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Lessons in Leadership from a Career at NASA with Donald G. James

The Safety Guru_Donald G. James



Donald G. James, author of the recently released book Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t shares great insights from his lengthy career at NASA. From stories of how the Challenger and Columbia incidents shaped his view of leadership and blind spots, to sharing ideas for leaders to reduce these very blind spots and create environments where people are comfortable speaking up, this is an engaging podcast filled with stories and insights on the importance of Psychological Safety.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have with me for great conversation Donald James. He’s the author of a book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t. He’s incredibly passionate about careers for students and through his 35 years’ worth of experience at NASA, has seen how much NASA can inspire people around the world. But here we’re going to talk about some really interesting insights from his career at NASA.

And Donald, welcome to the show, first of all. And I’d love for you to tell me a little bit about you and your career with NASA and most importantly, the thoughts that you’ve got around the importance of a manor’s linking it back to the book you recently published.

Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be on your program, and I really appreciate the opportunity. I enjoyed a wonderful career at NASA at 35 years, starting right out of graduate school. Interestingly enough, at the very beginning of my career, I didn’t know that I want to stay with NASA. It wasn’t until the 1986 Challenger tragedy that I found my calling in the agency when it had to do with a personal experience, I had with the post Challenger activities that NASA was doing.

I was invited to participate in some of the educational activities that the backup teacher to Christa McAuliffe, as you know, who perished on challenger Barbara Morgan. She was going around the country speaking to teachers and students, and I got to join her on that journey. And it was during that experience that I realized that NASA could inspire so many people. And it was at that time I said, I’m going to make a career at NASA, that I’m going to do my part to inspire the next generation.

So, I’ve had a wonderful career and delighted to talk to you about any and all of it.

Excellent. Well, you touched on the challenger. Obviously, there was also the Columbia incident. How has it shaped your view of leaderships and blind spots? Has your book really talks about the importance of I would call it grounded leadership, but tell me how those incidents shaped your view of leadership, particularly when it comes to safety?

Yes. So, in my definition of manners, I take a very broad view of it. I first want to say that, yes, I think it’s important to develop common courtesies, you know, please and thank you staff and things of that nature. But I view manners much more broadly and deeper than that. I view it as a way we show up in the world, our sense of awareness, how we engage people. And as a leader, I found that it was critically important, particularly when it came to safety matters, to pay attention, to pay attention very closely, because sometimes you can see problems that are right there in the plane view and a lot of it from one of our former astronauts, Jim Weatherby, who showed charts that they were presented earlier after Challenger.

And he showed how if you actually look at certain parts of those charts, you can see red flags that some of the engineers were sharing but didn’t come out right and see it. So, you have to develop a heightened sense of awareness about that.

I think that’s a phenomenal point and so, so critical when it comes to leadership, but most importantly on the safety leadership side, is creating that, as some people call it, psychological safety, the environment where people are comfortable speaking up, but also that you’re aware of some of those potential blind spots. One of the things that really impressed me when we talked initially, it was a lot of your insights around how you can reduce those blind spots, some very tangible ideas.

You mentioned some FBI body language training. I’d love to hear some examples that you’ve got in terms of tactics that have worked with you and your career.

Yeah, so I’ve learned to develop and cultivate a sense of awareness around, for example, body language. We know from research that communication is not just verbal, it’s also our body. And you might be in a situation where you’re talking to somebody about a particular issue and you can tell by how they’re carrying themselves, the degree to which, for example, they’re very concerned about an issue and it could make a life-or-death difference. I had a specific example where a colleague was sharing with me a concern about another colleague who actually had a drinking problem.

And this particular colleague was in a situation where he was around students and also around equipment, equipment that could be dangerous. And I could tell by how she was carrying herself that she was really, really concerned about it. But after speaking, she was being a little bit more measured, probably because she was, you know, dancing on some very sensitive things here. And so that’s the kind of thing, as just one specific example of truly trying to pay attention to the whole range of communications that you get for blind spots.

I’ve learned to try to reward people who point out blind spots that I may have. That seems like a very simple thing. But you find that your people may not want to bring things to your attention because they feel that, you know, as the saying goes, they’re going to the messengers are going to be shot, so to speak. Whereas in my experience, I tried to reward them sometimes publicly by saying sometimes by mentioning their names or not.

You know, I really appreciated that so-and-so presented to my attention that I didn’t understand and appreciate and thank them. Then the staff knows that you value that and they’re quite likely to bring things to your attention that they might not otherwise do.

I think that’s an incredibly important point. I wish more leaders did that because it’s really about demonstrating, setting the stage recognition, incredibly powerful vehicle for that in terms of how you get people to understand that it’s safe to challenge, to raise issues, to see opportunities or look at things differently.

That’s right. That’s right. And NASA, we developed after Challenger a whole separate structure, engineering and safety structure that ran parallel to the program management so that the issues of safety could be brought up a separate chain of command and the issues involved in the program management. And this allowed people to raise issues to a level where somebody can question or stop something that wasn’t necessarily driven by concerns of budget and schedule. And you know very well that budget and schedule is what often drives us to make poor decisions or to operate with blind spots, because what we’re rewarded for is meeting a schedule or making budget.

We’re not necessarily rewarded for avoiding a mistake because it’s awfully hard to know when you’ve actually done that. And yet when you do make a mistake and it’s costly, then it can actually be deadly and people lose their lives and their jobs.

And I think it’s a point that’s incredibly important, a lot of the it’s still the early stages, but a lot of the investigation of what happened behind the 737, Max. And the recent episode speaks to two similar themes. It was about meeting a budget and a meeting, most importantly, a timeline, because it was huge pressure to make sure they would be beat Airbus in launch of a specific upgrade to the aircraft. And that’s where certain things maybe didn’t surface.

That’s right. And I’m particularly sensitive to that because my brother, who’s also my collaborator, is a 737 captain. In fact, he’s flown the 737, Max. So, when this came to light, of course, you know, I peppered him about questions, many of which either couldn’t answer, didn’t know, or you got tired of answering. But for me, it brought home very deeply that a problem that could have been caused by who knows what and where it could have ended up costing somebody that I love very dearly his life.

And fortunately, you know, there were only two catastrophic accidents and now they’re just in the process of retraining their pilots on the new systems, on the max. And so, I have faith that, you know, they’ll get it right. But these problems have deep roots, and it’s important for leaders to have, you know, an imagination as to how problems can actually come about like this or that. You don’t intend doing that. But obviously, a good place to start is looking at pressures on budget and schedule.

And you know that that was a lot of issues with NASA as well.

And when we spoke before, you had a very inspiring quote that had shaped a lot of your thinking around this, and it had to do with essentially when somebody says as a problem, to what degree do I trust that problem? And can you share maybe a little bit about that that quote and some of the thinking behind it?

Well, I’m trying to remember this specific one. Maybe you can help me out here, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here. But I do know that, you know, there’s times when if you’re involved in an operation or a system, particularly a complex system, an engineering system, and you’re aware that there is a variable that’s present that probably wasn’t present before. So, if you take the example of Challenger, the variable that was present that really wasn’t present before was the very cold temperatures on launch day.

And so, there was concern about the impact on the system, particularly the O rings that ultimately failed. And so, what I what I took away from that was that if you are aware that there is some type of variable in the mix and you’re had a consequential decision, it behooves you to kind of pay attention and ask, how do I know this is going to going to work just the same? So, you think about the 737, Max. And I just want to be clear.

I am not an expert on that aircraft or systems or the accident or the and neither am I. But I I would I would start with the idea that what’s new is that they had developed some type of a safety system in the plane. And the way they approach the training of that, they felt that it was a simple software thing, that it could it could work just fine and it didn’t work fine. And I’m probably over abusing my knowledge of what actually happened.

But I think the lesson from leaders is and this can be applied in many circumstances, that if you see that something is new in the dynamic, if you do things over and over again and you don’t do something new, even if it’s a software thing, you need to ask yourself, what is the possibility that this can have an unintended consequence and then explore that a little bit and find the naysayers, find the people who are concerned to make sure that you got it right?

Because I’m telling you, when you’re a leader and issues come to your desk, they’re usually not easy. That’s the reason they’re on your desk. President Obama said this. You know, when you when I get a problem, it is a hard problem because of the energy problem. It would have been solved in the Lomi. And that’s just the price you pay as leader. You have to be able to deal with complex and confusing information.

And I think the coach just said that you chaired had to do with somebody in Houston and that the comment had to do that. Sometimes when somebody raises an issue that it may not appear as strong, they may downplay the importance of severity of it. And part of it is to read between the lines.

That’s right. And I’m like, yeah, I’m not remembering this specific example, but the point is, is very well taken. It’s important to triangulate the information you get, you know, and this is hard. For example, if you get an email and you’re not sure if the email is telling you something that you’re not reading, you need to check it out with different, different people. And I always did that, particularly with consequential decisions. I would ask different people in the entire organization what they think about things to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.

And sometimes I did miss some things. So, body language is an example where, you know, you’re in a staff meeting. Sometimes I walk into a room for a staff meeting and I started on my agenda. And I can tell in the meeting that something is wrong because people are being very quiet. They’re all in their iPhones. We call it the iPhone. Crouser, you know, they’re just like their heads are buried down there in your table.

Nobody’s looking at anybody. And I can tell that something is not right. And what I learned as a leader is that if I don’t stop right then and there to try to check out what the issue is, I’m probably going to end up with a problem down the road because people aren’t paying attention or we’re not going to be focused on what we need to do. Then most cases in my example, the consequences were more dangerous. We’re talking about flying astronauts.

Blind spots can be deadly. And I know a lot of astronauts and I know when there were some close calls. And you can’t afford to be wrong when you’re in space because it is unforgiving.

Absolutely, in your book, you mention also you have you have a chapter that speaks to what you call a pink suit. I think it would be great if you shared a little bit more about what that idea.

Yes. So Pink Suits is a metaphor. And I talk about wearing a pink suit and how there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to go to a store and buy a pink suit. Now, with all due respect to, you know, creative people out there that wear all kinds of different colors. This is not you know; this is not a criticism of the attire. It’s meant to be a metaphor. And the point of the metaphor is to be willing to try on an idea or something, even if you don’t want to.

You feel uncomfortable, you feel strange, and you might be embarrassed. Sometimes trying it on gives you an insight that helps you. Let me give you an example. That’s not an example. There is a story that’s well documented that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, got a great deal of insight into new fonts for Apple in the early days by taking a calligraphy class. And he did it as a fluke. He wasn’t doing engineering any of that kind of nature, but he went on to explain how he appreciated doing something different like that, gave him an appreciation for how he could apply those skills in a different environment.

By the way, just a little fun aside about Steve Jobs, and I like to share with the listeners the reason Steve Jobs got interested in computers is his father took him on a tour at the NASA Ames Research Center where I used to work, and that’s where he saw his first computer and that got him excited. So, if you don’t think you can inspire people by just taking them on a tour or showing them something, think again. You could end up creating the most valuable kind of.

Wow, I didn’t know that story. That’s a that’s a phenomenal story on the on the on the power of the NASA. That’s right.

That’s right.

So, you’ve shared a lot of ideas about increasing how people on your teams get more comfortable speaking up. Do you have any other pearls of wisdom in that regard? Because it’s so, so critical at NASA in that we talked about the 737-max scenario. But in all industries where hazards are present, there’s constantly this theme of I wish I had spoken up or leader saying I wish I had listened.

Yes, it’s fact. You know, NASA is a very technical organization and we’re never going to hire you to be an astronaut because you have good manners. You have to know how to fly the spacecraft. But I can guarantee you, and I know this for a fact, that if you don’t have good manners, you could be stuck on the ground. I know for a fact that there are astronauts who actually went all the way through selection, but somehow mysteriously were never selected to fly.

And I used to think it was only because they weren’t trained for the right mission or any number of cases. Now that I’ve been on the inside, I know there’s one or two cases where the reason that they were not manifested for a flight is that they had something lacking in their manners, skills that the leaders of the organization that puts the crew together decided it wasn’t a good fit. I happen to know that there is one astronaut who did fly and he will never fly again because the crew did not like that person and how they interacted.

And I want to be careful here because I’m not here to out anybody. That’s the point is that manners do matter. But you do have to know how to fly the plane, right? My brother says that, you know, he works as a 737 captain in a very technical field that’s bounded by the laws of physics. But manner set the tone for interactions with the most important resource, and that is his flight crew. And, you know, NASA even did a lot of research on flight crew, crew interactions and provided to the FAA some suggestions about how to change certain protocols.

So, it’s not just the captain is the only one who says this is how we’re going to do it. They’re actually trained now to take in opinions from other people, even dissenting opinions when they’re faced with certain challenges. And this is actually shown to save lives. So that’s my argument, is that manners are a skill set that’s very important to learn. It’s part of a range of skills that are important. It’s just not good enough to be smart if you want to work in a place by NASA.

And I would argue it’s not good enough to be smart to work in a lot of other places. You need to develop these skills. And that’s why I wrote this book, because I wanted to share this with students and early career professionals and I hope there is something inside it that will help them take them, you know, where their brains of money.

What I think is a very important point. They are very familiar with the airline industry. That’s where it started in the safety space. And you’re absolutely correct, the impact of crew resource management, how people can challenge each other, how they speak, the dynamics so, so critical to saving lives. And we’ve seen time and time again where that dynamic was not well balanced, how it cost in several cases, hundreds of people’s lives due to a fatal error.

And what are some of the approaches if when we’ve talked before, you really talked about the importance of those range of skills that are needed to be great leaders, how does one start cultivate that that broader range of skills, not just that the technical skill set?

Well, I suggest that one place to start is and I have a whole chapter on this called Who is on Your Team? It’s Chapter 10 and that’s proactively cultivating a group of people around you that you invite them to really support you around manners and other aspects of you as an individual. And I make a couple of points about this. First of all, I don’t mean team like a sports team where you get together at the same time and you meet when I’m talking about is a set of people from different areas of your life.

And I have a model in the chapter about the different sources that you can find team members. But the key is. What you asked them to do for you, the key is to ask them to please be sincere and honest about what you see, even if you think I don’t want to hear it, which means that you have to be willing to risk your relationship with somebody because they may tell you things that you don’t want to hear. I’ve had a personal example of this that I share in the book that in some circles, in many cases, probably could have gotten my boss fired from what he told me.

And yet I realized after I was upset with what he said to me, I realize he was giving me some wisdom that to this day has helped me greatly. That’s the kind of relationship that I talk about. So, the sources of those relationships are you can be your family members, you could be your friends, it could be your professional networks, it could be professional experts. It could even be your higher power. But it’s important to cultivate those relationships and ask people to mentor you, but not just to be your friend.

You don’t want your friend just to tell you, Eric, you know, you’re great. Don’t worry about anything. You want them to tell you the truth as they see it or to affirm things you think you’re doing right and to call out things when they think you’re doing wrong. And then it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to change in order to do it. So that’s one place you can start as a team. One other quick example in terms of interviewing, because most of us have to interview.

I have a whole chapter on interviewing. And my hypothesis in that chapter is that you’re always interviewing, so just be mindful of that. But I particularly talk about the importance of doing mock interviews and being videotaped, because it’s amazing that when you see yourself on a video, you look you look very different than you look like. It’s sort of like someone showing you a picture of yourself when you’re naked and you’re like, oh, my God, you’re like, that’s horrible.

And yet you look at yourself every day when you get out of the shower. Right. And you don’t think so. It takes an external source to show you a version of you that you don’t see to help you realize maybe I better get in shape or even your body language, how you show up in videos, etc. completely agree. Haven’t done the exercise. As much as I despise the activity, I think it’s a it’s a phenomenal if we’re only important tools.

So, I think these are very good ideas. Thank you. Thank you so much, Donald, for sharing this wisdom, putting a put it together in a book to help young professionals orient themselves from a career, bringing a lot of your learnings from your experience at NASA in terms of how to become a more well-rounded leader. And the book Manners will take your brains and money.

Thank you so much. Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing about your experience and your thoughts around you.

Thank you. I appreciate it. It was great.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Donald Gregory James, an executive leader, a manager, a facilitator, a public speaker, a mentor, and author. Donald began his 35-year NASA career as a Presidential Management Intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland in 1982. He transferred to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA in 1984 where he served in a variety of roles of increasing responsibility and complexity, including Public Affairs, Government & Community Relations and Education.

Donald decided to make a career at NASA after the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Asked to support the post-accident speaking tour of back-up Teacher-In-Space Astronaut Barbara Morgan, Donald was so inspired by the overwhelming love and support for America’s space program – and education – that he realized NASA was a special place where he could make a difference. His journey of public service would take him from being an intern to the senior executive service and member of NASA’s senior leadership team.

James served as Ames’ Education Director from 1999 to 2006. In the Fall of 1996, James co-led the record-setting Open House at Ames attracting over a quarter of million visitors in one day. In early 2006, James worked on the Orion crew spacecraft at NASA Johnson Space Center, where he drafted the program’s first project plan. Later that year, James was named Project Manager for NASA’s (successful) bid to host the International Space University’s 2009 Summer Session Program (ISU- SSP), attracting an ISU SSP best 136 students from over 33 nations, involving over 15 corporate and non-profit partners.

In August of 2014, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden selected James to serve as the Agency’s Associate Administrator for Education where he led an enterprise comprised of 75 civil servants, over 250 contractors organized to strengthen NASA and America’s future workforce. Under James’ leadership, NASA learner and educator engagement reached over a million people a year. James retired from NASA on March 31, 2017.

James holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was awarded a three-year graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue his MA in International Economic Development from the American University in Washington, D.C. James also studied economics and history at Cambridge University, England, and attended Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program. He is the recipient of numerous awards and citations for exemplary service. 

James was inspired by the places he’s lived overseas, including Ghana, Thailand, Kenya, and Niger. He’s also traveled to Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Spain, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.

His forthcoming book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t: Lessons from 35 years at NASA and Momma’s Wisdomwill be released February 2nd. Donald and his wife Tanya live in Pleasanton, California. They have two children, 28 and 25.

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Improving our Safety Communications with Dr. Archana Tedone



An excellent interview with Dr. Archana Tedone exploring the latest insights in Safety Communications to help organizations improve a critical dimension to improve outcomes. In addition to sharing ideas around how leaders can improve their safety communications, she shares some evidence-based ideas around upward and lateral safety communications – how workers share ideas and how they collaborate with each other.


 Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their 0teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations for those companies. Safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops the Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m Eric Michrowski. Today I’m really excited to have with me Archana Tendone on who’s here to talk to us a little bit about safety and also the elements of communication. So, first of all, thank you so much for joining us. I’d love to hear a little bit about your story and how you got into this field of studying worker health and safety.

Sure. Hi, Eric. Thank you so much for having me here. I got into this field of studying worker health and safety through some of the research projects that I started doing as a young graduate student. So early on as a young graduate student, I was involved in a variety of different research projects. And one of the projects that I was working on involves me conducting focus groups with health care professionals, nurses in this instance on occupational health and wellbeing. And one of the topics that we talked about in these focus groups was employee safety. And I noticed that during these focus groups, I kept bringing up the topic of worker safety and somehow the conversation always shifted back to patient safety. And I would have to find yeah. And I would have to remind these nurses over and over again that I was there to better understand how to keep them safe. And we’re talking about your safety, which in turn keeps the patient safe at the end.

In the long run. Right. And, you know, I just found nurses in particular in this focus group just to be such a selfless group of individuals who really prioritized their patient safety over their own. And it made me think we as human beings should really be programmed to prioritize our own safety and well-being. Right. Isn’t that one of our core functioning? So, when I realized that nurses are prioritizing the safety of patients or construction workers or prioritizing getting the job done faster or emergency responders or compromising their own safety to save the lives of others, I really wanted to understand why and how we can better protect these individuals working in these really high-risk industries who are literally putting their lives at risk for the benefit of others.

So, looking back, I sort of think I committed myself to this very important area of research around that point, and my work really focuses on better understanding the barriers to safe workplace practices.

That’s fascinating. And I think in today’s context, the whole topic of workplace safety for nurses and doctors, health care workers becoming even more of an elevated topic. And I’m curious, even if this was the same several years ago, I completely agree. I think safety has become even more important. You know, if that’s even possible, safety has always been a priority or should always be a priority. And I think in some of these high-risk industries, the message that keeping yourself safe will in turn help you reach those goals that you have, could be patient safety, could be getting the job done faster.

Right. Could be saving the lives of others. But I think, you know, there is some disconnect there, understanding that it is important to keep yourself safe to very well said. Definitely. And something I’ve even seen with other employees that where their role somehow impacts the safety of others, in some cases even utility workers, where they’re sometimes thinking more about the safety of others versus as well thinking that if I stay safe, I can keep others safe as well.

So, I want to get into some of your research. You’ve done a lot of research on safety communication. Can you tell me a little bit more about what safety communication is and why it is so important?

Yes, definitely. So, when people hear the term safety communication, they typically think of the more traditional downward safety communication. Right. Which is the top-down messaging from management to employees. While the research is showing us that focusing only on downward safety communication and ignoring other types of communication could be a huge mistake and can really negatively impact workplace safety, some other types of safety communication that are important to pay attention to our upward and also lateral safety communication.


Yeah. So upward safety communication captures the degree to which your employees are speaking up about safety issues, speaking up about their safety related concerns, speaking up about their opinions relating to safety in the workplace or your safety program, and also reporting things like accidents, injuries, near misses, things along those lines. So, it is important for managers and supervisors to get this information and leaders to get this information, because if you don’t have this healthy upward safety communication happening in your organization, then you’re missing out on so many opportunities to detect, correct and prevent safety issues.

Yeah, and lateral safety communication, on the other hand, captures the degree to which workers are talking to each other about safety, and honestly, this is the trickiest out of the three to improve because you as a leader can definitely work on how you’re communicating. And, you know, maybe you can implement different policies and initiatives to encourage upward communication or at least to ensure that the channel of communication is open and clear. But how do you make employees talk to each other about safety?

Right. That’s exactly ballgame game. Yeah. So, when an organization has a strong positive safety, climate and safety is prioritized and it’s really at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it’s openly discussed, then lateral safety communication becomes organic, can happen naturally. But getting to that point isn’t going to happen overnight. And trying to encourage lateral communication will likely be met with some resistance. But it doesn’t mean it’s not working, right. Yeah, I have a lot of fun examples that I’d like to share.

So, I recently conducted some interviews with some individuals who worked in an organization that just revamped their safety, vision and values. And as part of that, they wanted to increase awareness of the vision and values. So, employees were asked to start meetings and briefings with a discussion of how they’re going to embody these values in their daily work. And so, the employees, of course, when you’re asked to do something on top of what you’re already required to do, you’re going to be a little annoyed at having to take this additional step.

Right. So, they would, to some degree, start making fun of these new slogans. And, you know, so things like to be responsible or help each other work safely. And they would joke about these things. And throughout the day, they would jokingly associate these statements with events that were happening. So, you know, if they saw another employee needing help, they would say, I’m here to help you work safely as a joke. Or if they saw someone not wearing the proper PPE, they would say be responsible and so on.

And, you know, before they knew it, they realized that they were actually living the values, even though it started out as something that they were just making fun of. It quickly became integrated into their daily work lives. Interesting. Yes. I would say a tip here is that, yes, your employees may resist this, some of these safety initiatives that you take to improve lateral safety communication, but don’t let that be discouraging because it could actually be making a difference before you even realize it is so interesting. 

And it actually reminds me of some work I was doing with one organization long ago where they’ve done a lot of improvements around that downward safety communication upward was still the main area of focus. There was not enough involvement where there were employees were so excited about it. But Lateral with was probably the most challenging one because people weren’t connecting with each other was a lot of tourism that was also even getting in the way of doing that effectively.

Yep, I completely agree. And with lateral safety communication, I think another way to really help promote lateral safety communication is to identify employees within your organization that can really serve as those role models that are going to be helping you promote this type of communication and discussion. So, it’s one thing for management to ask employees to talk about safety. Right. But it’s absolutely another thing to see your peers talking about safety, bringing it up during discussions, prioritizing safety in their work and research shows that seeing peers engaging in safe behaviors encourages employees to engage in these same behaviors and to establish the norms in an organization.

And this is much more effective than just having management provide direction or tell employees what to do. And this is definitely not to say that management shouldn’t be involved. Your management should also serve as role models. They should walk the walk because if you as a leader aren’t displaying the values, you’re expecting your employees to embody, then they won’t see a need to display these values either.

Very well, because ultimately you want to get it to the group. The norm here is following the rules going above and beyond from a safety standpoint, even going above what the rules and expectations are, which can really only happen once you start having seeing how people are showing up as well. Not any other tips that you’d have for leaders to communicate effectively.

Yeah. So, when it comes to effective communication downward from leaders, I think it’s really important to have the three C’s. I would say so. Communication should be. One consistent, so especially if communication is indirect, so if it’s going through supervisors to your employees or something like that, you don’t want to end up with a game of telephone where the message gets distorted before it gets to your front-line workers. So, you really want to make sure that your supervisors and managers have a clear understanding of what you are trying to convey so they can effectively communicate that information to their teams.

And if you don’t strive to ensure for this consistency, then the worst possible scenario is employees are going to be receiving these conflicting messages from different sources, their supervisors, their peers. And this will cause them not to take the message seriously. And it also puts an overall doubt on the importance and priority of safety in the workplace if they’re receiving these conflicting messages.

The second yeah. The second thing I would say is you want your communication to be clear and concise. That’s a bonus. So, you don’t really want to you don’t want to leave much room for interpretation. You want to be very clear. Researchers found that messages that are clear, easy to understand and to the point are most effective. So, this point isn’t only about safety related messages, but this could be taken for any sort of messaging that you want to convey to your employees.

And then the third C, I would say you want your communication to be caring when you communicate, understand that these workers are literally risking their lives on the job. Right. And they’re approaching conversations with their employees from a caring perspective has been found to be more impactful than coming from a scolding or reprimanding perspective. And it’s really important for employees to feel that you as a leader, genuinely, genuinely care about their safety and well-being and really helping them understand why safety policies and procedures are in place can really influence what they end up taking away from your conversations or approach your conversation from a place of care.

I love it. So consistent, clear and concise and then caring. I think those are so important that the caring one, it reminds me most really good leaders that I’ve heard of from a safety culture standpoint are always coming from a position, and they usually always have a very strong, like conviction of why safety is so relevant or important to them. I love your comment about why I had somebody who was sharing their story in terms of my leadership story on whatever episodes he was really talking about, how you really connect to why something is important, not just telling people to do something that’s so important.

So, in terms of upward communication, what can you tell me about upward? And is it really important for employees to communicate to leaders about safety?

Yes. So, as I mentioned earlier, when leaders and upper management are not hearing about what’s happening on the floor, they’re really missing out on so many opportunities to prevent and correct safety issues. So, yes, it’s very important to have an open two-way channel of safety communication, not just one way. That’s not enough anymore. And so, an important tip to maintain upward communication, I would say, is to make sure that management is acknowledging receipt of this communication and providing feedback about what’s being done or what’s going to be done with the information received. 

So, if managers aren’t giving employees any feedback on their speaking up, then they’re going to feel like they just wasted their breath, right. They won’t continue to speak up about safety issues or concerns. You have to reward the behavior you want to see. Right. For example, if an employee raises a safety concern to you as a manager, let’s say, acknowledge that you’ve heard their concern, maybe you can check in with a check in with them in a few months, let them know what steps you’ve taken to resolve their issue.

And even if it’s something that you can’t really take action on at the moment, let them know that you’ve heard them. And although you can’t address it right now, it’s something you’ll consider in the future or it can’t be addressed for X, Y and Z reasons and tell them those reasons. So, providing this type of feedback makes upward communication more worthwhile for the employee. Put yourself in their perspective. Why would you, after working a very long, hard, busy day, go out of your way to speak up about an issue if you feel like no one is going to do anything about it or you know you’re not going to get any feedback on it.

So, providing that sort of feedback encourages them to continue on with that positive behavior that you’re trying to see.

But the very important point, it reminds me of one of my favorite stories I’ve ever heard, it was a somebody who is at a retirement party retiring from one of the big three automotive manufacturers. And his comment at the end was, you’ve paid me really well throughout my entire career. Thank you. But you could have had my brain for free. And I think that’s such a strong comment. But really talks to this piece about all he was looking for is somebody to listen to tap in to be open to his ideas.

And they could have had so many more solutions that ideas come forward. So, in your research, you’ve studied a construct which is really interesting and I’d love to hear more about it. And it’s around what you call safety silence motives. Can you tell me a little bit more about what it is and why we should care about it?

Yes, I’d love to. So, safety, silence motives help us understand the barriers to upward safety communication. So, safety silence occurs when employees choose not to speak up about safety issues in the workplace and safety. Silenus’ motives are the reasons behind the silent behavior. So basically, measuring this construct will help us answer the question. What are barriers preventing my employees from speaking up about safety issues? And so, we’ve identified four main types of safety silence motives, so we found that employees may not speak up about safety issues if they feel that relationships in the workplace could be damaged or it could lead to a negative image of them called relationship.

They safety silence or employees may stay silent because their organization’s climate isn’t supportive of upward communication called climate-based safety silence. Silence could be due to appraising a situation is not threatening or not worth speaking up about. So, this is called issue-based safety silence. You hear things like, oh, that safety issue wasn’t life threatening or no one ended up getting hurt. Right. And then finally, job-based safety silence occurs when employees are facing job related constraints to speaking up.

So, things like heavy time pressures or workload, and you might not find that all of these safety sounds motives are occurring in your workplace. So really measuring these motives will help you take the most targeted action to encourage healthy upward safety communication.

Hmm, interesting. So, what should I do if my employees do not feel comfortable speaking up about safety issues?

Right. So, as I mentioned, different actions can be taken based on what barriers you’ve identified in your organization. So, for example, if you find that relationship-based safety silence is very high, then your organization may benefit from having an anonymous reporting system, for example. So, names don’t have to be associated with certain suggestions or reports. And this could also always be a first step until you’re able to build a culture of trust in which employees do feel more comfortable associating their names with different reports and things along those lines.

If you find that climate, they safety silence is an issue, then you really want to think about why your organization’s climate is not supporting this type of upward communication. So, you could find that employees feel that there really is no Clear Channel of upward communication or they feel that management isn’t really responsive to upward communication. So, these are things that can be addressed through different manager or supervisor trainings.

Interesting. Yeah, it’s it is for somebody because I grew up in the airline industry and that’s where it got my first taste of safety. And I think that that that theme of speaking about air safety is so well ingrained in that industry and has been for because of so much focus on creating psychological safety, but also a mechanism, an environment where people recognize the value of speaking up. So, I sometimes take it for granted. This is such an important theme.

Right. You know, it’s very interesting that you say that because each organization, each even department and each team has its own strength in their safety climate. Right. But you kind of forget about it. At the industry level, some industries really work to prioritize safety more so than others. So, you know, you’re definitely right. There are some industries that have that tend to place a bit more priority on production, are getting the job done or other things.

And it could be a little harder to shift the safety climate in an organization working in an industry with such constraints. But not impossible. Definitely not impossible.

Absolutely. So, can you maybe share some of your takeaways when it comes to talking about safety?

Sure. So, I would say one takeaway is that communication should not be just a one-way channel. So, it’s not enough to have effective top-down safety communication. It’s important. But not enough upward safety communication is also a necessary component of a safe work environment, and lateral safety communication is really important as well for creating that healthy, positive safety climate that we’re striving for. Another take away is that change takes time. There are, of course, changes that really need to happen immediately, right?

If major safety is your concern, it needs to be dealt with. But what if you’re trying to change how people are thinking about safety or how people are viewing safety or how much they’re valuing safety in their daily work, then be patient. This is not going to happen overnight. This process might take time, but the research shows that having this strong, positive safety climate has so many benefits and not only in the realm of safety associated with things like lower accident rates or better safety performance, but also outside the safety realm, like customer satisfaction, employee commitment, better performance, things like that.

And it’s important to understand that, you know, investing in improving your safety climate does save your organization time and monetary costs in the long run. Right. They seem like just one small cog in the machine of your organization, but without it, that machine will come to a halt. So, it’s really in our best interest to try to ingrain safety into the fabric of your company so the machine will run smoothly. And keep in mind that these changes might be happening before you even know it.

And then I would say my last takeaway is that safety is a collaboration. Your workers are the experts in their craft. So, seek their expertise and try to better understand what they do, try to understand their concerns, seek their opinions, make them feel valued, and make them feel like a collaborator in your company’s safety program rather than just a participant. Because in the end, we’re all working towards the same goal here. Right? We all want to make it home in one piece.

We all want to be safe, happy and healthy. And we want to see our workers and coworkers safe, happy and healthy. So, getting on the same page about that point with your employees will do wonders to the quality of your communication between you and your workers.

I think that’s very well said. And such important reminders. And definitely when I’ve worked with more mature organizations from a safety climate standpoint to themes that always emerge as a very strong collaboration involvement, safety is everybody’s responsibility. Everybody sees it. Everybody wants to contribute in that way, which is phenomenal. But the other thing they talked about really in terms of those places tend to be great workplaces. There’s not a place I’ve been to that had a phenomenal safety culture that didn’t have low absenteeism, that didn’t have a good operational performance, that didn’t have good production performance.

It didn’t have all these other things working because people saw it as an intricate part of running a great business.

Exactly. So well said I. I completely agree with that statement. And that’s what I’ve seen from a research perspective. And also, you know, when I’ve interacted with different organizations and clients and things like that. So, yeah, I completely agree.

Well, thank you so much for having us for taking the time to come on The Safety Guru to share some really important themes. Really appreciate all the work that you’re doing, sharing those ideas, researching those ideas in your work, teaching. And as a professor at the University of Baltimore, thank you so much for taking the time and would love to have you back on the show when you’ve got some additional pointers, ideas or research that you’d like to share and broadly communicate to that important audience.

So, thank you so much for coming on.

Thank you, Eric. Any time.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops Eric Michrowski.

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Archana Tedone, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Industrial and Organizational (IO) Psychology at the University of Baltimore. Archana is a workplace health and safety researcher, and a large portion of her work focuses on identifying the organizational barriers to a safe work environment. She has published numerous studies in the area of workplace safety in journals such as Accident Analysis and Prevention, and the Journal of Advanced Nursing, and has even authored an encyclopedia entry of the topic of Workplace Safety. Archana also has several years of experience working as a organizational consultant, with expertise in the areas of training and development, survey design, employee wellbeing, and workplace safety. 



Safety Communications with Dr. Josh Williams



Effective safety communication is the cornerstone of a healthy safe production culture.

This is particularly important with one-on-one conversations with employees.

Employees who feel listened to and appreciated are more likely to go beyond the call of duty for safety and other organizational efforts.

Effective communicators demonstrate genuine caring, promote psychological safety, actively listen, and provide recognition regularly.

How strong are your safety communication skills?

Find out with our free Safety Communication Quiz:


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru, where we explore topics around operations, leadership and particularly the role that leaders play in driving safety in their business. My name is Eric Michrowski, president and CEO of Propulo. Today on our show, I’m delighted to have once again Dr. Josh Williams. He’s a partner Human Performance and Business Transformation at Propulo, an absolute guru in the safety space. Thank you for being on the show. Josh, thanks. I appreciate it. Dr. Josh has a Ph.D. in psychology from Virginia Tech. He is one of the pioneers in safety culture with over 20 years of experience in the space, with a broad range of clients in industries ranging from aerospace firm military oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing, a really diverse group of organizations. He’s authored a book. He’s coedited a second one. He’s published over 40 different articles and various publications. He’s also a prize winner and national prize winner for the Cambridge Center on Behavioral Safety. And he has presented over a hundred times to some really delighted audiences that were happy to hear his story. So really excited to have you here. We’ve talked on prior shows about how you got into the safety culture space. Is there an element of why you really got into this space that you’d like to share with our listeners?

I kind of touched on it in some earlier ones in grad school, kind of moving from maybe traditional ivory tower to a professor, Scott Geller, who many of you may know really as kind of the fountainhead for the psychology of safety, sort of working with him. And there was a passion there that was contagious. And part of it is just the feeling of fighting the good fight. You know, you’re trying to do the right thing to make organizations better, more pleasant and keep people from getting hurt.

So that’s kind of where the HWI in it is there for me.

I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s really empowering to know that you spend most of your day, most of your life making it safer for others, thinking about how other people can come home to their loved ones every day. So, I completely agree with what you’re sharing there today. We’re talking about a really important topic. I know both of us are passionate about is around safety communication. And it’s a topic that a lot of organizations struggle with.

You’ve recently authored a quiz, which is a novel way to start thinking about how am I doing? How do I compare against some of the leaders in this space and what actions do I need to take to make a difference? So, again, on safety communication, if you want to take that frequency, no gimmicks, no nothing that will come out of it other than great insights and ideas go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, zero harm leadership, dotcom.

We’ll be right back with a couple more questions to understand some of the wisdom that Josh can share around safety communication. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru, this is your host, Eric Michrowski. We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis. Whether you would like to explore some of our free tools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice.

I encourage you to visit covid. Black Swan dot com covid black swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way. It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve. Thank you.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone, a lot of leaders come to me and they ask me, what do I do to really get more meaningful, more impactful communication? They worried that they keep putting different messages and nobody’s listening to the message being sent. Josh, any thoughts on the topic of safety communications to start?

Yeah, and we can look at it from an employer to employee. We can look at it from a leader with employees. I think from the leadership side is getting out of this mindset. And I think a lot of a lot of leaders do. But the mindset is it’s not compliance. I mean, we have to have compliance, obviously. But when I if I’m a leader out there on the floor, I should be asking people, how are they doing?

What do they need anything scaring them about the job? It should be, you know, asking questions, trying to get their input and having it more conversational thing. You can still get your point across if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed to address it. But I think from a leadership perspective, one, get out there more in two. When you’re out there, the more conversational asking questions, I think the better off we’re going to be.

I love when you’re talking about get out there, spend more time in front of a team members, more time in the field. One of our other colleagues, Bri, had done some research a long time ago where she really looked at the impact that spending time on the floor had. And how is one of the biggest predictors? Can you tell me a little bit more of that time in field time on the floor? Why is it so important?

I think it sets the tone for everything. I mean, first of all, you know, I think we all have experience where sometimes the decision makers may be perceived as being out of touch with people that are out there on the job doing the job. I’m not trying to cast aspersions at any group, but that us versus them thing is a real issue. It’s a real problem. It’s a morale issue. And if someone’s making decisions that have never been out here and they don’t always make sense, there’s been some goofy policies, frankly, I’ve seen over the years where it just doesn’t make sense and people understand it.

So, I’ll save some stories for another podcast on that. But bottom line is, the more we’re out with folks, everyone has a better understanding of what both sides are doing. It breaks down barriers. And I think people appreciate the fact that their leaders are out there talking to them, working with them and showing respect.

Is there a percentage of time that a leader should be spending in front of their team members? Is there an order of magnitude or is it just make a commitment to do better tomorrow?

That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a stock answer in terms of percentage. You could say 10x or whatever you’re doing, do it, do a more. But I think that the real challenge is part of it is people want to they just want to have time. And so, I know one of the things that we do, we have a kind of a tool that we use to set aside time for folks to get out there. It’s a scheduling issue in many ways.

So, we work with leaders to kind of figure out what can we do with all these various meetings? Can we combine these can we get rid of that one and carve out space so we at least we have a dedicated time to get out there and see folks that is so important. Too often what I hear is a message where I reduce the ranks of my frontline leaders, yet I’m expecting them to do so much more. And at the end of the day, what gets done is usually just the remaining task and they spend most of it in front of the computer instead of going in front.

So, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Start by asking what could be removed, what are some of the low hanging fruits non-value-added tasks that just should be taken out and do that, like as your first major initiative? Any tips for a leader who’s maybe new, who goes on the floor, who’s not sure how to how to start conversations?

Yeah, ask questions. And that’s for everybody. But especially if I’m a new leader. People but people are smart. And if I am not exactly sure, you know, what’s going on there. That’s all right. Strong leaders show vulnerability. It’s smart. It’s a strength. It’s not a weakness. And asking questions, being authentic. If you genuinely care and you have the right intentions, people have good sensors for that. They entered.

They feel it. They understand it. So, I think it’s good for everybody, but particularly new leaders. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a sign of strength to be doing those things.

That’s such an important comment. And I think this is something we should expand on in a future podcast. I know for me as a leader really early on in my career, I think probably six, seven years into it, I was given a task which was to go into business I knew absolutely nothing about, turned that business around, change everything from an operational standpoint. And that’s really where I understood humility from a whole different level because I can solve a single thing.

I didn’t understand what was going on in front of me, and I was forced to listen to Top End to go on the floor, ask my team members to figure out how to solve things, and I had no choice but to listen to what they had to say. Organizations that do this well, are there any tips on are things that you see that are markedly different in those organizations that are really good at this?

I was night and day and trust me, you walk in in the first five minutes, ten minutes, you get a feel for culture. I mean, immediately. You do a site tour, you can tell, and it is it’s a huge difference and that doesn’t mean the you know, the really good organizations. It’s not fairy dust and unicorns and rainbows and people high 5min and hugging. But it’s a noticeable difference when you don’t have that.

When you have people that are disengaged, when you don’t have interactions between folks, you get like I said earlier, you get some really dumb rules and decisions that are being made and you’ve got resentment on both sides. And there is no discussion, we all know from any kind of relationship when the communication goes away, people stop talking, problems come up. So that that communication to me is not just a safety issue. It’s a barometer.

It’s a litmus test, really, for your culture and how well you’re running things. So, if you’ve got those problems or you don’t have people talking to each other, you need to address it right away.

I think that’s a great point. What are the themes I want to double click on? You were talking a little bit in terms of what I call safety participation. So, in terms of how do I engage people to make better decisions, there’s some great work that was done by students, INSEAD professors, and they call it really open leadership or fair process, which was really this concept of I have a problem as a leader. I’m used to solving that problem.

But instead of trying to solve it, I’m going to go and involve my team members to come up with solutions. And it doesn’t mean I’m creating democracy. It doesn’t mean that I’m allowing everybody to do whatever they want. But just asking for input. In the end of the day, as a leader, I’m going to make the choice, but I’m going to explain that choice. And they’ve done some huge correlations between that approach and leadership and success in general in terms of that business, that it maybe took more time in the answer to get to a solution, but the end outcome was so much better.

Any thoughts around that concept of involving team members in driving safety?

Ford So quick example. I was working for a steel mill in the northern part of the U.S. years ago, and they had a problem with logout. Tagert And as you all know, if you’re not locking out equipment, particularly in a steel mill, you can get hurt or killed in a hurry. And so, the plant manager was like, look, if we see somebody that’s not locked out, they call it a lockout, tag out, try out there.

Anyway, if we don’t see locked out, you’re gone. And his thinking was, look, we take this seriously and if you’re not following along, you’re out of here. And the safety manager or the safety director was smart. He’s like, let’s hold on, let’s go talk to people. And they actually went out. They got engineers; they’ve got some supervisors. They got some employees out there actually operating the equipment, started talking to him.

The problem was it was so complicated, locking out the equipment. And by the way, they had almost the worst production pressure I can remember. I mean, it was brutal. So, you couple that with really complicated procedures that take forever to do. It’s not surprising sometimes people took shortcuts. So bottom line is employees with the help of some other folks came up with a way to energize the equipment. And half the time, half the steps, they wrote it down.

Really simple. I could understand it, you know, hit the button after you hit the button, do this. The problem went away immediately. It was not an enforcement issue. It was a communication issue. And by talking to people, people are, again, are smart and they are going to come up with good solutions if you let them.

That’s great. So, this time I’m going to say don’t hit the button. Keep listening on. We’re going to talk more about safety communication in just a second. But in the interim, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom zero harm leadership dot com to do joshes safety communication, self-assessment to see how you stack up and what actions you can take to make a meaningful difference. We’ll be right back. Here we go again with some more great insights and conversations with Dr Josh Williams here on The Safety Guru talking about safety communication.

So, I want to dial in to another topic, which is peer-to-peer communications. So, to employees, how they communicate with each other. Tell me more of your thoughts on this.

You know, it’s a funny thing. When I first started doing this years ago, when I was younger and skinnier, I was doing a training in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And I am nervous. I’ve got all my notes. I’ve got them in order. I’ve prepared, I’ve practiced, but I am nervous. And about 30 minutes in, I’m saying something. I don’t know what I was talking about, but this guy stood up in this auditorium and said, I have underwear older than you.

Who are you to tell me whatever? And I was like, I was not prepared for that. My comment was, that’s a whole other problem. You got to deal with that first. But it’s a real serious mindset. Don’t tell me what to do. There was a famous country song years ago, if you mind your own business, you won’t be mine and mine. And I think sometimes we take that too far. We take it as disrespect.

Someone says something to me, you’re disrespecting me. I’ve been here thirty years. You’ve been here three. Who are you to tell me how to do my job? I’m maintenance your operations you don’t want. Do we have these barriers where we just bristle at the thought of someone trying to help us? So, I think it’s really important to start trying to break that down when you start thinking about people getting seriously hurt or injured on the job. Some you know, some of the listeners, Charlie Morecroft, you know, good guy and a lot of people know was burnt almost on his entire body, almost died and talks about that story.

Brad Gardner, another individual, lost an arm in a potato factory, felt the heat. He was pulled into an auger. He didn’t block it out first. All of a sudden, he’s being pulled in that machine. I hate to be gruesome, but he had a decision to yank himself out, left his arm in the equipment. And sadly, I’ve got a ton of those stories just from doing this for a while. If someone had spoken up, if someone had said, hey, man, I don’t feel right.

If you don’t lock us out, you can get hurt. Or I was doing the same thing, tore my shoulder. I don’t see it happen to you. If we’re communicating these things, we’re keeping people from getting hurt. We’ve got to start changing that mindset of this isn’t disrespect. This is simply just caring. I don’t I don’t see it happen to you and we need to work on that.

That reminds me of a story. When I was early on my first leadership role, I remember that I provided some coaching to somebody from a cell on a safety standpoint. And she turned around and she started screaming at me and putting her finger in my face very close to my nose and saying, I could be your grandma. So, it was it’s not always easy when you have to deal with that. So, any closing thoughts around safety communication as we close off our show for today?

Yeah, I mean, and it’s one of those things, too. I think, frankly, training and we incorporate in some of the stuff that we do. But you have to practice it. It’s a skill we don’t all grow up being communications experts. You know, I got into this job because I’m really good at whatever I do. And so, I think we have to work on it. And so, a couple of quick hitter tips. First is asking questions.

You know, the first thing, if you come up and I’m working on something, I maybe I’m working on turbine engine. I’ve been doing this for hours. I don’t have the equipment I need. I’m in a confined, you know, kind of a difficult space. And you come up, start telling me what I need to be doing right or wrong. It’s going to be a problem. You come up and ask me, how are you doing?

Anything I can do to help? What do you need? Asking questions kind of breaks down people’s barriers because now we’re having a conversation. So, I think step one would be asking questions. Of course, showing respect at all times is an obvious one and praising the good stuff to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t need a group hug for where am I hearing protection. But if, you know, if I’m going out of my way helping out a newer employee, I’m cleaning up a spill after my shift.

You know, a little tip of the cap now and again. It’s not a bad thing either. I think the last one, too. I mean, this may not be a great one to end on, but we’ve got to watch our language, you know, must never, always sometimes. You know, you mentioned that a Ph.D. in psychology, my wife won’t mind me saying this, I hope, but it did not prepare me for the first couple months of marriage.

And part of the funny part of it was we would get an argument and I didn’t understand why. And sometimes I would say words that elicited it like must never, always. And I finally learned, okay, don’t be a dummy. You know, quit doing that and also say, yes, I know you’re right. But just think about that. In fact, this will be a homework assignment for the listeners. This will be a test in social psychology.

Either use must never or always. As soon as you go home tonight, as soon as you see the person that you live with, if you live with somebody, tell them they never do something just for fun. Hi, honey. You never do this or, you know, you always complain about that and then see what happens. And if they start yelling at you, you could say, well, listen to that dang podcast. And the guy said to try it and he was right.

We just got to be careful and mindful sometimes because I think unintentionally, we by accident may send the wrong message, because, again, keep in mind, we’re all a little defensive. Sometimes when it is about our job, we take pride in what we do and it gets really easy for people to get defensive. So, I think the last point, and I don’t want to be soapbox here. I think the last point, though, we need to consider is talking to people are caring.

You’re looking out for people. It’s not about telling them what to do. And I think change in that mindset goes a long way to preventing those serious injuries and fatalities.

Thank you so much for those closing thoughts. Again, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, do Joshes quick, which will give you some meaningful insights in terms of what you need to do next. And this was, again, Dr. Josh William on The Safety Guru. Thank you so much. And we’ll talk again soon. Thank you.

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For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert.

Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 50 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

A sample of Josh’s recent projects include delivering a series of motivational presentations, conducting comprehensive strategic planning sessions, and managing safety culture assessments and improvement activities.

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