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Selling Safety, Lessons From a Former Front Line Supervisor 

Selling Safety, Lessons From a Former Front Line Supervisor

It’s a common complaint from safety professionals and supervisors; “I can’t get the employees to follow safety procedures.” They often fail to realize there are two sides to safety; the technical side and the soft skills side. The technical side is the price of entry into the profession. It’s the knowledge to calculate sling loads or understand attenuation rates. It establishes a safety professional or supervisor’s credibility. Certifications are sought to help establish that credibility. Most safety professionals are strong in this area. The other side is the soft skills side. These skills allow safety professionals, leaders and supervisors to influence change. It’s the ability to communicate effectively and build relationships. It’s the art of safety. Both are essential, however too often, it is assumed that those soft skills will simply develop over time. That’s not the case. These skills need to be developed.


Selling ability is one of those critical soft skills. Selling is about influencing employees to do more than just follow procedures. We can have all of the technical skills and the best policies, procedures, and training, but if our employees don’t see the benefit or the need to change, compliance will be difficult to achieve. Going above and beyond procedures to prevent injuries will be practically impossible. The common fallback is to use OSHA as the sole sales tool, “we have to do it because it’s an OSHA regulation.” As a result, safety is thought of as something that must be done, something that’s tolerated.


That’s understandable. Safety can be a tough sell. Even the word “safety” has negative connotations in particular when we connect safety to terms like “investigation”, “audit” and “disciplinary action.” Yet, safety professionals, supervisors, and operations managers must be able to sell safety to the front line, in particular, if the objective is to go beyond minimum standards.


When safety professionals, operations managers, and supervisors do not understand the importance of selling skills, they revert to what they do know or how they were managed. Unfortunately, that typically means managing by command and control and using games, gimmicks, and giveaways. That is how I managed safety as a front-line supervisor almost thirty years ago. Much has changed since then, yet we still see these same mistakes.


To be successful, soft skills like communication, relationship building, and influence are needed. Selling Safety to the Front Line provides an understanding of three (3) key components for selling: vision, knowledge, and heart. Stories and lessons from the presenters’ work history as an hourly employee, supervisor, and safety professional are used to illustrate each component. Understanding and utilizing these components will create a compelling reason for front-line employees to change. Without a compelling reason to change, to follow procedures or training techniques, they won’t.


Ultimately, we want employees to be proactive in identifying and addressing hazards. We want them to be actively involved in creating a safe work environment. To obtain these commitments, session attendees will learn techniques for “selling” safety to front-line employees, including how to have a “Make Safety Personal” conversation. In addition, the “Make Safety Personal” worksheet will be shared with attendees.


Pat illustrates key points using stories from his work career as an hourly worker at a glass bottle factory to a 25 year safety professional.


Learning Outcome #1 


Illustrate the importance of influencing front line employees to help build a strong safety culture.


Learning Outcome #2 


Drive safety culture and to go beyond compliance by understanding three (3) key components to make safety personal: Vision, Knowledge, and Heart.


Learning Outcome #3 


Apply the “Make Safety Personal” worksheet to your next conversation about safety with a front line employee.

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