Making Your Safety-Leadership Coaching Count

Honing Your Safety-Leadership Coaching SkillsSafety coaching is (or at least should be) a natural part of what any safety leader does on a regular basis to reinforce the safety culture. The problem, if we are honest with ourselves, is that most of us just don’t do it very well. Instead, we tend to coach spontaneously and off the cuff, going right for the jugular without even considering how it might impact the outcome. Here are a few tips to ensure our coaching interactions are both meaningful and actionable.

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Coaching should be just as much (if not more!) about what’s going well as what’s not going so well. If our coaching consists only of (or even primarily of) what’s going wrong, then it’s not surprising that employees will come to dread those coaching sessions. If there is a negative connotation around coaching, then we’re not doing it right.

Coaching should always begin with what’s going well. The last thing we want to do is shut them down, and if we start with the negative that’s exactly what will happen. Remember to praise them for what they have been doing well before suggesting improvements. If you lower their walls of defense first they’ll be much more receptive to improvements later.

Focus on Behaviors and Performance

FCTC OnlineCoaching is not about the person — it’s about the person’s performance and behaviors. Words matter. Avoid any phrases that will put the person you’re coaching on the defensive. Instead of “Tom, I just don’t think you’re a good safety-meeting leader,” try “Tom, I think there are some things we can do to improve the quality of your safety meetings.”

And be careful not to introduce attitudes and motives into the conversation. Coaching should be limited to the things we can personally observe. I can’t observe a bad attitude (that’s internal), but I can observe the behaviors that lead me to believe someone has a bad attitude. Likewise I can’t observe a bad motive, but I can observe the behaviors that lead me to believe someone has a bad motive. Drill down to the specific and concrete behaviors, and limit your coaching to that.

Let Them Self-Assess

It’s much more valuable to find out what they think about their current performance than it is to give your own assessment of it. Most people are pretty honest about their own abilities and limitations if you simply clarify the standard they are being measured against. So start with their self-assessment of how they think they are doing in leading and complying with a safety culture.

Having said that, you’ll need to push back on any inflated self-assessment. If they rate themselves a 9 on a scale of 1-10, but they’re really more like a 3, let them know you disagree, and be ready to cite specific gaps between their performance compared to the expected performance.

Be Patient

Development is not something that happens overnight. It takes regular and frequent opportunities for practice, followed by coaching sessions by you before you can expect improvements to become second nature. You’ll need a combination of persistence and patience to see lasting results.

The key here is to transfer ownership for improvements to them. This means less talking on your part, more talking on theirs. Focus on open-ended questions, like, “what do you think needs to happen to take this to the next level?” Get their input and write out their responses. Then re-state their responses back to them in the form of a plan of action.

And don’t forget to set specific expectations for improvements and get a commitment. Be assertive, be clear, be specific; but above, all get their commitment to turn their suggestions for improvement into their actual practice.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES

Eric Svendsen

Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.

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