Over the years I have watched many safety professionals struggle to get their message across. In addition to this basic struggle another has also been common; an inability to be promoted beyond a position that just evaluates and enforces government safety regulations (regs). The safety pros I’ve worked with have been good people, yet they seem to nearly always have difficulty gaining the confidence or trust of the upper level managers who determine career advancement. What then does it take to earn the trust of your superiors? In general my model of Trust is that it comes as a result of exhibiting personal Character and Competence.
The first stumbling block for gaining trust in personal competence is our profession’s nearly single focus on regulations as the all important determinate of safety viability. Sure regulations are a fundamental building block of our profession. Yet a too tight focus on regulations as the all important tool is a nearly certain nail in the coffin of advancement with the production dominated culture that is common to many safety professional’s work environments. The production managers know about regs and yet their culture places more emphasis on getting a job done and solving problems than it does on another set of government rules. Consequently the safety pro is often stuck in a box where a single focus regs tool delivers the wrong message with respect to trust and competence. The safety pro must live a strategy that goes beyond glasses and gloves if they are to gain respect/trust and the promotions that can go with it.
This same production mentality/culture usually demands excellent presentation skills that include the ability to think on your feet and provide solutions to unexpected questions that come from the audience. Once again a regs focus that is more of a check in the box approach is not a good fit for this environment, especially if the presenter is not of the caliber that the production culture demands. Add to this the drawbacks of a “safety language” that does not include production fundamentals such as ROI and productivity. The regs language and approach is all about stopping production and productivity not about solving problems and moving on in a profit generating manner. The safety pro leader - messenger has got to:
• Go beyond regs
• Improve presentation skills
• Engage in a safety language that is a better fit for the governing production culture
• Use teamwork to engage the production personnel in finding productive solutions to safety issues
There are some different models for safety that fit in well with production cultures:
• What Causes Injuries
It’s not conditions, it’s activities. A production culture’s employees often believe that safety shortcuts are acceptable production shortcuts that can save time, and “time is money.” Such a group has a norm that continues to frustrate the regs focused safety pro. A Safety Accountability model is needed that parallels and supports the production accountability reality of always doing the right activities no matter what.
• What Safety Improvement Tools are Effective
The “usual suspects” of regs and observation programs are neither dynamic nor well enough respected; nor are they effective enough to get to a six sigma zero error rate – zero injury safety culture. There needs to be a diagnostic of the underlying safety culture and a continuous improvement approach that engages hourly and salaried production personnel in owning and solving their safety culture problems. A glasses and gloves approach just doesn’t have the power to deliver zero. And without teamwork solutions the “lone ranger” approach safety pro is lost.
• What are the Criteria for Safety Excellence
The successful, respected safety pro engages personnel from all levels of the organization:
o With individualized safety accountabilities
o That focus on activities
o That eliminate the possibility of injuries
It is not about counting things you don’t want to have happen; like injuries or items on observation check sheets. Rather it is about counting and reinforcing the excellent completion of activities that eliminate the possibility of injuries by people throughout the organization. And this requires some flexibility as well as a feedback diagnostic to determine how well the safety culture excellence engagement processes are working.
• Confronting the Brutal Facts
Author and professor, John Kotter, wrote an excellent book on “Leading Change.” Our safety pros need some of this same education that their promotable production culture counterparts have:
o What is required to overcome the complacency that so often defeats safety improvement and safety careers?
o Where is the guiding coalition that helps lead safety excellence initiatives?
o What about the people and physical obstacles that keep derailing the safety initiatives?
o How does the safety pro deliver the vision, communicate it effectively and generate a safety culture of frequent small wins?
A focus on glasses, gloves and observation check sheets just can’t deliver the kind of performance needed to overcome these common business culture obstacles.
• Turning Discipline into a Positive Force
The safety pro that focuses on punishing (disciplining) others for rules/regs infractions is missing a whole new world. This new world of performance is about a personal discipline in living a culture of excellence in all that is done, every day. A good definition of effective discipline is: Training which corrects, molds, strengthens or perfects. The production culture world focuses not on punishment, but on a personal discipline that lives and executes excellence in activities as a way of life. The safety pro needs to put an end to Theory X management and move on to much more effective Theory Y and Theory Z approaches. In this whole new world, unless the infraction is a flagrant abuse, discipline for correction becomes a culture of coaching on how to do the job correctly. In turn, this leads to a culture of a personal discipline that has employees at all levels of the organization always doing the job correctly and safely.
• Recognition for a Job Done Well
Few safety pros focus on what is going right. Their normal single focus culture of check in the box regs and concentration on observing and trying to “catch and correct” what is wrong is a death knell to the safety pro’s advancement possibilities. Globally dominant organizations relentlessly pursue getting jobs done right. They are way beyond the 50 year old “catch and correct” management approach. A modern interpersonal effectiveness approach to high performance has leaders, managers and every day personnel giving feedback to others. And this feedback is about “catching and congratulating” people for doing the job right. The new culture norm is seven times more focused on positive reinforcement than negative extinguishment. Most of the activities in a normal organization are done correctly, yet seldom are these frequent successes given any recognition. Safety pros need to develop a safety culture that both meaningfully and frequently celebrates the every day wins.
• A Kaizen Culture
The relentless pursuit of zero! This is the key to success for many modern global business leaders. The Continuous Improvement tools of six sigma, lean and kaizen deliver engagement of personnel throughout the organization in a culture of success. The safety pro who will rise above the maddening (non promotable) crowd will use this excellent production culture approach to help deliver a zero incident safety culture “every day in every way.”
Trust: The result of Character and Competence. How does a safety pro develop character? I would suggest to you that it is about their taking a leadership involvement in using these common business competency tools and in so doing developing a safety culture that goes beyond glasses and gloves. It works for your production counterparts; it can work for you as well.