How I Got Here: Brookfield Properties national safety and security manager Scott Dempsey

by Helena Morgan
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Some people think facilities managers just make sure the lifts are running and the lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down many different paths.

Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken and demystify this essential profession.

To ring in 2024, this week we speak to Scott Dempsey, the national safety and security manager for Brookfield Properties. Dempsey started his career in security in the year 2000, at the high stakes, high pressure Sydney Olympics. Over the past twenty plus years, Dempsey’s career has taken numerous twists and turns along the way to his current role at Brookfield, where he’s responsible for an array of safety and operations considerations. 

Dempsey manages 29 facilities managers and supervisors across more than 15 assets. Additionally, he develops strategies for Brookfield’s National Safety and Security framework amidst a rapidly transforming and long-awaited evolution within the facilities management and security world.

From attending to red belly black snake sightings and kickstarting Brookfield’s inaugural National Safety Month, Dempsey approaches his role with empathy and determination and is constantly looking for new solutions to old problems.

An advocate for meaningful and holistic safety communication, Dempsey argues that safety extends beyond mere rules and “putting up hazard signs” – people need to believe in the power and importance of safety, and such safety messaging must be presented in an accessible and memorable format. 

Facility Management: Talk us through your career and education background – what led to you to becoming the national safety and security manager for Brookfield Properties?

Scott Dempsey: My career started in security at the Sydney Olympics. I had left high school looking to work a trade, and the security sector seemed like the right choice for me at the time. I anticipated that it would only be a short-term gig, but I found my footing and went on to work as a security supervisor and then manager at the World Square precinct in 2004. That is where I was first introduced to the team at Brookfield Properties.

I was hired for a facilities role within Brookfield Properties’ commercial operations team in 2009 – call it good fortune, I was in the right place at the right time, and I said yes. I worked my way up from being a facilities supervisor to becoming a  manager over at Brookfield Place Sydney in 2021.

I took some FM courses – a Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Operations and Facilities Management from the PCA, Technical Services Training in HVAC, and two Certificate IVs in Workplace Health and Safety and Security Risk Analysis.

In 2021, after having worked at Brookfield for just over a decade, I applied to work at the head office. I became national safety and security manager at Brookfield Properties, and have been in this role ever since.

Are there any misconceptions about safety management that you’d like to address? What do you think people picture when you say you’re a national safety manager?

I think the biggest misconception around safety is that it is just about rules and compliance. When I tell people about my position, they think that I’m some sort of oracle who knows everything about safety.

Ultimately, my role is about understanding the needs of facility managers, empowering people to be better at their jobs, and working to help create a culture of safety within the organisation as a whole.

What does your average day look like?

My days are all dynamic and different – no two days are ever the same. Recently, I have reviewed incidents of a car flipping at a car park entrance, and even a red belly black snake located on a site – you can never predict what will happen next!

I spend a lot of time investigating why things didn’t go right, such as a serious safety incident and developing alternate ways to do things when this happens.

I am typically creating procedures, processes, or testing the operation of applied systems and barriers we have in place to date. I also visit sites on a regular basis and travel between Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

Another part of my day-to-day is reporting to senior leaders and the Board, as well as being part of various local and global committees: the global real estate safety forum, global best practices committee, the BPA safety leadership team and the BPA executive incident review committee. 

What are your responsibilities and who are your stakeholders?

When it comes to safety and security, the buck stops with me. My main responsibility is to develop strategies and planning for our National Safety and Security framework. I also support our state teams and consult with them to implement safety policies and procedures.

If we’re implementing change in terms of our safety framework, my role is to manage that change. I also need to ensure that any new safety strategies that we implement translate holistically throughout all aspects of our operations.

Brookfield Properties only manages buildings that we own, so most of my stakeholders are internal, but I still get to work with a diverse range of people. My responsibility is to understand how each member of the wider team thinks and works, and get that safety messaging across to them in a way which resonates. We do also have joint ventures and co-ownerships, where the perspectives and concerns of external stakeholders need to be considered.

What other departments do you work with and do you have a large team working with you?

Because of my position within the national team, my role is quite broad. I work within a team of nine with two safety and security staff reporting to me directly. It’s my responsibility to not only develop safety strategies but also to implement them, which means organising training for the whole team at head office, including legal, HR, marketing – everyone!

I also manage 29 facilities managers and supervisors across more than 15 assets, so there are quite a few people to manage and a huge scope in terms of responsibility.

Tell us about your role in developing and maintaining a “safety-first” culture at Brookfield?

When we talk about safety, people generally only think about rules and compliance.  The entire facilities management and safety and security sector has evolved. Instead of simply complying with the rules, we need people to care about safety and value it, while translating that care across all sectors of the business.

My role is to drive communications with people, be a leader in that space, and make sure that what I say resonates with them and drives home that safety messaging. Translating this to hundreds of different people takes time, but I want people to know that I genuinely care about their safety and wellbeing – and they should care too.

What are some career highlights for you?

A definite highlight for me in 2023 was helping to bring Brookfield’s inaugural National Safety Month activation to life. We aligned with Safe Work Australia’s dedicated Safety Month to develop an education program tailored to stakeholders about the many different aspects of safety that spanned the month of October.

I worked closely with our place-making team and together we created a safety roadshow that we took to individual assets in our portfolio and presented important safety information in a different way to key stakeholders.

We covered a range of important safety issues from accidents and injuries through to mental health – and these were presented in fun and accessible formats, ranging from fireside chats with guest speakers to trivia games. The feedback from Brookfield’s National Safety Month was phenomenal and people enjoyed learning about important safety information in a more informal way.

It was exciting to play such a pivotal role in helping shape and implement the program and it has now caught the attention of Brookfield as a potential global initiative. I loved seeing it grow from an idea to a complete month-long national roadshow. Developing it was a rewarding experience and seeing it in action was really next level. 

What are the biggest challenges and obstacles facing safety management for operations?

I think the biggest challenge for safety management lies in re-shaping the perception and mindset of what safety is. 

Shifting the idea that safety is more than just putting up signs about hazards, that it’s a holistic and all-encompassing issue that impacts all of us every single day. It’s about communicating the complexities of what safety is, and how safety is conveyed to people to ensure it’s communicated in a way that truly resonates with them and is also meaningful.

Because safety impacts every single person, we are always dealing with multiple different generations and personalities. Everyone has a different learning style or preferred platform to learn from and way to absorb information – so the key to success is in delivering the same message in a different way that caters to the various stakeholders.

What do you think are the main skills and attributes required to be a successful safety manager in operations?

Adaptability is absolutely critical for success in safety. You need to have a keen ear and really be able to listen to everyone you meet. More than this, you really need to be able to put yourself in the shoes and situation of the people you are engaging with.

It’s not about being some kind of dictator, sitting in head office developing rules and inventing ways to make life hard. It’s about getting out of the office and into the field. You need to spend time developing your own enhanced understanding of a range of situations and processes. And then you need to constantly look at ways to make things even better, and safer, for everyone.

You also need to be flexible and not afraid to make changes when things don’t work – because it’s often a pathway to get to the things that do work.

Photography supplied by Brookfield Properties. 

Katie Harriagan is the technical and venue services lead for The Round, a new performing arts hub in Nunawading, Melbourneread about what is required to keep The Round running. 

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