In a previous blog, I talked about the two (2) sides of safety: The technical side and the soft skills side, or as I called it, the art of safety. The technical side establishes our credibility and opens doors to conversations about hazard identification and injury prevention. The art of safety is the soft skills that help us get things done and go beyond minimum standards. It’s the skills that allow us to influence change and as a result have a larger impact on the safety culture.
So, what is the art of safety? And what are the soft skills we need to have that kind of an impact? I learned the three most important things about safety early in my professional safety career. They are 1. Selling, 2. Selling and 3. Selling. If we can’t sell safety, that is the benefits of our safety program, our ability to affect the safety culture will be limited.
I know what you are thinking. Selling? Really? Just the word “selling” has almost as many negative connotations as the word “safety,” and combining two negatives unless you are multiplying, will not give you a positive. After all, no one ever used the term “used car salesman” in a flattering manner, but that’s what we must do, sell safety. Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People said it best, “Selling is about influencing someone to do something we want them to do, and the only way to do that is to find out what they want most and show them how to get it.” In our case, show them how safety can help them get what they want. It works whether we want to influence up or down the organization.
I’ll share an example from my career. My company had just completed an employee engagement survey and several executive leaders had goals to increase scores. They wanted improved employee engagement scores. Because the Human Resources department was leading the improvement plan, I met with the director of HR and explained how establishing safety committees or a safety task force, creating safety coordinator positions and even employee recognition built around safety behaviors can improve engagement scores and have a positive impact on the safety culture. In short, I knew what the Director of HR wanted and I explained how safety can help achieve their goal.
You can be an effective safety manager with strong technical skills, but you can’t be a leader without understanding the art of safety.
What soft skills have you used to influence your safety culture?