The most important skill for Safety advisors

My observation today is about how to be an effective Safety Advisor. Much of my thinking comes from watching safety advisors who aren’t that effective! Let me explain.

A large percentage of my experience with safety advisors revolves around compliance. The safety person takes ownership for safety and wants to drive a safer workplace. Often though, the stronger the ownership with safe outcomes, the stronger the need for compliance.

The greater the knowledge with rules, procedures or regulations (they can quote them, and often do, to the page and paragraph), the more they see safety as a compliance problem. For people to be safe they need to comply. Lack of compliance is lack of discipline. Lack of discipline means we need more negative consequences. Its a model we are all very used too both at work and in the real world (think road rules!).

The effective safety advisors though, seem to know where to find the rules, procedures and regulations but are more focussed on building relationships with those around them. They are acutely aware of the importance of changing behaviours through positive interactions rather than negative. They know as an advisor, they need to lead the crew along not push them. To lead, they need support structures within the legitimate chain of command. Influencing leaders has a multiplying affect. One leader can affect his entire team. A brilliant return on investment.

To be effective then, a deeper knowledge of people rather than rules and regulations is paramount. To this end, I believe all safety people should learn from Robert Caldini’s book “Influence”. They should also study behavioural economics through Daniel Kahneman and Dan Areily’s work as a start point. Develop a deeper understanding of “why people do what they do”. Explore the vast body of knowledge of human behaviour from the sales and marketing world and test in our setting.

What we know is compliance has a limited return and is not a reliable method. What we need are techniques which are repeatable. Safety initiatives which we can rely on 100%. To achieve zero harm, we need 100% reliability.

So the most important skill to be an effective safety advisor?…Influence. Get out there and get amongst it.

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