Making a Safety Connection
By Eduardo Lan
Organizations and their leaders often work on improving safety culture and safety performance by means of tightening up safety systems and providing both technical and non-technical training. They also engage in safety coaching focused on observing and correcting unsafe behavior and conditions. Although all of this is necessary and important, it is insufficient to generate a safe workplace.
Ultimately, it is people who choose to follow rules and procedures and engage in safe work. Thus, no amount of safety training, system improvements and/or behavior management will be sufficient if people don’t want to work safely.
Making a Safety Connection: Safety is a Choice
Step changes in safety require an individual’s discretionary effort and high levels of engagement, critical thinking, and ownership, aspects which cannot be fully regulated via systems or demanded via behavior-based safety management.
To obtain an individual’s discretionary effort we must satisfy certain basic needs, including the need to be seen and heard, to be appreciated, to belong, and to contribute. A powerful way to fulfill these needs is through the exercise of heartfelt, visible leadership and meaningful engagement.
When leaders actively care for and engage people, an environment is created where people thrive. In such an environment, people bring forth their best selves, do great work, and act ethically and responsibly.
Actively caring for and engaging people is all about showing up and making the time to be with and listen to others with genuine interest and humility. It involves making a connection.
According to Brené Brown, connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship (Brown, 2021).
In the realm of safety, making a connection has to do with interacting with people from a place of genuine care and concern and engaging them in meaningful conversation that gets them thinking, speaking, and owning safety. This involves:
- Building relationships. Relationships are at the basis of our ability to influence others. Policies, procedures, training, and authority can only get you so far, but ultimately people will do the right thing because they care, which increases when you care.
- Appreciating and recognizing people for the good and safe work that they do. Appreciating and recognizing others is not just a nice thing to do, it is smart business. When people feel appreciated for specific behaviors, they are more likely to repeat said behaviors, even when no one is watching.
- Asking engaging questions that get people thinking and speaking. Making a safety connection is all about engaging others in meaningful conversation. Nothing engages people more than asking them engaging questions. Ideally, these questions should be open-ended (what, where, how, and why) to foster thinking and speaking instead of eliciting simple yes or no answers.
- Utilizing positive accountability. People tend to rise to the level of expectations. To achieve extraordinary safety results, expect and hold people accountable to said results via positive accountability, balancing care and concern with operational excellence.
- Making the conversation personal, relevant, and important. When possible, make the conversation personal, relevant, and important. Stay away from quoting policies, procedures, and statistics, and instead focus on those subjects that are near and dear to people, such as family, wellbeing, and life interests.
- Thanking people for their commitment and contribution to a safe workplace. End each conversation with a heartfelt thank you to people for their commitment and contribution to building a safe workplace, making them feel like the heroes that they are!
- Following up. Building connections, relationships, and safe workplaces requires multiple iterations. Follow up with people to strengthen the relationship, verify commitments made (theirs and yours), and report on any new developments.