Making the Case for Safety

Accessing adequate resources to build and manage strong safety programs is a major issue for safety leaders.  Safety is often viewed as a cost, instead of a strategic long-term investment. In the worst case it can even be viewed as a barrier to profitability. The truth, however, is the exact opposite. Beyond the tragic impacts of loss of life or increased injuries, the negative impacts can be wide-ranging and can severely or permanently destroy a company. Conversely, companies who have strong safety programs often see boosts to performance and productivity across their operations.  

When trying to make the case for safety within your organization, the assumption is that pushing harder will work. Is your executive leadership not bought into safety? Send them a deck of facts and rationale. Employees not listening to your ideas? Give them more examples and a deeper explanation. Yet more facts, more arguments, and more force rarely yield the desired outcome. Attempts to push people in one direction all too often leads to them pushing back. 

So what does work? 

Jonah Berger, best-selling author and marketing professor from the University of Pennsylvania, offers some practical solutions in his book The Catalyst. Berger states that changing somebody’s mind is not about pushing harder or being more convincing or being a better persuader. These tactics often lead people to put up their defenses. Instead, changing minds is about removing roadblocks and lowering the barriers that keep people from taking action. Rather than asking what might convince someone to change, start with trying to understand why hasn’t the person changed already? What is blocking them? 

“Sometimes change doesn’t require more horsepower. Sometimes we just need to unlock the parking brake.” - Jonah Berger 

Start with Understanding

Before people are willing to change, they have to be willing to listen. Your leaders aren’t going to listen to you if they don’t trust you. Until there is trust established, persuasion tactics simply won’t work. It’s important not to focus on what you are trying to achieve, but rather focus on gaining insight into whom you are trying to influence and understanding their perspective on the problem. Empathy is a powerful force. When people feel understood, trust develops. By discovering your leadership’s needs and motivations you will get a better sense of what’s driving their decision-making process. Is there a way to present safety through a different lens? 

Surface the Cost of Inaction

Safety is historically difficult to measure and, as a result, the importance and impact of safety programs is often invisible until it is too late. The key to motivating change is to surface the cost of inaction by highlighting both the risks to your workers and to your business as a whole. Beyond tragic worst-case scenarios, one of the biggest risks to your business is to its reputation. These key risks should be communicated regularly. 

Ask, Don’t Tell

Trying to change a company’s perspective on the role of safety, or even their entire safety culture, starts with asking questions. It takes gathering input from a diverse range of stakeholders with the goal of engaging them in the planning process. Asking questions allows you to highlight key facts without explicitly telling somebody what their choice should be. It highlights the ‘aha moment’ so they can reach a realization of their own. Questions shift the listener’s role to focusing on finding an answer to the question vs counter arguing your statements. Questions also increase buy-in as they shift from following someone else’s lead to following their own - which they are more likely to do, as owners of their own solution. This solves two problems: First, it helps you gather insight into the problem you are trying to solve; creating better solutions. It also builds buy-in for suggested safety programs.

Run a Trial

Maybe you have a grand vision for the future of safety at your organization, but you know your leadership will be strongly opposed. By facing this challenge head-on, and by asking for huge change, you may damage your ability to effectively make any changes at all. Instead, a better approach is to ask for less. The goal is to get agreement on a small request; it could be a small investment in a pilot, and then seek to expand the program through additional small requests. 

By asking decision-makers for a short-term commitment you can lower the uncertainty. Ideally, you should seek out a way to trial a new program without incurring huge upfront costs. Think about ways to get your leaders involved in the trial so they can experience and discover the benefits of the new program for themselves. Our tendency to value things we already use results in the added benefit of shifting leaders from thinking about questions of acquisition to those related to retention. It becomes more difficult to give up something you are already using. By asking for less you increase the probability of incrementally moving the needle; increasing the chance you make a big impact overall. 

Need help improving safety within your organization?

When you are trying to build a safety program within your organization you need to think about the roadblocks preventing change, and deploy proven strategies for how you can minimize them. We can help with this process. We regularly work with our customers to help make the case for safety investment.

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