People take the advice and guidance of the people they respect.
As a person with a strong commitment to safety, you may have an opinion about senior management’s commitment to safety. A safety person scolding their bosses on social media for a lack of commitment to safety accomplishes nothing. But it does display a lack of respect for co-workers, even if they are your bosses.
Many safety people believe safety cannot improve without senior management’s support and commitment. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true.
The Forest And The Trees
I've been working with a few forestry companies lately so pardon my forest analogy. Senior management is responsible for ensuring the health of the forest. Front-line supervisors and safety personnel are responsible for ensuring the health of each tree. The jobs are very different. At the front-line, if each tree is healthy, the forest is healthy.
Front-line supervisors and safety people must ensure that employees grow strong. Employees who are solidly rooted in safety will make good decisions in safety. Even when there's pressure to do otherwise. Strong safety values are worthy of the respect of a supervisor or safety person.
Baseball Managers Teach Well
Baseball managers don’t field the ball, hit the ball or run the bases. Baseball managers put their players in a position to be able to field the ball, hit the ball and run the bases more often. In other words, baseball managers respect their players’ abilities and give them the tools to get on base more often. On base more often means more runs and more wins. The baseball manager’s job is to help put his players in a position to win.
Front-line supervisors and safety people need to understand that idea. Supervisors and safety people, your job isn’t to protect employees from harm. You’re not superheroes. Your job is to put your employees in a position to win more often. To be able to do that, you have to first gain the respect of the employees who are working with you. You have to accept that they are essentially good people wanting to do the right thing to ensure their own safety. They don’t need your protection. They need your guidance and influence. As a safety leader, you’re working with adults who have the ability to reason and make their own decisions.
To Influence You Need Respect
In order for you as a supervisor or safety person to influence an employee, the employee must buy-in to you. Buy-in has to happen before any influence can take place. It's difficult to get buy-in if you haven’t first established mutual respect. It is hard to respect someone who talks down to you or hovers over you like a mother protecting her children. Employees do not respect your title. They will respect the person with the title but only if that person is worthy of respect.
People take the advice and guidance of the people they respect. They dismiss the suggestions of those who they do not respect. So, if you want to be able to influence and mentor the good people you work with, you have to get their respect first. This is not a step that can be skipped over. If you believe that your people are not capable of making the right safety decisions when your back is turned, it will be nearly impossible to respect them. And they won’t respect you right back.
When Relationships Don’t Work
When one of the partners in a relationship talks down to the other, the relationship is doomed to fail. People need to feel valued. They need to feel that they matter. They need to feel important to the relationship, whether it’s a marriage or a work relationship. As a supervisor, if you can’t make your people feel they really matter, they won’t stick around.
A good supervisor strives to let each crew member know they are valued as an individual. As a supervisor and safety person, you have to work diligently to build trust between yourself and crew members. Supervisors, get to know your people at a personal level and leverage those relationships. Build strong, trusting relationships. That allows you to leverage your best people to become your safety ambassadors. They can encourage others to buy into safety. This helps break down the “us vs. them” culture. Once individuals embrace the values of safety and relationship, teamwork and mutual caring become the status quo.
But it starts with your level of respect for the people you work with. Without respect, building a strong safety culture falls apart.
Kevin Burns gives engaging, entertaining and inspiring presentations to front-line employees at safety meetings. He also works with supervisors and managers on-site or in keynote presentations at conferences. Kevin helps organizations integrate caring for and valuing employees through their safety programs. Kevin Burns is a management consultant, safety leadership speaker and author of 9 books. He is based in Calgary, Canada.
©2016 ZeroSpeak Corporation and Kevin Burns.
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