The gaps continue to grow. Yes, GAPS, plural—as in two. The "generational gap" is one, in which, as a safety professional you have a personal responsibility. The "organizational gap" is the other, in which you have the power of influence.
As it pertains to the organizational gap, you know first hand the paradox (two opposing views working against each other). The ideal model (and rare) is when leadership/management promotes and practices a safe environment to ensure the health and safety of employees; senior management actually walks-the-talk. In the common model (found in most organizations), talk turns cheap when the safety meetings are over. "Out there, production drives profit" and the objective is to keep on schedule. "Besides, we've always done it this way." It is this core belief and casual thinking that literally drives a wedge and widens the gap between senior management and the rest of the organization.
It was not long ago that I found myself sitting with a client as he began talking about his new initiative: changing the cultural attitude and behavior as it pertains to safety. As we talked, he referenced an organization that had a strong belief that safety was not only a personal responsibility, it was a lifestyle, more than just "on-the-job." He went on to describe two men mowing their yard. One was dressed in shorts, tank-top and sandals; the other was dressed in full-length pants, sleeved shirt, shoes, eye-wear, ear plugs, etc. Can you see the picture? Is this possible? Can a job promote safe decision-making behavior so well that it actually changes the way in which we think about our daily routine at home? I suggest to you it's not only possible, it is today's reality for top performing organizations.
The research studies have been completed, the results have been tallied. The Gallup Organization, ASTD (American Society of Training & Development), AMA (American Management Association) are all sending the same message. Human capital is the key to today's profit margins. We no longer live in a physical economy in which what the company owns (facilities, equipment, etc.) generates profit . We now live in a mental economy in which your people and brain power are the greatest assets. Why would you NOT invest in the health and safety of your greatest asset?
Granted, this is a question for shareholders and senior management. But whether you have support from the top or not, I challenge you to re-examine your power of influence. Whether you are considered an expert in safety or just starting out in the business, I challenge you to re-examine your communication skills and the ability to connect and influence others.
As a safety professional in today's business economy, you have the responsibility of affecting positive change one person at a time. The best test you can give yourself on how effective you are at influencing others is to look at your personal relationships. The wise man was correct: "good behavior starts at home." Do you demonstrate good communication behavior (skills) with those who are close to you? This self-assessment will offer real insight to your own ability to connect. As you might imagine, if I am struggling to connect and influence those closest to me, the challenge quadruples when I come into contact with those that I do not know as well, such as co-workers, new-hires, subcontractors and others.
You may need to develop your own personal communication skills, your social skills and the ability to deal with difficult people. Just because you are a Certified Safety Professional means very little in regard to your ability to influence and connect with others. Regardless of the person's seniority, authority, title or age, the responsibility is yours. Regardless of whether senior management unintentionally creates a "gap" by sending mixed messages or not, you have a personal responsibility to "close the gap" as best you can, one employee at a time.
The fact remains, safety is a personal issue. Safe behavior is a result of personal decision-making that each individual must take responsibly. Furthermore, this way of thinking extends beyond the job and into our personal lives. You, of all people, must combat the age-old thinking of "this is the way we've always done it," or "they'll never listen," or "we've tried that in the past and it didn't work." It is a discipline that you must take on and renew in your own conversations with yourself to re-establish a new course of action that starts with personal ownership. Let senior management change or not change; let those in the field who are teaching what they were taught change or not change. You have the power to influence and, through developing your own skills, have the unique opportunity to connect with each individual.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines safety as "the condition of being safe; freedom from danger, risk, or injury." If you allow me one final word it is this—you cannot do your job alone. You need the buy-in from each person you meet to create this "condition of being safe."
Safety is a personal business and it starts with you. As you develop your own communication skills, you will soon realize how we unintentionally send the wrong message. It is my hope and prayer that you continue to believe in what you do as a safety professional; that through your influence and personal growth in connecting with others (including the difficult ones) you bring good health, safety and profitability together under one common practice. ip
KNOWLEDGE, INSIGHT & STRATEGY FOR UTILITY SAFETY & OPS PROFESSIONALS
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