Early in his career, Cory Grimmer, CSP, CHST, experienced an altercation with an employee that changed the way he did his job forever.
Grimmer was confronting an employee about a mistake and, as he recalls, “I really let him have it.” He yelled while the employee listened patiently. At the end, the employee asked, “Do I treat you bad?”
Surprised, Grimmer confessed, “No, I suppose not.”
The man replied, “Then please don’t treat me that way.”
Grimmer, a safety and health consultant with 18 years of experience, never forgot that. It shifted his mindset from a compliance-driven, aggressive approach to one of genuine concern and empathy for individual workers.
But too many managers address noncompliance with this kind of discipline-first approach, Grimmer says, and it’s bad for everyone involved.
”Not only is this ineffective, but it may be critically damaging to their efforts in building a successful, effective internal safety culture,” he wrote in a recent article for Professional Safety.
Instead, safety managers should hone these four soft skills.
Skill #1: Conflict Management
All safety managers face conflict. The key is to handle these tough situations with resilience and confidence. Grimmer’s biggest tip: Never react with emotion. Step away if necessary to collect yourself. Remain calm in the face of adversity. Be
willing to concede when you’re wrong.
All this does not mean that you ignore conflict or expect issues to resolve themselves. It means you must confront challenges with empathy.
By honing your conflict management skills, you can move your culture forward and improve safety outcomes.
Skill #2: Problem-Solving
It’s important to be transparent when you do not have all the information or know the answer.
Be willing to leave your comfort zone and ask for assistance when necessary. Take the time to assess needs and approach problem-solving systematically (the Five Why method would be a good place to start). Don’t offer quick, impulsive responses to problems — they’re rarely the most effective solutions.
Skill #3: Maintaining Professional Integrity
Professional integrity refers to your ability to live in accordance with the moral and ethical principles valued within your profession.
Maintaining integrity, regardless of the situation, will allow you to maintain professionalism, trustworthiness and honesty as you seek to drive change in the workplace.
Skill #4: Communication
Successful managers have a desire to coach, facilitate, develop and train workers, according to an article by Mark Tarallo from the Society of Human Resources Management.
This takes continual — and sometimes nuanced and sensitive — communication, Tarallo writes.
In fact, communication may be the single most important skill you can bring to the table. Knowing your people and understanding the best way to share information with them is essential. Consider these seven Cs that will help you improve your communication skills — and therefore the effectiveness of your safety management system.
Strategies for Addressing Noncompliance
If you’re struggling with how to approach noncompliance, Grimmer says to keep these four tactics in mind.
- Adopt the perspective that people are your organization’s greatest asset. Don’t burn through the expertise and knowledge on your team — and damage morale — with overly harsh corrections. Remember that building
relationships and improving safety are your objectives.
- Consider alternative approaches to progressive discipline. Alternative approaches could include training, coaching, facilitating a resolution or having an informal conversation. If those don’t work, discipline is always an option.
- Maintain consistency. It’s easy to compromise your credibility by picking and choosing who and when to discipline. Apply the rules evenly and consistently.
- Treat others with respect — no matter what. Maintaining respect will inspire others to do the same, strengthening your organizational culture.
Using soft skills such as conflict management, effective communication and professional integrity is necessary to advance worker safety and health. Taking a discipline-first approach to noncompliance is counterproductive to building a safer workplace.
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