We strongly believe that effective engagement is central to improving safety culture, and that safety culture and safety leadership are inseparable. Leaders drive culture and have the greatest influence on its nature through communication. Yet communication isn’t always as effective as it should be, especially when it comes to safety.
A good leader, at any level:
- encourages people to buy-in to a common goal
- clearly explains the chosen path towards it
- listens to the hopes and concerns of individual team members along the way
If you think your communication could be better, remember: these are skills you can learn and improve.
Through safety engagement tools like our SUSA, Talksafe, and Stop&Talk techniques we give people a simple, flexible structure that makes safety engagement easier and more effective. But whichever tool you use, including your own, how it’s put into practice determines how much benefit you gain. You have to make sure you get it right.
By getting it right I mean that your engagement must be:
- At the right time
- In the right place
- On the right topic
- In the right way
The right time
This means when it’s convenient – not just for you to give it your full attention, but also for the person with whom you want to engage. If they’re in the middle of a complex task it probably isn’t the right time.
You should choose a time when the subject is receptive – right at the end of their shift may not be ideal. The right time is often right now – but it might not be – use your judgement. Of course, if someone behaves unsafely and puts themselves or others at risk it’s always the right time.
The right place
This means somewhere appropriate for a meaningful conversation. The right place will ideally be where the task is being undertaken but consider noise, heat and other environmental factors. Ensure it’s safe and comfortable enough to be having an engagement in that location.
For some activities it isn’t appropriate to be engaging with someone, like talking to a driver for example. Usually, the most comfortable place for someone will be on their territory, where they’re likely to be more relaxed and therefore more forthcoming with information.
The right topic
You shouldn’t approach a safety engagement with too rigid an agenda. Of course you can have topics that you want to include but you mustn’t let these get in the way of a good discussion by avoiding the subjects that someone raises. The right topics will be relevant, current and searching – not just the easy, obvious topics either (not just PPE!).
With a simple shift of emphasis you can easily convert your safety engagements into quality engagements, environmental engagements or any other aspect of work. The principles are the same whatever the topic.
The right way
This, of course, is the main element to your engagement. How you approach and engage with someone will determine the response that you get and what you both achieve from the opportunity.
Whilst the traditional approach to talking about safety often seems to be negative and miserable, let’s break with tradition and portray a more positive, friendly and relaxed manner. Your role in this engagement is to ask worthwhile questions then listen to what people say in response. Show respect for their knowledge and understanding and show some empathy for their point of view. Use language that they understand and, if you know them, take the approach that you know is most suited to them.
If you put some thought into each of these elements before you communicate with someone then you’ll get the most out of the time that you invest in your safety engagements.