If you’ve ever read my blog or seen one of my posts on LinkedIn, you’ll know that I firmly believe in coaching, not managing. But what do I actually mean by this?
I am a big advocate of honest, open communication in the workplace, no matter your role because I know it can make or break a business. This goes double for those responsible for safety, as communication can often be the difference between life or death.
Long gone are the days when it was fine for safety managers to walk around, clipboard in hand, shouting orders and telling people off for not wearing their hard hats. To have any impact, these managers should instead be asking themselves why that person wasn’t wearing their hard hat in the first place.
Coaching comes in; a more diplomatic, empathic way of doing things to get the best out of your team.
However, I know this management style doesn’t always come easily. The good news is that these skills can be learnt, and with an open mind and a willingness to change, safety managers can shift the way they do things and ensure a safer workplace.
Change things up
Sometimes, when things don’t seem to be working, a change in mindset is all it takes.
Empowering people to reach their conclusion, make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions can be far more effective than telling them the answer.
Rather than drilling the ‘right’ answer into employees, managers should be focused on empowering others to make their own reasoned choices and make daily safety tasks subconscious.
This subverts the idea that employees should ‘do as they’re told and instead equips them with the ability to act independently and dynamically, freeing managers to take a more effective big picture approach rather than getting bogged down in the day-to-day.
Get to know your people.
I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t know who your people are, what makes them tick, and their ‘why’, your efforts will always be in vain.
Everyone is different and has their reasons for doing what they do, and something that works for one person will not work for another. This is why cut and paste safety briefings are so ineffective.
You will never learn anything about your team by locking yourself in an office and waiting for them to ask for help. Showing you care, engaging with colleagues, asking questions – not just about the workplace but about their lives too – and offering guidance is a far more effective strategy.
Take time to walk and talk with co-workers and keep them up to date with developments. It shows that you care about them as people can work miracles though it takes commitment and patience.
Your involvement and genuine interest in who they are will result in an engaged team that will want to work with you and take your advice on board. Building relationships is a superpower that not enough managers take advantage of.
Ensure your employees have the information they need
As a safety manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that colleagues have access to the latest safety regulations and procedures and the relevant training that will help them build a stronger safety culture together.
This sounds easier said than done, however. We all know how easy it is to throw a few PowerPoint presentations together and call it ‘safety training’. But unfortunately, such training is rarely put together with the worker in mind, and most workers will zone out before they take it in.
When putting together training materials, you should know who your audience is, their pain points, and which training method they’ll respond to best. Don’t overwhelm them with things they don’t need to know.
By giving employees relevant information and training so that they can put it into practice, you’ll be equipping them to respond to situations safely and dynamically, ultimately reducing the time and financial cost of micro-managing.
Show, don’t tell
Think about coaching this way: you are like a parent who needs to teach their children the life skills they need to figure out how to do things independently. Although it feels more straightforward and quicker to tell someone exactly what to do and how to do it, you’re just creating further problems down the line.
With this method, you’ll more than likely have to give specific instructions repeatedly. This is unpleasant and frustrating for everyone involved: no one likes being told what to do, especially repeatedly. They’ll tune out.
Micromanaging people discourages initiative, engagement, and taking responsibility for one’s actions.
Instead, here are a few things you should focus on:
- First, listen to what your team says and learn their pain points. Listening will help you come up with more helpful solutions.
- Ask open questions, don’t just assume things – if you need more information or clarification, don’t be afraid to ask. Similarly, some individuals find it difficult to express their concerns or might not know where to start in conversations. But, again, asking the right questions can lead to a more fruitful discussion.
- Give feedback. This is essential for improvement as it helps things move along. Focus on constructive feedback.
- Show empathy. When we struggle or make mistakes, being shown empathy helps us unblock, move on, and learn. Showing empathy will help guide your team out of the slump and closer to your desired goal.
Use mistakes as learning opportunities.
Everyone makes mistakes. The safety industry itself was built on learning from our mistakes, so it’s only fair to continue to use mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failings.
No one wants accidents to happen, but when they do, your goal is to understand why the incident happened and work with the people involved to prevent it from happening again.
As a safety manager, you need to accept that mistakes happen. However, you should also do your best to use them as learning opportunities rather than automatically resorting to discipline.
If the same person continues to make the same mistakes, there is probably a bigger issue. Perhaps the person does not fit into your safety culture. But if it’s the first time, you have a golden opportunity to look at the circumstances around the incident and work with the person to make sure it does not happen again.
As a safety coach, your goal should always be to work with people towards better safety practices, not against them.
Keep investing in yourself.
As with any skill, practice makes perfect, which goes for coaching. No one is born a brilliant coach, and there should be no shame in admitting that you need improvement.
Many managers might not even be aware that they lack skills, and some might even think they are great coaches when the reality is different. As coaches and leaders, we need to develop the kind of self-awareness that will help us improve.
Checking in from time to time, asking for feedback from teams or direct managers, and keeping up with training needs is paramount for building a successful career that helps people create safer workplaces.
Get advice from the experts.
I’ve spent the last two decades working closely with safety managers and supervisors to teach them the skills they need to help develop their people and get the best out of them, ultimately ensuring a safer environment.
If you think you might benefit from learning the skills to be more coach-like, get in touch.