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In a regulated company, quality professionals may be revered or dreaded or downright misunderstood. But there’s no denying their important role. As quality guru Joseph Juran said, all improvement happens project by project and in no other way. To paraphrase Juran, I would say a high-quality product or service happens step by step and process by process. Guess who’s responsible for making sure every step and every process is working effectively? You got that right—quality pros.
Government figures reinforce the importance of quality jobs and the professionals who perform those jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t separate quality jobs per se. However, the agency said that total employment in the life, physical, and social science fields is projected to grow 10.1 percent from 2012 to 2020. Nearly four in five jobs created in the life, physical, and social science occupations group will require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and more than two in five will be at the graduate degree level, according to a BLS report (1).
If you’re in quality or if you aspire to join this burgeoning field, it behooves you to know what you need in order to set yourself apart from the competition or to simply “up” your game. Let’s take a look at the characteristics that make quality professionals tick. Is it fastidiousness? Extensive knowledge of regulations? The ability to lead people? It’s all of these things and then some.
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“Traditionally the qualities most associated with ‘quality’ individuals are indeed, fastidiousness, attention to detail, and a drive for perfection,” said Lily Erickson, MasterControl’s global quality manager for the U.S., U.K., and Japan.
“A good quality professional has the qualities of a good leader and change agent,” said Roger Crist, MOXTEK Inc.’s quality director. In addition to leadership, effective communication skills are also paramount, according to Patrick Farley, application administrator at The Institute for Transfusion Medicine (ITxM).
6 Characteristics of Exceptional Quality Pros
Below are some of the traits that Crist, Farley, and Erickson identified as key differentiators between a regular quality pro and an exceptional one. I will take their word for it. The three of them combined have 47 years of quality experience.
If you’re interested in entering the quality field or if you’re looking for ways to improve your performance, take note of these characteristics.
#1 Be an effective communicator.
A big part of effective communication is the ability to listen well. “You have to take quality to the people and not keep it inside your office,” said Farley. “So my going to where the people work and listening to their concerns and watching what they do to better streamline the quality process is always important to me.”
Erickson pointed out that quality can sometimes be seen as an adversarial environment rife with red tape. “It takes a skilled communicator—adept at identifying an audience and convincing them to adhere—who can think out of the box and get others excited about change to succeed in this environment,” she added.
#2 Be an effective leader.
Crist identified his own “three Cs” as crucial to being a good quality leader. They are:
- Communication: “Quality professionals need to have a clear vision and be able to communicate it clearly to others,” he said.
- Consistency: To support sustainable change and continual improvement, a quality Professional must be patient but maintain what W. Edwards Deming called a “constancy of purpose.”
- Credibility: Stephen Covey pointed out that good leaders have “character and credibility”; they are not only seen as trustworthy but they are also knowledgeable in their fields of expertise.
#3 Be an expert in your field.
Obviously knowledge of regulations and standards is a prerequisite. Crist explained that such knowledge should include an understanding of customer requirements and common best practices. He said it must come hand in hand with openness to new and innovative ways to meet requirements.
“A quality professional needs to be knowledgeable and experienced enough to know when it is appropriate to be flexible. Some requirements may be very prescriptive (method of compliance is specified), but other requirements may allow for greater adaptation to a company’s preferred method,” Crist added.
#4 Maintain your integrity.
Erickson pointed out that a quality department operates on a high level of trust. “Accountability and integrity are crucial,” she added. Indeed how can you represent quality if you yourself don’t maintain the high standard you expect from everyone else?
#5 Keep your sense of humor.
Having a calm personality and a good sense of humor can go a long way, said Farley. “The regulatory world is very important and very serious. But if you can translate the serious facts into a fun way to learn and remember, the employees will have a better chance of remembering the important stuff,” he explained.
Erickson agreed, saying, “I employ a heavy dose of self-deprecation when working with our engineers and other subject matter experts. When I enter their territory and ask for them to change what they are doing, I do not go in with ego or insistence.”
#6 Cultivate people skills.
Quality is ultimately about people. “In my experience, I have been most effective when I value the ideas and opinions of others and earn their respect and trust by being reliable and approachable,” explained Crist. “To establish and maintain a ‘culture of quality’ requires investing in relationships and engaging all team members in the improvement process.”
Farley thinks the ability to relate to co-workers is crucial. “You can learn about the quality regulations on the job, but having good people skills needs to be in place before taking the job,” he said.
For Erickson, this means taking that extra step to explain certain things. For example, when she asked for tightened security in an existing process, she skipped the email and explained it in person. “It was going to be a serious change to their existing culture and experience. So, I called a meeting,” she said. In addition, she shared relevant personal experience she had with another company. “Giving examples made the scenario real to the employees and hopefully helped them to understand the importance of the need for change,” she said.
Cindy Fazzi is the editor of MasterControl Insider, a monthly publication for MasterControl users. She writes about the life science industry and other regulated environments. Her two decades of experience as a news reporter, writer, and editor includes working for the Associated Press in Ohio and New York City. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio State University.
(1) From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 2013 forecast