Keeping your safety professionals happy in their careers can be a challenge for any organization. Just like creating a solid career path for our high performers, we must be able to keep our safety team motivated.
Many organizations don't understand how to develop their safety professionals' careers and end up with an unhappy, underutilized opportunity.
In safety, our most important resource are the employees that are performing the jobs. Our employees are the backbone of what we do; not machines. Our most important goal is to ensure the well-being of our employees through building a strong culture. I define culture as working together for the purpose of common goals, caring for each other, and results-driven outcomes.
However, there are many other areas of employee development that are neglected for a number of safety professionals. This includes keeping our employees motivated and developing a solid path in their careers. We need to focus on setting them up to be the high performers within our own organizations.
A safety professional has many responsibilities, including preventing safety hazards, developing and implementing safety plans, and executing employee training. They are also in charge of OSHA incident rates and managing workers' compensation costs. Additionally—and what I consider to be overlooked by many organizations—the safety team has one-on-one contact with employees on a daily basis. This has the ability to set the culture for the entire organization.
Having a safety person who is fully engaged in the organization is one of the best ways to spark employee engagement and create a team culture. It is vital that we treat our safety professionals like we treat the high performers within our companies.
Only a 10% improvement in employees' connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 12.7% reduction in safety incidents, an 8.1% decrease in turnover, and 4.4% increase in profitability, according to a recent Gallup report. Isn't that worth striving for?
In my 20 years of experience in safety and talent management, I have been able to add value and mitigate risk for organizations by monitoring, mentoring, and developing high performance teams through active leadership and innovative learning. These tips have proven effective at creating a positive culture; not just within safety, but the entire organization.
In this article, I am going to share with you three tips to enhance what I believe to be an overlooked and undervalued, yet essential, part of any successful organization: a highly motivated safety team.
1. Put The Right Person In The Right Spot
This may seem like an obvious one, but it often isn't taken seriously enough. In reality, most organizations only tend to look at qualities like hard skills or experience, simply out of need to fill the role. These are important attributes to look for in a job applicant, but they shouldn't be the only consideration.
When I hire a safety professional (or any professional) I always look at three prerequisites or "Ted's must-haves."
First, they must show up on time, if not before the workday begins. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but in safety we are in a fish bowl and others are always watching us. We must walk the talk of the employees we are helping.
Second, never lose your cool with anyone for any reason. This is not easy, but as a safety person, we are being tested to see our true sincerity. If we fail on this we will be seen as uncaring and the whole safety department will be judged on this one interaction.
Third, and most important, is follow up, follow up, and more follow up. I can't state how important this is to build the trust that creates the culture of caring for one another. This, by far, is the most important step.
Don't ask your safety person to know everything as long as they follow up within a short amount of time. I have always said less than 24 hours is a good rule. This shows our employees we care enough to get back to them even if it may not be what they want to hear. We are often tested for our sincerity and we must pass this test every time to build our foundation.
A tool I like to use during an interview is asking behavioral interview questions. This allows me to get a gauge on "Ted's must-haves." I will also talk with references to ensure they have previously demonstrated these qualities.
This is why we must take time to choose the right cultural fit. I can teach people safety, but I can't teach safety professionals about people.
I once hired a safety person when we were on a hiring freeze because I knew he met all three of these requirements. He was the perfect fit for our culture and turned out to be very valuable to our company for many years.
Safety professionals must be able to obtain buy-in from others to create and promote a strong culture. It is the responsibility of leadership to share our vision and clarify the objectives we expect them to perform. Once the mission is shared, leadership must communicate frequently and authentically, and safety professionals are in the best avenue to send this message with their day-to-day interactions.
Choosing the right person for the career is not as easy as it appears and I have hired hundreds of employees. In my experience, when I find the right person that can create buy-in for the culture of the company, they are going to be a much more productive and fulfilled team member because they see the greater picture of the organization.
Employees must be given the opportunity to thrive, and we can assist them in this by creating the right fit from the start, followed by a clear mission and goals (for both department and company).
Ultimately, an employee is going to be motivated by what they can bring to the organization. Put the right person in the right spot for your organization's culture growth.
2. Focus On Growth And Development
It is important to focus on an employee's effort, not just the outcome. Many times in safety, we are working to improve overall safety but focus on lagging indicators such as incident rates or workers' compensation. We don't accurately reflect our current state of safety or culture. This can be very frustrating for an employee who isn't seeing the results as fast as they would like to due to numbers that are lagging behind.
It is crucial to offer learning opportunities to our safety employees that allow growth. They want to grow and develop in their field, and we need to recognize and support these efforts, even if the results may not appear to be there quite yet. I have had employees tell me they are sorry for the way things are going on a project in terms of incidents; however, I measure their performance on culture, not on lagging indicators.
When I walk around a project and workers are open to talking and have good housekeeping practices, this shows we have a good culture. Good culture equals good safety practices and means our employees are going home safe.
This tip is not exclusive to safety, but can be utilized in other levels of the company as well.
I have had many employees receive offers for better pay with other companies. They find out that their career is now a job. Money doesn't motivate employees. Being able to develop them into a role they see themselves in helps their careers grow. I have had many employees move on within our organization and further their own careers. This has helped the companies, and it all stems back to the key area of ensuring their growth.
We must be committed to our employees even if it means losing them to another department. This is a huge win-win for the company. We now have a person we know, who has knowledge of the company and knows they are on a career path of growth and high motivation. I win when this occurs because we have another set of professional safety employees within the company, even if they aren't in safety.
We can further create development within our employees by challenging them and creating milestones for them to reach. It is important to set them up for success, and celebrate those milestones when they are met.
Through our support, we not only improve the individual but the company as well with a well-rounded employee that can grow into a high performer. Focus on growth and development to form a solid foundation for your organization's culture.
3. Provide Supportive Leadership
Safety can feel like a very lonely place at times. Having to ensure that some unpopular procedures or safety equipment must be followed/worn to reduce the likelihood of being injured can be difficult. Even though we are trying to keep them safe, employees aren't always appreciative of our efforts.
Often, organizations focus so heavily on production (which is necessary), that the support of our safety professionals can get overlooked. We must recognize that content and fulfilled employees will result in improved safety, quality, and production efforts. This all begins by listening to our employees' needs and their frustrations.
This seems easy, but we are all very busy with our own tasks and goals. We don't have all the answers, but we must be able to listen.
As leaders, we must act fairly and make an effort to create trust within the relationships. Safety professionals desire transparency; they want to be part of the bigger picture and understand what their role is beyond safety. We can provide supportive leadership by having one-on-one meetings with our employees either in-person or on the phone. Regular department meetings will create an open avenue for communication.
In my weekly department meetings, we have an agenda that is sent out in advance. We have a set amount of time (normally a half hour) to talk on safety issues and what is going on around the company. The employees love learning about what is going on around the company so they can share with others what is going on in the organization which allows them to gain trust of the employees. This way, they become an advocate for the company.
This helps to build a culture of trust for the entire organization. A supportive leader will build trust and inspire his/her employees to reach new heights, resulting in happier employees that perform at high levels—improving the entire organization. We must provide supportive leadership to instill culture within our organizations.
These are some simple tips that I found through my 20 year career that have proven to keep safety professionals happy in their careers.
If you are looking at safety professionals to only perform "safety tasks" you may be missing a golden opportunity. If you follow and dedicate yourself to these tips, you will improve not only safety but also the bottom line of your organization and that is what we are all striving to do for our companies.
Only 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and "what makes it different from competitors." (Gallup) Imagine what it would do for our organizations and our competitors if we were to improve just 1% a week on our culture. Imagine what it would do for our employees, our most important resource that we have within any organization.
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