SELLING SAFETY – It Isn’t Happening If You Talk Like This

What we say comes out, but can’t go back in.

Denis Baker

What you say reflects your attitude, and your attitude determines you ability to sell safety

Denis Baker


A while back I was taking a walk through a shop with a few of the supervisors ,the plant manager and the Business Unit Leader. I was pointing out items of concern both in equipment and building condition along with some behavioral concerns. At one point, we were talking about how to fix the things I had identified. I began talking when one of the leaders interrupted me and said, “People are going to do what they want regardless of what we do and tell them.” Another one followed up with, “Why spend the money to fix something when we know they are just going to break it again?” I remember standing there staring at the floor and thinking, “Did I hear that right?” After all, these two leaders were the top people for the location and the business. Once I realized what was said was in fact reality, I should have been SHOCKED. However, I wasn’t. I looked at the supervisors and could see right through their wide open eyes into their brains. Not, one of them said a thing, but rather stared at me and I could tell this was a typical response. These are typical responses from people who do not buy into the safety process; they aren’t “sold” on safety.

If your not sold on safety, how do you sell it to others? The answer is simple, you don’t.

What people say is what they believe. In the workplace, most of us say what we think our boss wants to hear. However, eventually, real feelings and thoughts will emerge through the mouth. More than that, I believe our attitude expresses our positions, knowingly or unknowingly. When I visit an organization, I pay close attention to what is said between leadership, between leadership and the employees and employee to employee. By doing this, it gives me an excellent idea of the culture, commitment to the goals and vision, and the ability to “sell safety” to others. I get the real picture of their leadership. I get tell-tale messages from those who aren’t leading anyone anywhere. Instead, they focus on what makes them look good.

Among the worse messages I hear are those that discourage communication. When we block communication, trust disappears, and decisions go uninformed. After that, people don’t care, and safety is typically a big problem.

just because you are free to say whatever you want, doesn’t mean you have to.

I want to share some of the most disappointing messages I’ve heard. If you say or hear these, safety is not sold, but instead it’s buried. In addition to the statements I mentioned earlier, here are four of the worst messages to “sell safety”:

I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS…
What a comment! It doesn’t matter what comes after this because the thought begins in a pool of arrogance and ends in the denigration of people. However, what usually follows is the dismissal of views, failure to follow policy, and procedures and the crushing of any idea and suggestions. What occurs is the implementation of a culture of “don’t ask questions; just get it done.” What the person is saying is, “I don’t have the patience even to consider this worthless nonsense you consider important. I know what’s what, and you don’t”.

I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO…
Lonely victims don’t have followers. Leaders who think they are the only ones who work hard, or know the solution or are the only one who cares, might want to remove their hands from their faces. It’s easy to cast ourselves as martyrs when we don’t spend time connecting with the people we lead. When we spend time with them, we often see the challenges they endure and understand why they do things the way they do, allowing you to ask for suggestions and ideas and that SELLS SAFETY. You are not the only one who…….

WHY DON’T YOU JUST DO WHAT I TELL YOU TO DO?

…It would make my life easier.
…then I wouldn’t have to take so much time explaining things to you.

If you want an easy life or to be freed of the burden of explaining things, then don’t take the responsibility of leadership. Step down and let someone else lead. Leaders educate others and make their lives easier, not the other way around. If we want people to follow us, then we have to help them understand things the way we do or build a new shared understanding together. In other words, to “sell safety,” we have to meet them where they are and do the hard work of building a shared reality.

THAT COST TO MUCH MONEY…
Man has this been a cluster statement in my career. Probably one of the most frustrating phrases I hear. I hear phrases such as these;

“we can’t spend $7.00 for a pair of gloves, that is $50,000 a year. ”
“it’s not in the budget.”
“putting in those adjustable tables will cost way too much.”

When leaders factor in the cost of safety, the idea of a robust safety culture is simply a set of words, rather than a commitment. The workforce is very keen on the fact that “management doesn’t want to spend money because it affects their bonus.” This phrase has the most significant effect in NOT “selling safety,” but instead tells the workforce that we are here to produce the product and injuries are a part of the process. Safety does have a cost, but work-related injuries have direct and indirect costs in a much higher magnitude.

Let’s face it; a lot of us have thoughts like this from time to time. I mean, we are all measured on multiple items. That makes us ordinary people. If we want to engage the workforce, shape minds towards safe behaviors, and move people to action; we must be passionate when we engage the workforce or those we lead. However, we need to guard our hearts against arrogance. Big-headed, self-important people often find themselves perplexed when they are ignored, resisted and undermined. If you find yourself in that state, then maybe, just maybe, you have these thoughts too frequently.

Regardless of your position or role, what you say has a direct effect on our ability to “sell safety” to the workforce or other leaders. You may be able to fake it for a bit, but it will eventually come out. The workforce knows when we are passionate and supportive about something or merely doing what we have to to keep our job. When speaking to others, first consider what you want to say before letting it exit from your vocal cords. If you are not “sold” on safety, then I encourage you to explore the why.

Be passionate in your conversations about safety and believe that people can work safe. Through your passion, commitment, and belief, you will benefit from an influential safety conversation.

Denis is an experienced Safety Professional with multi-industry experience. He is also an Executive Director at the John Maxwell Group, a certified leadership coach, trainer, keynote speaker, and DISC Behavior Consultant. He is a passionate person of influence committed to teaching and communicating practical principles and relevant influencing techniques to change employee behaviors and ultimately reduce and eliminate injuries.  His unique passionate and emotionally driven style resonates with many, creating a passionate desire to become an effective leader.  

You can contact Denis at dbaker@leaderinfluence.net for information on coaching, leadership, team and culture change, DISC Behavioral consulting or to be an inspirational speaker at your next event.

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