? You’re the safety person. We’re all just people out there trying to work together to get the job done. You told me a story one time about what it is that actually got you hired on a job that is kind of, to me, pretty well articulates your idea of a safety person.
Could you actually go through that? I think it’s a really funny story.
It’s based on the philosophy I stated right in the beginning, which was on time, on budget, and not get anybody hurt. If you look at projects historically, if you look at the projects that are deemed really successful on time, on budget, and they have a great safety record, and if you look at the projects that everybody’s like, oh, use on that project and you look at it and they will cost out the roof production quality horrible.
And the incident rate follow. And when you have one, you have all three. So even little things like changing the safety culture on a project, guys take more pride. They feel that they’re contributing to the team.
Get that mindset going. You’ll see that the incident rates start going down, quality is going up, production is going up, and you’ll see that transition on these projects. And it’s been a fun ride over the years, because for a while, it seemed like I was getting.
Ticked on, but I was getting like, hey, we got a project that’s not doing well. Like, the worst performing HSE performance in the portfolio. Go fix it.
Go do Bobby stuff.
Yeah. Go do Bobby stuff. I heard a really good safety manager I was working with on a project one time actually said to me that the role of safety is to help facilitate construction.
And honestly, I think that that message is spot on. And honestly, I won’t name names of who was that says that, was that said that, but I think that really out of the experience, out of the actions of doing.
I think that what it is that you do really helps to embody that and kind of put that into action. There are a couple of specific actions that I’ve heard you in the past talk about as far as how it is that safety managers can do this, basically support construction work alongside construction in order to be a bit more proactive in their approach towards safety.
Could you spell out what some of these actions are that people can take in order to be more proactive with safety and maybe turn their ship around?
Yeah, no problem. So I try to tell the guys in the field, I’m like, hey, look at safety.
We’re just another tool in your toolbox, right? Use us to help you if you get us involved in your planning. Like, you got some pretty sketchy work coming up that’s got a high risk profile, stuff like that.
If you get us involved in that process early, we can actually help you plan it. And if you plan your work, you can execute your work, right? If you look at the jobs that we do that are just, hey, we got to hurry up and go do this.
Those don’t normally work out that well, but if we actually have some stuff that we can actually plan it out and talk it out. And we work with the guys. Like I said, just another tool in the toolbox to use, and we can help them execute that work.
But for safety guys, on projects, it’s all about communication. So to me, there’s like three kind of areas on communication. It’s what to say, when to say it, and how you say it. Right? So, like, on a big mega projects, you got to figure out a way to get that safety message down to everybody on the field.
And every project is different. Everybody has different techniques of communicating their safety message and stuff, whether it’s like a daily flyer that goes out, like an email to all your foreman and those guys and supervisors in the field, and they’re doing the messaging.
I was on another project where every day at 06:00 in the morning, HSE person would come across the radio and did the same script, like, what the safety hazards are today, what the weather is going to be like, stuff like that.
And I was like, man, this would be really cool if we had, like if we could get somebody that could do impressions and stuff, treat it like Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam stuff. Yeah, it’s just like just to wake the guys up.
But once you figure out how you’re going to deliver that message and get it out there, then it comes down to what are you putting out and when are you putting it out? And for me, I always try to. When I, when I get to a new project is is sit down with the scheduler and planning department.
And I know a lot of guys when I, when I talk to, like, new guys, when I’m mentoring and, you know, helping, trying to help educate guys, I’m like, who’s your scheduling planner on the project? And they’re like, well, I don’t know the guy that sits over there.
Why do I need to know him? And I was like, well, that’s a lot to do with what you’re doing for me, sitting down with a schedule and planner and seeing where we’re at on the project, right. What’s coming up in the next 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and seeing that, because all projects are going to go through those transitions, where your early phases, where you’re in the dirt and stuff, then you start bringing in modules or stick build.
Then you get into where you’re going to start introducing electricity, hydrocarbons. You start up a commissioning processes. So knowing the overall schedule and where you’re at on your project at all times kind of helps you define some of these key areas that you want to focus on.
If you look at a lot of projects historically, you’ll see incident trends spike. Whenever you have these major shifts, like the shift from groundworks to construction, you’ll see a big spike because you’re ramping up new people, you’re bringing in different trades, stuff like that.
So you got to reeducate, retrain, stuff like that. And then there’s another spike when you get into commissioning or when you start seeing these big changes on the projects, procedural and philosophy on a project.
So having these kind of earmarked and start that messaging. Prior to these procedural changes is really important. Like for me, I try to look at six weeks out is kind of like my little window. So like six weeks before a major procedure change or a shift, I’m starting to sprinkle in some pointed safety messaging in whatever communication, your daily communication toolbox talks or whatever you want to call them, start putting in some little bits of information like, hey, in six weeks we got this coming up.
So what is that and some education on what that hazard is and why it’s different and what’s going to change. You do that for about two weeks, so that gets you from six weeks to four weeks, sprinkling those in and then in that four weeks out time frame you’ll start doing for me, like seeing some visual communication, posters or if you got electronic boards, whatever, start communicating through there.
And then two weeks prior, start having your mass. If you have mass safety meetings and stuff like that, get it another layer in there of public communication. One week prior, same thing. Just keep working that message.
It’s going to get to the point where the guys are like, all right, we know what’s coming, right before you tell them, right? Yes. And then the day comes and they’re like, oh, thank God it’s here. But they’re ready.
You know what I mean? They’re ready. And you don’t see a spike because everybody knows about it. Everybody’s playing for it. Everybody, even the one guy. Well, I didn’t hear that safety message or like, man, you’ve been asleep for a long time if you didn’t know that this was coming.
So it’s about getting that message and understanding that approach of phasing in the information and making sure that it’s getting down to the guys in the field. That’s where you need to get your safety message.
If you’re not getting your safety message down to the guys on the ground, the guys that got the wrenches in their hand, you’re going to fail. That’s a great way of approaching it also, because it’s not just planning, as in, hey, I’m going to make sure that a procedure is in place.
It’s not communication. Just saying one and done, one time, I deliver the message, I told you so. It’s really making sure that people have a deep understanding. And you’re right. It’s interesting because a lot of people, you don’t know the hazards that are going to be out there.
If you don’t know what’s actually going to be happening today, what’s going to be changing for next week, you could have heavy crane traffic coming into an area. You could have switching from that heavy crane traffic into other chainfalls and come alongs and other forms of big rigging hanging around.
Like, there’s so much that could just be changing on a day by day basis. And if you aren’t in there getting an understanding of it, how do you know? Exactly. And it’s working with your localized leadership too.
Like on most mega projects, you’ll have multiple areas of the projects and you have different areas of leadership in those areas. It’s building those relationships with those guys and going in the field and walking it with those guys.
The ones that are overall responsible for planning that work and making sure it’s execution and making sure that they understand the hazards and making sure that they have. These things on their radars to make sure that they’re thinking about the same things that you’re thinking about when we’re introducing these new hazards.
Because if you can get those guys on that middle management to the senior management level, which is, like, your area superintendents, if you can get it down to the Gfs, that’s great. But you need that middle management that to really buy in and understand that philosophy and understand the hazards, because they will have a direct impact on what’s happening on the ground.
But the end result is you got to get it down to the ground level to be successful, right. And ultimately, that is the goal, right, for all of us to be successful.
I’m curious, Bobby, I know you worked in multiple projects overseas, international as well.
Is there a similar safety culture over in some of these other international assignments that you’ve had, and is there anything that we could learn here in the States from those overseas, or is there anything those overseas can learn from what we’re doing over here?
Like, I worked in West Africa, Europe, Asia. Safety is safety. No matter where I’ve been at in the world. The biggest thing that I learned over the yeah, I mean, everybody has some form of safety culture, right?
Some countries aren’t as advanced. I remember I worked in South Korea for three years, and it wasn’t standard policy for our six foot double lanyards, but single lanyard was, but not double lanyards.
And over my time being at the company was actually able to shift their safety culture and actually rewrite their policy, and they implemented it site wide. Because they’ve seen the benefits of having it.
And once you make a case for it, and once they know that, hey, look, all the other American companies that you want to come in here to do work are going to require this, why don’t you just do it? And they’re like, okay, Mr. Bobby.
That’s why I actually helped them rewrite their procedures and stuff. But the biggest thing about working international, and it’s the as working in America, doing a project on the Gulf Coast, Texas, Louisiana, doing a project east Coast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and doing a project in Korea or doing a project in West Africa, it’s all about learning the local culture and what are they used to.
So as a safety guy coming in, you need to understand their culture and understand where they come from, right? And then, like I said, safety is safety, and it’s trying to figure out what they see as safe and what you see is safe.
And then try to kind of edge them along and work through it and educate. But understanding their cultures is huge, and having appreciation for their cultures. Just don’t come in there. I’m an American, and we’re the only one that do it right.
Understand where they’re coming from, understand their culture, try to learn their culture. I try to pick up different languages. And even if you just learn basic stuff like the meet and greets, good morning, good after noon hellos and stuff like that, little things like that in a foreign country, they go a long way for you and create some goodwill.
On that note, didn’t you learn to speak Korean or something whenever you were in South Korea?
I took Korean lessons three days a week for a year and a half so I could read, write, and speak Korean, so I could better communicate with the guys.
Like I said, it’s all about communication and being able to go take a class. And then I’d had ten Korean safety guys that part of my team, and so I’d get out and I’d practice with them. They’re like, oh, don’t say it like that.
That’s how they say it in Seoul. And we say it like this, learning the different dialects and stuff like that, it’s a lot of fun. I just really enjoy that and try to embrace the cultures wherever I work at.
It’s a lot of fun for me, I think.
I spent a lot of time working in South Texas, and during that time, I learned to speak fluent Spanish. I also picked up how to speak different aspects of Hindi and some Vietnamese and other just from the different people you work.
So I’m with you entirely from my first hand experience. And it’s fun. It is. It’s a blast, at least if you have some level of competence or affinity toward language, but it goes a long way to develop that relationship.
They’ll make a comment like, you sound like my five year old. Thank you. But they’re a native speaker, right?
Yeah. I think it just if anything goes back to that treating everybody like a human, right?
Building a relationship, having respect for one another, and just kind of aligning that. We’re all trying to get to the same place, right?
That’s it. Yeah. Everybody’s just trying to get home safe. Don’t get hurt, don’t get killed.
Just put more money in their pocket. That’s the end goal. Right. That’s the dream. Put in a day’s work, get a day’s pay, go home and see the wife and kids.
That’s absolutely the objective. Right. One of the things and you touched on it a little while ago, but something I know that you’re passionate about, and honestly, from my own first hand benefit is mentorship.
Could you kind of explain what your idea is, what your responsibility or other senior members in the industry, what your responsibility is in mentoring and maybe even how to put yourself out there and go about doing that for other people that might not be as comfortable in doing so?
Yeah, I think it’s a huge part of who I am as a person. I really enjoy spending quality time with guys and looking back on my career, there’s probably been 2025 guys that I’ve kind of, like, taken under my wing.
And so guys that were on their tools, like trade guys that like, hey, I want to get into safety, and got them into craft safety type positions and then slowly transition them into safety positions. And now these guys are HSE managers and HSE directors at some major companies, and I take a lot of pride in that.
But we’re not going to be here forever. I remember when I first started getting into game a long time ago, I was the young guy that everybody picked on and stuff. They didn’t know anything, right? Yeah.
No, I was a young looking guy, and I had some really good people along the way that kind of took me under their wing. This is me, like, paying it forward, helping out the next generation. I got a lot more gray than I do now, right.
And can’t do this forever. I just want to make sure that the next generation that we looking out for each other, I want the next leaders coming up behind me to be able to do their job. And as anybody in a senior position, wherever you have guys under you, you want to always make sure that you leave them at the end of the day where they’re better off having work for you.
Always try. Like, when I’m putting together a safety team, everybody has a different background. So as a manager or a director or whatever position I’m in, I’m trying to maximize what the guys bring to the table so they can, one, show off what they know, right.
Build that self confidence. And it also helps the team if you can position your pieces well. You got a stronger electrical background. I’m going to put you over here with this group where this guy has a stronger lifting crane bull rigging.
Okay, we’re going to put you over here. Put your guys in positions to succeed, but also hide their weaknesses while you train them up. So if I know a guy is really strong in one area, and this is just knowing your team, talking with the guys, hey, tell me your background.
When you first putting these teams together, what’s your strong suits? What’s your background? And then. How do you feel about electrical safety or something like that? And I was like, okay, so whenever you get these opportunities to where you have some electrical stuff going on, and I got one guy that’s a superstar with electrical.
I’ll send one of the guys. That is not a strong suit. Send him over there so he can learn some more about it. Right. Get more confidence in his knowledge. And so it’s all about like I said to me, it’s about highlighting their strengths, which maximizes your team, but also hides their weaknesses while it gives you time to strengthen it through knowledge and additional education, so that at the end of the project, they’re a lot more well balanced, more knowledge, and can take that with them to the next project.
So really, it’s kind of forcing some people to get outside of their comfort zone, but with the safety net right, to where they’re in a position in order to learn.
Yes, exactly. You got to learn. I mean, you can’t be pigeonholed.
So the more diverse you are, the more general knowledge you have on all areas will make you a bigger piece in the puzzle. You’ll be a more valued asset to the team. So the more you know, the more you can do, the more productive you’re going to be as a person and as a team as a whole.
Right? Yeah. So it really pays dividends for manager like yourself in order to put these people in those positions because it just strengthens the team. Yeah.
You touched on a second ago, back whenever you were first getting into the industry.
Can you tell me a little bit about how it is that you did get into. Doing Bobby stuff, being a safety guy, doing all that you do.
I started off in the army. I was a radiation safety officer for the army.
And when I got out, being from South Louisiana, oil and gas is right there in your face. So it was a pretty easy transition. I actually started off environmental. I was on the Louisiana Hazmat response Team and doing all spill response stuff like that, and then went to school at night, got my EMT license because back in the day, the easiest way to get into safety was to be like, a safety medic.
So when I got nationally registered EMT and then started working offshore as a safety medic and then switched over into construction safety pretty quick, I was HSE manager, my first company at 25. With no degree.
And as you said in the intro, I’ve held roles even up to director of health, safety, security, and environmental.
So I mean, good job. Good job to you, Bobby, and let that show everybody that there’s no restrictions on you.
I don’t recommend it, though, for the new generation. The new generation coming up. I’m like, keep working, but get some paper behind you. You know, it’s not easy. You know, um, the criteria, I kind of got grandfathered in.
Like, whenever you started seeing degrees and stuff like that come out, it was like a degree with four or five years experience or. Ten plus years experience. At that time, I was already at like 12-13 years.
So I was like, did you want a safety guy with a piece of paper and two years experience, or a safety guy who’s been an HSE manager all over the world for the last 13 years? And they usually picked me.
You can’t do away with having experience. But while you’re building your experience, I would recommend the new generation to put some paper behind your name and get you a couple of abbreviations behind your name because it’ll set you apart and it’ll make that transition easier for you because it seems like a lot of the industry, they’re looking for the paper now and they put precedents on it.
One thing I’d like to ask you about is maybe if you could give an example of a time that you went into a project that was just chaotic and maybe the project was in shambles and you came in, you implemented change, and it all worked to the benefit of the project.
Could you spell out an example of an instance like that?
Yeah, you know it, you witnessed it. No names or nothing, but no. So we had a project in the portfolio that was the nasty three. Behind schedule, costs out of control, and worse safety performance in the portfolio.
The nasty three, you never want to be in that boat in a project. And so they made some fundamental changes at the top level of management in there, and I was included in that regime change, but for that, transformation was all about just working with the.
The EPC safety team and turning it around. It’s like working as a one team. So one of the first things I did was I said, okay, where do you guys sit at? And they’re like, oh, we have an office over here.
We all sit here. And the owners HSE teams, they sit in this their office over here. And I’m like, no, you need to make room because we’re coming in here and just put in a couple of desks in there. I was like, I don’t care where you put me, but I’m sitting in here and just sit down and just talk with these guys and work with them, get to the point where they feel that one team and helping them out, helping them plan, helping them execute, coaching them.
That project there had some really talented HSE people and just needed a little direction. They needed a little help, little coaching, and worked with them and get them to buy in on a different vision of what is safety.
And we started making those same type of changes on the management side, which isn’t just as important, right? So we changed out the key players and started a different philosophy, like, that one team concept.
A lot of people, they talk one team concept, but you have to fully embrace a one team concept, right? You shouldn’t be able to tell a difference between the two. One of the things that I normally do on a big EPC project, all HSE people.
Wear the same hard hat. So whether you’re client, contractor, subcontractor the contractor that’s cleaning the toilet, if you’re a safety guy, you’re wearing the same hard hat. One team, one concept.
I’m not client, I’m not owner, I’m not the EPC, I’m not this. I’m a safety guy. We’re all here to to help whether who you work for and once you get that kind of gone and get that change, you’ll start seeing it reflected in the field also.
You start seeing it everybody kind of buying in. It’s weird, but seeing the shift in safety, and then you start seeing the effects of it out in the field when you’re up there together doing safety meetings and bouncing off each other, working together as a team.
And the project that you were talking about, in one year after the change, we won the HSE and Excellence Award for the company. So I was really proud of that because it was a huge transformation, what we was able to accomplish there.
But it’s all about working with the guys and truly embracing a one team concept, because you’re either going to fail as individuals or you’re going to succeed as a team. So we all win if we all work together.
And that’s the end goal. Whether you’re contract, EPC, whatever. If you’re owner, it’s all about delivering the project on time, on budget, and not get anybody hurt in the process. We all got that same goal, so let’s work together and achieve that.
Yeah, it was quite the transformation after just a year on site. It was really miraculous to see, to be completely honest, because that project was a wreck. I was there for a couple of months before you actually.
I’d been working on the contractor side, switched to the owner’s side, was there for a couple of months and then that regime change came in and it was quite the shift. It’s funny though, whenever you’re talking about the owners organization and the contract organization doing the little things like wearing the same hard hat, right?
It’s funny because you’ll see, sometimes and I’ll speak to this from people that were my peers, there are folks that on the owner’s side almost find that insulting. Right. If you already have that mentality, you’re losing.
The project is losing if you think that you’re just above everybody else, right. We are in this together. If they don’t succeed, then ultimately we don’t succeed, period. And so working with your counterpart on your clients or EPC project, whatever, working with your counterparts, not letting them fail.
Because if they fail, we fail. Right. So it’s getting in his ear coaching and it’s not I’m client, you’re going to do as I say. It’s like, hey, let’s talk this out. Is there a better way to do this? Because what we’re doing is not working.
So how about we try this and let’s do this. And it’s trying to come up with something that makes sense to both sides and hey, let’s try this. Let’s do this and see what works. If that doesn’t work, if we don’t get a result, like in a month, let’s tweak it a little bit.
Let’s try this and this. It’s about being flexible and seeing what works everywhere you go. Workforce that you’re dealing with is going to have different levels of experience. So you got to kind of feel out where the guys are at and how you’re going to change that messaging to get the best results from those guys.
Sometimes it takes a couple of tweaks, but small tweaks here and there to change a direction is a lot easier than doing a whole project. Regime change. Yeah. It’s no kidding. And also, your counterpart has different information than you do, they have different resources than you do, and that’s both sides.
Right. If you’re working for the contractor, the owner has different resources than you and vice versa, and use that to your advantage. Right. There’s things that you’ll be able to get access to that he won’t have access to.
There’s things that he’ll have access to that you don’t have access to. Use that to your advantage. Right. It always struck me that people just couldn’t figure that out. Over the years, people have always questioned, whenever I was even doing inspection or anything else, the questions come up of why it is that I’m in the project.
The area manager’s office or the area construction manager’s office or one of the field engineers. Well, I can tell you exactly why, because those are the people at that level to get the thing done that I need.
Rapid Fire Questions
What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to?
For work? South Korea. For family pleasure? Philippines.
What song do you listen to whenever you need to get motivated?
Beastie Boys, Sabotage.
Cats or dogs?
How are the dogs doing?
Great. Love them.
What is one word that best describes you?
So, you know, to a point where sometimes it can get get me in trouble because I’m just really passionate about if I see it’s. Passionate with getting in trouble with upper management because they’re not doing the right things.
Bobby, you’re upper management now. You know that, right?
Yeah, there’s always higher. There is always higher. Unless you’re going straight to the if you’re the CEO, then yeah, but yeah, there’s always people higher than you and holding them accountable, too.
What’s your favorite quote?
Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. I’m not quoting Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson or something. I know you can quote some pretty cool stuff, but yeah, I’m just a real simple kind of guy.
What is your dream job?
They’re all the dream job, right?
As long as you have that perspective.
Yeah. I mean, any job that I feel that I can make a difference and leave a legacy, like, have that impact that I know I left, it better than what I got.
It that’s a dream job for me, and that’s what motivated me. My whole career is just trying to make that imprint on projects and companies that I worked with for. You know, have that little bit of me in each one of those projects, in those companies that I’ve worked with over the years, hoping to make them better for it.