Recently, I was talking to Julie Honore from Safesearch, a safety professional recruitment company that specialise in finding safety staff in Asia, Australia and the Middle East. She told me that there is a growing demand for sophisticated safety professionals that can coach, influence and engage on safety.
It is now just expected that safety professional have technical ability, but it is having the right communication skills that makes all the difference between a mediocre safety practitioner and an extraordinary one. That difference can turn into thousands of dollars of extra pay every year and a swift progression up the corporate ladder. And when I say thousands of dollars, we can easily be talking about $40,000 - $70,000 more - per year.
Now, one thing I seem to have in common with lots of consultants to safety professionals is that well, we all find that safety professinoals never seem to think they need to improve in....anything. Particularly communication. And when it comes to influence, it's not something they seem to be consciously aware of. Now, I'm not saying that's every single safety professional. To be honest here, it is the ones who have been staying in the same position year after year. Often complaining about the company they work for.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, there's a reason why you don't get promoted. Why your contract expires and doesn't get renewed. And why, senior management doesn't take you seriously.
As a safety leader, your effectiveness is determined by how clearly and quickly you can spread the positive influence of safety-related activities throughout an organisation.
If you want to get people on board, you have to sell why safety processes and compliance are important to the individual. Why it should matter to them.
In other words, being able to sell the importance of safety, so that you get everyone aligned with the company safety goals. Essentially, that means learning how to sell safety, but in a way that is collaborative and engaging. It also means having the linear thinking required to create a new safety strategy - the goals required, the actions and the end result. Together, with the right brained skills to enable others to connect to the safety vision and work towards it.
It's up to you to develop the leadership skills to positively shape the safety culture
Assuming that you want to keep moving up the corporate ladder, here are some areas that signal where you need to work on:
1. Safety culture influence - it's common knowledge that for safety to infiltrate throughout a company it needs the full support of the CEO and executive team. Companies that are great at safety truly value safety and this comes from the top and trickles down to all levels. If you find that your senior leadership team aren't interested in safety or refuse to support you with communicating safety, then it's your job to convince them the benefits of safety. The big question is, do you know how to do this? Do you know how to create a convincing business case that will highlight to senior management the financial costs to the business from injury claims and insurance costs? If you find that they don't care about safety, then you need to work on making them care.
2. Influencing safety to all levels - For safety to be truly valued in a company, it needs to be championed by senior management and then you need to help them with influencing the rest of the workforce to align with the safety goals. Do you have the communication skills to write engaging safety articles, content for toolbox talks and motivating safety speeches? It's critical that you know how to write about safety that makes it meaningful to others, that you know how to use the right pictures, know techniques to make information easy to understand and easy to remember. If you need help in this area, then the book Transform Your Safety Communication is a great reference book to use.
3. Lack of Commitment - Commitment is such a wonderful thing. Real leadership is about being 100% committed to working to achieve your vision and doing it to help more people. It's not about how you look and what results you get (because initially your results might get worse before they get better, it's about long term results, not short term), but it's about how driven you are to making a difference. Sticking to the course, when things get tough (and they always do!).
It's the committed safety leaders who are the true "movers and shakers", who will do anything to get positive change occurring. They avoid lip service, instead they advocate taking real action. This means keeping appointments, taking complaints about safety issues seriously, doing what you say you will do, caring about people getting injured and being unafraid to make changes when things go bad. You can read more about this at Are you as Committed to Safety as you Think? You've got to ask yourself whether you're truly committed to improving safety and that you'll do what it takes. Or are you only interested in writing information on safety and being the expert and commanding respect?
4. No Action - It's one thing to tell people to work safely, but it's another to see people actually changing their behaviour. If you're writing and talking about safety, but nothing seems to stick, then you need to look at ways to get people to take action. There are lots of strategies you can use and you can learn about them in a complimentary training webinar that we have on for a short time called "3 Secrets to Creating Attention Grabbing Safety Messages." This also means that people talk to you about safety and see you as a safety resource. If you're not getting this, then you know that it's time to improve.
5. Communication gets blocked - many organisations have areas in the company where safety communication, in particular, gets "lost" and doesn't seem to get distributed. Or if it does it has been altered to the point the main message is diluted. While this can be symptomatic of a company operating in competitive silos, it still needs your influence skills to unblock the flow of communication. Do you know how to convince those to distribute your information? Do you know how to improve how you write about safety so it's more engaging? It's really important that you develop a strong network within the organisation you work for to improve the flow of communication.
6. Coaching on safety - When you see someone doing the wrong safety process, do you know how to coach them to improve or do you just criticise? It's important that your communication is about feedback, not failure. Knowing how to influence people one on one in safety is so important for developing the right safety culture.
Safety professionals need to improve how they communicate with their workforce so that their message resonate. This means learning new skills, so that you can connect and communicate ideas and concepts. Likewise, being a safety leader means having the skills to network with everyone throughout the organisation, in order to quickly transmit ideas and get buy-in.
But your role goes much deeper than that. To be a highly effective safety practitioner, you need to be able to influence the thoughts, actions and behaviours at your workplace, so that employees follow the safety goals, thereby creating the right safety culture.
But you have to be committed to wanting to make a difference. And the question is are you really committed to creating a safe workplace and being a true safety influencer?
Image Credit: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos