Why Pursue Certified Director of Safety (CDS)?

Dec 21, 2015 | Articles

My father, Austin D. Farrell was a NATMI (North American Transportation Management Institute) instructor back when the organization was known by its former name: The National Committee for Fleet Supervisory Training (I think I got that right). Every autumn, my family would pack up and head to State College, PA for a couple of days. My dad would teach his fleet safety and fleet maintenance management classes while my mother would take me and my siblings for a walk around the Penn State campus. We’d meet up with dad for dinner and stroll along “College Ave” to soak up the excitement of campus life.

My father was one of the few professionals to hold all of the National Committee certifications and I will always be proud of him for his willingness to “give back” by volunteering his time to teach those courses each fall.

When I graduated from Penn State many years later, I wound up working as a safety professional for Reliance Insurance Company in Philadelphia. Don Smith, then Executive Director of the National Committee, invited me to participate in several classes at University of Delaware in 1990-91 including Motor Fleet Safety Basics and the Basic/Advanced Accident Investigation workshops (with Tim Mowery).

Although I had taken the necessary classes to pursue certification, I put off the CSS/CDS test and professional exhibit notebook. At the time I felt that I was too busy with work and with home life (getting married, raising a family). However, certification always seemed like something “I’d get around to doing eventually”.

Well, when I joined Nationwide in February (25 years after taking my first NATMI course), I asked our department leadership team to give me the flexibility to pursue certification in the midst of an overwhelming work load and fleet insurance profitability crisis. They could have easily said; “Not right now, come back to it later” but thankfully they encouraged me to “get it done”.

Why now?

For me it was simple –

As our leadership team noted, as professionals, we need to be constantly working to improve our skills, network of contacts, and fostering of innovation (instead of putting things off forever)

I felt that my credibility, while built from the school of hard knocks and thousands of fleet surveys, was incomplete or hollow without the professional certification as a capstone or hallmark showing that I wasn’t merely professional in my duties, but that I am a “professional” among peers (as evaluated against a standard “yardstick”)

I was leading a team of regional fleet specialists, and I knew I would eventually ask them to consider becoming certified. However, it would be uncomfortable to ask them to step up when I hadn’t done so myself. It’s critical (IMHO) for a leader to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Further, NATMI provides excellent speaking points on the value of certification at their own web site:

  1. Training and certification help fleets reduce collision rates, injury rates, recruit and retain qualified drivers, avoid fines and penalties and present a favorable public image by pursuing a higher standard than is required.
  2. For the employer who invests in their supervisors, managers and directors, it brings an effectiveness boost to the bottom line and shows that top management is willing to invest to be successful over the long term.

I love the way NATMI summarizes the benefits to the applicant:

Certification is a formal means of establishing a professional reputation, a process for improving your work performance and advancing your career. Certification measures your professionalism against objective standards respected industry-wide. Certification means you have been tested against a standard and have succeeded. The process of certification is designed not only to measure your current level of competence but improve your performance and take you to a new level of ability.

So, after reading about 1200 pages of pre-classroom material, spending four days in the classroom with safety teams from various fleets, passing a 100 question exam and submitting a two inch thick notebook binder to “defend” why I ought to be called CDS, it finally was approved.

I have to admit that I learned a lot through the process (despite my many years of experience!) I met great contacts who I regularly communicate with on various “real world issues”, and I’m thinking about other designations that I would like to pursue. I find myself encouraging my peers to pursue additional education, especially leading to a certification, if at all possible. It’s a big commitment, but a greater reward when it’s all done.

Lastly, some final benefit thoughts from NATMI’s site (if you or your employer isn’t already convinced):

From a survey of Certified Directors of Safety, recipients stated that NATMI training and certification directly enhanced their ability to:

  • Lower the company’s accident rate (86%)
  • Achieve a lower occupational injury rate (83%)
  • Control costs associated with accident litigation (100%)
  • Comply with regulatory requirements (87%)


Paul Farrell, CDS

New Milford, NJ

About the Author


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