For Mary Silverthorn, human resources is about ensuring
front line employees have the support they need to do their
As provincial commander, corporate services command
at the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) headquarters in Orillia,
Ont., Silverthorn oversees between 400 and 500 uniformed and
All told, the OPP is Canada’s second-largest police force, with
more than 5,800 uniformed officers, 2,400 civilian employees and
830 auxiliary officers.
In addition to the typical duties of a chief administrative offi-cer,
Silverthorn is also responsible for the force’s uniform training
academy, operational policy, municipal policing, fleet supply and
HR Professional joined her to discuss lessons learned during her
20-year career in human resources, a field that was just emerging
when she decided to pursue it in university.
Since then, the profession has come a long way. Indeed,
Silverthorn is happy that people are now seen as the strength of an
organization and HR policies and processes are recognized as the
grease that keeps the organizational engine humming.
When did you decide you wanted a
career in human resources?
Mary Silverthorn: My father identified it as a career choice when I
was in high school, trying to figure out what I wanted to be. I knew
I wanted to work with people and follow my father’s footsteps in
business. Back in 1986, human resources management was a new
field of study at universities. At that time, there were only three or
four universities that offered it as part of their business program. I
did my undergrad at Brock University, which offered HR courses,
and my MBA through the University of Ottawa.
What was your first HR job?
MS: My first HR job was fresh out of university in 1991 and I
worked as a training consultant for the then Ministry of Colleges
and Universities. I worked with small organizations that employed
less than 20 people, providing grant funding for them to identify
and secure training opportunities for their employees. It was fun!
I worked with everyone from plumbers to small manufacturers.
I really learned how to assess the needs of my clients and how to
communicate and establish rapport with anyone. Those are key
competencies, then and now.
Tell me about your current job. What are
your main areas of responsibility?
MS: My job with the OPP covers everything from recruitment
to retirement and all points in between. I’m also a partner in
organizational development, design and change. I deal with the
strategic elements of HR functions as well as being a corporate
partner in support of the OPP vision, “Safe Communities ... A
What do you love about your job?
MS: I love working with people and collaborating with my team of
professionals who support the organization. I love their enthusi-asm
for the work they do. No day is like any other, and that’s what
is so exciting about it. You’re learning every day. Just when you
think you’ve seen and heard it all, you discover something new!
What are the challenges you experience in your job?
MS: My challenge is doing more with the complement I have.
That means making tough decisions about where the priorities lie.
The OPP is publicly funded, so for an organization of 9,000, I
probably have 65 HR professionals. I really have to make the most
of the resources that have been allocated. For me, that’s always
been the big challenge.
What’s key to leading HR during a difficult
time for a client organization?
MS: I think it’s important to be clear on what the top priorities
are, so that my team knows where to focus their efforts. It’s impor-tant
to have a solutions-focus and a can-do attitude. That’s where
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