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5 Reasons Authenticity Will Make You a Better Safety Leader

Mar 12, 2024
Safety professional woman using a tablet computer to share with a colleague

Can you be yourself at work?

Yes — and leadership researchers and experts say you should. As a safety leader, authenticity can increase your own job satisfaction, build trust, engage employees and help you navigate difficult conversations.

ASSP’s Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) Common Interest Group, which aims to promote, inspire and strengthen women in the safety profession, invited relationship coach Lari Averbeck to share her insights on developing authenticity through self-assessment, practicing vulnerability and speaking the truth. Here are five reasons why being authentic will make you a better safety leader.

1. Being Authentic Allows You to See Yourself and Be Yourself

Becoming an authentic safety leader starts with a real self-assessment.

In a recent interview with McKinsey, Harvard professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George put it this way: “Before you can become an authentic leader, you have to know who you are. That’s your true north: your most deeply held beliefs, your values, the principles you lead by and what inspires you.”

Your values “are a measuring stick,” and they can help guide you through difficult situations, Averbeck says. Look at yourself to see how you’re showing up, and ask if this is the way you want to show up.

She offers this example: A manager had an employee who constantly needed help to complete his work, then it required careful review. The manager didn’t really believe he could do the work, so she became a micromanager. When she checked the situation against her values, she realized that didn’t align with who she wanted to be and that, instead, she wanted to develop the employee’s skills. By setting expectations and parameters, the manager was able to shift her style, but it started with that essential awareness of her behavior and its connection to her values.

2. Authenticity Fosters Two-Way Trust

Trust is essential in the workplace, yet roughly one in four employees don’t trust their employers, according to a recent Deloitte study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

“Trust is an underlying, sometimes unseen force we don’t even think about a lot of times that really affects how we move and feel throughout relationships,” Averbeck says.

Trust is also good for business: Trusting employees are 260% more motivated to work, have 41% lower rates of absenteeism and are 50% less likely to look for another job, the Deloitte study found.

Averbeck says building trust starts with defining it: Trust means having confidence in someone’s character, integrity and competency.

“Trust can be a great basis for a relationship or it can tear it down,” she adds. “If you don’t have trust, you don’t have buy-in.”

If you or the workers you manage are missing one of those three pillars, you may have been unable to build trust, so focus on finding or demonstrating all three.

3. Leadership Requires Authenticity and Vulnerability

“Many people think of being vulnerable as being a victim or Milquetoast or sad . . . but it’s the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure,” Averbeck says.

“Studies show vulnerability is a prerequisite of all daring leadership behaviors,” she adds. “If we can’t handle vulnerability in a way that aligns and furthers our organizational goals, we can’t lead.”

In fact, in her bestselling book “Daring to Lead,” researcher Brené Brown identifies “rumbling with vulnerability” as one of the four major skills of daring leadership. She advocates for “embracing relational vulnerability between leaders and employees” as a pathway toward better listening, open-mindedness, honesty and support.

But being vulnerable does not mean oversharing or “getting in the box” with the people you work with. You must act as a trusted safety leader to help move them forward.

4. Authenticity Allows You to Create Boundaries

While the idea of boundaries can cause people to bristle, they are important, Averbeck says.

“Boundaries are the distance in which I can love you and me simultaneously,” she explains. Boundaries create the space you are holding for yourself in a situation, allowing you to take a minute and feel your way through it, complete a self-assessment and come back in a better space to take on a situation.

“Boundary work is deep work and it takes a lot of self-reflection to figure out how to implement your boundaries,” Averbeck says.

It’s important to note that boundaries are not parameters that you set up for others to maintain. You must do that work. Other people are not responsible for knowing and figuring out your boundaries.

5. Authenticity Helps You Better Handle Tricky Conversations

Being your authentic self can allow you to handle difficult conversations authentically and compassionately, but it’s not easy.

“We tend to couch things and apologize a lot so the blowback is better, but how do we speak the truth in a way that’s just open and as appropriate as we can be?” Averbeck asks.

To achieve this, first ask yourself these three questions: Is what you’re about to say kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Not all truths need to be spoken out loud, she adds.

Then use this three-step method to speak authentically:

  1. Go back to your values. You may think, “It’s my job to have this conversation. I’m doing my best and I believe it needs to happen.”
  2. Be clear. Too often, we process things out loud, couch what we’re saying and it confuses people, Averbeck says. Trust in your message and be confident in what you’re saying. 
  3. Be willing to accept the outcome. Difficult conversations can lead to tears, yelling and withdrawal, but if you’re clear about your why, your values and the message, you have to be willing to accept the outcome. Above all, be a good listener in these moments, Averbeck says.

By practicing self-awareness, vulnerability and speaking your truth, you can be authentic in the workplace and start fostering better relationships as a safety leader.



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