Six Ways to Make Your Safety Talks “Stick” (Part 1)

Six Ways to Make Your Safety Talks "Stick" (Part 1): Reinforcing Your Process Safety Management--Call to Action!Some are certainly better than others, but most could still stand improvement. I’m referring to safety meetings and the way they’re conducted, in whatever shape they may take or in whatever venue they may be held. Many safety meetings, regardless of industry or type of meeting, the meeting leader usually ends up reading the meeting instead of leading the meeting. We are often far too tethered to our notes, our slides, our JSA/JHA forms, or our tailgate-meeting checklist to conduct a safety meeting that actually accomplishes the goal of raising awareness in the minds of the participants, as well as reinforcing our process safety management integrity.

What’s So Bad About the Way We Do It Now?

The main problem with the “reading” approach to a safety meeting is that it does nothing to engage people. It allows us to deliver facts but it doesn’t enable us to communicate. Communication happens only when we’ve connected with people and they’ve received and accepted, and taken personal ownership of, our message. And that in turn happens only when we engage people. [password=”ste-01″]

The key to better safety meetings is engagement. Engagement can mean a lot of different things; but in the context of a safety meeting it means primarily that the meeting leader has succeeded in creating a situation in which the audience is fully vested in the topic, views the topic as wholly relevant to them, gives undivided attention to the message, and actively (and even enthusiastically) participates in and contributes to that meeting. 50 things you must know about safety leadership

So how do we make our meetings more engaging with a view to reinforcing the integrity of our process safety management? Here are six things we can do to change our approach to safety meetings and transform the typical check-the-box safety meeting into an engaging conversation that will linger in the minds of participants long after the meeting has ended.

Tip 1 – Lead It, Don’t Read It

A strong leadership presence is critical to successfully engaging others in safety meetings. That entails (among other things) a combination of body language, voice projection, passion and sincerity, care and concern, and good eye contact. When meeting leaders spend just as much time (or more) looking at and reading notes, slides or forms as they do making eye contact with the participants of the meeting, that usually signifies a lack of preparedness and a lack of confidence in (or familiarity with) the material they plan to cover.

That scenario is normally characterized by a lack of passion and absence of real communication. Participants tend to walk away from that sort of meeting unconvinced and uninspired by the points that were made. After all, if you have to read your thoughts, that means you haven’t internalized your message; and if you haven’t internalized your message, that means you don’t really believe in it and aren’t really committed to it yourself.  And if you aren’t committed to it, why should I be?

Internalizing our talking points well in advance and practicing our delivery of those points beforehand builds confidence, enables us to speak about them with passion when it matters most, and allows us to establish and maintain eye contact with everyone in the room without having to rely heavily on our notes for that information. Participants of our meetings will internalize our message only if they can see that we believe in it and are passionate about it ourselves.

Tip 2 – Ask, Don’t Tell

Facilitation is not the opposite of lecture, but it’s pretty darn close. With facilitation we talk less and the participants talk more. Meeting leaders often place too much responsibility on themselves to make the meeting work. As a result, the meeting often succeeds or fails based on our contribution and on our ability to get the message across. And even if we do succeed on that front, we still may not have adequately transferred ownership of the safety concepts to the participants of that meeting.

fctc-online-bannerKeep in mind this maxim: “No one disagrees with their own ideas.” When we lecture instead of facilitate, we may be able to give them a lot of great ideas and suggestions, but we’ve done nothing to transfer ownership for those ideas to them. As a result they may or may not act on them. But if the idea is instead theirs, they’ll not only assume ownership for that idea but will likely follow through with it as well.

The best way to accomplish all this is by asking a few well-placed questions during the meeting. Questions that engage people are open-ended rather than closed-ended. A question like, “What are we going to do to work safely today?” is far better than “Is everyone going to work safely today?” The latter gives participants an easy out; they can simply nod their heads and the conversation is over. The former invites elaboration and sets a tacit expectation that a conversation is going to follow.

Be sure to view the video below for more information about all this.  We’ll cover a couple more tips for making your safety message “stick” in our next issue.  But that’s all for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS.  Until next time.


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About the Author

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.