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Relationships Drive Safety Success

Safety Success - croppedCan effective relationships help drive safety efforts? Recently I’ve noticed that leaders I have good relationships with are more likely to approach me for help, while other leaders, with whom I may not have as strong of a relationship, don’t request my input as often. So what’s the difference between those who seek my help and those who don’t?

I was reading through ASSE’s newsletter, The Advisor, when an article entitled, “Five Steps to Developing Impenetrable Business Relationships” caught my eye. While the article targeted external consultants, my role and expertise is still very much of a consultant within my organization.

What makes an effective consultant? The article’s authors suggest that the two biggest qualities a consultant needs are commitment and expertise. The client (foreman, project manager, etc.) needs to believe I understand their challenges, and am eager and able to help them resolve those challenges. These challenges might be technical, like a foreman trying to figure out how to safely send his guys into a confined space; organizational, like a vice president trying to get his message out about reducing the frequency of a certain type of injury; or political, like a superintendent who wants to follow the rules, but is feeling pressure to cut corners from a customer. You need to anticipate these problems and be ready to offer solutions. Once you’ve demonstrated your commitment and expertise, the authors suggest five key steps to making yourself invaluable to that customer, a true “top consultant.”

  • Take a “counselor approach.” You want to be viewed as a “problem finder, problem-solver, and profit-improver.” Failing to manage risk in today’s market means the difference between profitability and breaking even or losing money. Safety can help manage those risks.
  • Manage your exposure. Do an organizational analysis and determine who in the organization needs your help and would be receptive to it. If you can convince them, they can help champion your recommendations, getting them to the right people.
  • Collectively solve problems and implement those solutions. Be present to identify problems and come up with a solution, as well as through the implementation phase.
  • Maintain confidentiality. At times the safety professional needs to report sensitive and unpleasant information (an employee’s mistake, or a manager’s failure to follow policy). A big part of this step requires the safety professional to use his/her best judgment on when to escalate the situation or when to allow the leader or on-site individual to sort out and solve a problem on his own.
  • Take an advisory role. We safety folks need to recognize that organizational leaders wear many hats and will need our help to identify and report trends and offer solutions when we see things going in the wrong direction.

As you can see, the article offered a lot of food for thought about how I can be most effective in my role as a company-hired “internal consultant.” A strong safety professional – and a strong safety department – needs to continuously work on building solid relationships at all levels and in all branches, departments, and groups throughout the company. It’s these solid relationships that drive our safety efforts and net positive safety results for our workforce and for the company’s bottom line.