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Coaching: The Key to Building Sustainable Safety in Leadership

Embracing Flow for Intrinsic Motivation

In today’s dynamic work environments, the approach to safety management is undergoing a fundamental shift. While compliance with safety regulations and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) remain non-negotiable, there's a growing recognition that these measures alone do not cultivate a culture of safety. Instead, they often result in a minimalist approach, where employees do the bare minimum required to avoid penalties.

Mihály Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer in positive psychology, introduced the concept of "Flow" – a state where individuals are deeply engaged and invested in their work. This concept is essential in understanding how intrinsic motivation, rather than external incentives or pressures, can lead to a more effective and sustainable safety culture.

The Story of Deepak: A Case Study

Consider the story of Deepak, a former HSE compliance advisor in the oil industry. Deepak was genuinely passionate about the well-being of his colleagues, but his role was often perceived as that of a ‘safety policeman' by the crew – an enforcer rather than an advisor. This perception came to light when he realized that his arrival at a site triggered a code, “DP-1,” over the loudspeaker, signaling employees to adhere to safety protocols.

This incident illustrates a critical point: when safety is seen as the sole responsibility of specific individuals, it creates an environment where employees are reactive rather than proactive.

Shifting the Paradigm: Safety as a Shared Responsibility

Forward-thinking organizations are moving away from the model of assigning safety responsibility to specific individuals. Instead, they are embedding safety into the fabric of their operations, making it a collective responsibility at all levels, from management to front-line workers. This approach is encapsulated in the mantra often heard at industry conferences: "Good safety is good business."

Inspiring, Not Just Managing

Management is a crucial component of any safety system, but it's not the entire picture. American businessman Lee Iacocca's perspective rings true here: leaders should prefer employees who strive for more, not those who do just enough to comply. A culture of safety needs to be one where innovation and proactive risk management are encouraged.

The Three-Part Coaching Model for Safety

A proven method to foster this culture is through a coaching model, which consists of:

  1. Focus: Clearly defining desired safety behaviors and aligning them with organizational goals.

  2. Feedback: Providing positive reinforcement and expressing concerns constructively.

  3. Facilitate: Removing barriers to ensure employees can perform tasks safely and successfully.

Conclusion: Leaders as Coaches

In the journey toward a safer and more engaged workplace, leaders play a critical role. They need to shift from being mere enforcers of rules to becoming coaches who inspire and enable their teams. As Mark Victor Hansen aptly put it, there are no limits in imagination. Leaders should strive to help their teams achieve what might seem impossible, fostering a culture where safety is a shared responsibility and a source of pride.

This new approach to safety management is not just about avoiding accidents; it's about building a workplace where employees feel valued, engaged, and inspired to contribute their best. In doing so, organizations don't just improve safety; they enhance overall performance and ensure long-term success.

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