Boxer painting on wall

Improving Safety Leadership Through Self-Monitoring

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Self-monitoring is key factor affecting the human dynamics of occupational safety. It’s defined as one’s motivation and ability to interpret social cues from the environment and respond to those cues in a socially desirable way. Low self-monitors act similarly regardless of the occasion; high self-monitors alter their behavior effectively to fit the particular situation (Snyder, 1974). This has also been referred to as the “if-then behavioral signature” (Geller, 2008).

In research tests, high self-monitors better understand subtle undercurrents in human interactions (Mill, 1984) and perform better on novel tasks (Haverkamp, 1999). They also become emergent leaders in ambiguous situations (Crownshaw & Ellis, 1991), receive higher job performance evaluations (Zaccaro et. al., 1991), and usually ascend to leadership positions within organizations more rapidly and more frequently than low self-monitors (Snyder, 1986).

To use a boxing analogy, Muhammad Ali famously beat George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” by eschewing his typical movement “float like a butterfly, stink like a bee” and employing the “rope a dope.” After losing the first round, Ali laid against the ropes for the next seven rounds as Foreman pummeled him.

Throughout the entire fight Ali whispered to Foreman, “Is that all you got, George?” Afterward, Foreman admitted he was thinking near the end of the fight, “Yeah, that’s about it.” After Foreman wore himself out, Ali used a five-punch combination to floor Foreman and earn an eighth round TKO to help cement his legacy as the greatest heavy-weight boxer of all time.

What separated Ali from other greats in the golden age of heavyweights? Among other things, flexibility. Unlike Foreman, Frazier, Holmes and others, Ali was able to fight a number of different ways depending on the situation. He was a high self-monitor.

Individuals who become high self-monitors more effectively manage conflict, better empathize with others’ perspectives, and are more successful on the job (Snyder, 1986). You can improve your self-monitoring by listing and tracking key leadership behaviors you’d like to exhibit, requesting feedback from others on your actions, practicing mindfulness in all interactions, keeping a journal of your progress, paying closer attention to social cues in your environment, and making active listening a habit.

Apply these tips to become a high self-monitor and better safety leader.

At Propulo, we coach leaders to focus on prosocial safety behaviors and avoid pitfalls that derail safety efforts. We can help your leaders stay on track and make step change improvements in your safety performance. For more information on this topic, read about Safety & Safety Culture at Propulo Consulting.


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