Now, as is the usual order of things at JOMC – Nick stole a march on me this month, writing his excellent blog post ‘Speaking the lingo‘ way before I started to consider what I wanted to write. And his post got me thinking about the message – the all important safety message. The one about people not being hurt in the workplace and what it really takes to achieve that. And why it’s so hard to get people to really listen, and for it to properly affect their mindset.

Stars lined up

Nick’s absolutely right, if you speak people’s language it makes it so much easier for them to get the message, a particularly important aspect of this whole thing. But there’s another aspect that’s been on my mind and it’s about credibility.

For people who know me, the issue of credibility is a tricky one. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase ‘you need to fake it to make it’. Well, when it comes to hobbies that’s generally been my philosophy:

  • Stage 1: Find something new and exciting that allowed me to buy a ton of new gear.
  • Stage 2: Buy a ton of new gear.
  • Stage 3: Read about my new hobby obsessively over a few months on the internet.
  • Stage 4: Talk authoritatively about my new hobby to everyone I meet who hasn’t tried it, espousing my general brilliance, even though I have only had the odd ‘dabble’.
  • Stage 5: Meet actual experts, mumble my excuses and choose a new hobby

Well, obviously Stage 5 is a bit extreme but you get my point. I’m sure (think?) that I’m not the only one out there who’s tried to deliver a convincing message from a point of theory rather than actually having years of experience. It makes me cringe thinking about it: when you get into a situation with actual experts trying to blag it (of course I blame the internet for this, far too much information on anything).

So how much more powerful is it when you get the person who’s been there and done it giving the message? Someone who’s got the scars to prove it, and the stories that pack a more powerful punch than any piece of theory ever could.

And it’s why when people ask me what the most effective way of creating a sustainable change in safety culture is, I tell them get your own people to do it. And make sure they’re not from the Health and Safety department, the HR department, or any other department that might be perceived as having some vested interest.

It’s not that I’m saying the H&S department aren’t important in the process of safety culture, far from it – they’re critical.  In most cases where I’ve seen seen safety culture being transformed successfully they’re the initial catalyst for change, as well as the people who ensure sustainability.  It’s just that to make this really work, it needs to go beyond the just the H&S department, and for that to happen others in the business also need to step up.

Sure, these people need tools and training to guide them but get team members standing up in front of their teams championing the safety message. It’s the fact that they’re not H&S experts but are still prepared to stand up and champion the message, despite (and because of) living the difficulties of the job that adds real credibility.

Engage the people that know what it’s like to work in the business day in and day out, whether they’re managers, supervisors or front-line employees and ask them to deliver the message in their own words. When you do, you’ll see the message shining through, because others will see that it matters to people who really know what’s it’s like, people with real credibility.