Executive Safety Coaching: The Key to Unlocking Safety Performance with Martin Royal
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing 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 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 today. I’m very excited to have with you Martin Royal, who is a partner with Propulo Consulting who spent years coaching executives at the C suite around safety leadership. And he’s here to talk to us about an important topic, which is how can a leader improve their safety leadership through coaching? How can they take more ownership for safety through executive coaching? So, Martin, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you with me.
Wonderful, Eric. Great to be here today. Thank you.
Excellent. So, Martin, you have a background in coaching. You’ve coached several, many executives over the years in safety leadership. You’re also ICF certified coach. So, tell me a little bit about what the value of executive coaching is.
All about, for sure. When we think about coaching, first, it is a form of consultation for management executives. And basically, coaches help executives and the organization to reach their goals that sometimes they may not be able to reach on their own. And we’ll find coaches may help process obstacles to progress, act as an accountability or a thought partner. They teach, give advice, or provide resources for executives. I’d say it can be lonely at the top. Executives are responsible for the people that report to them. They’re responsible for achieving results, safety, productivity, profitability. And I found that many executives do not have the space or the people to discuss their challenges, especially in a confidential space. And often only the people around them are those impacted by their decision. Or other executives don’t even have the people in their network who can challenge them while supporting their progress. And that’s where the executive coach comes in to support that program, to support that accountability for the executive, to meet their goals.
In some organizations, coaching is seen as remedial action. You’re not performing. So, I need to send you to a coach. But what you’re talking about is very different. It’s about how do I have a thinking partner? How do I really rethink how I show up and really think growth mindset in terms of how can it be as good a leader as I could be in terms of improving safety? Is that fair?
Yeah, definitely. Because I like to ask myself, if I’m an executive, how would I know that coaching might be helpful for me? And as you mentioned, having a first, a growth mindset, which for our audience I mean, it is a belief that our capabilities, talent can improve over time. And that’s what coaching is about. It’s about exploring new ways to engage with our teams, our peers, our work, and show up, even if it improved presence as an executive. But it does take some willingness, I would say, to take personal ownership over our own development, our goals and our outcomes, because no one else is going to fix it for us. No one else is going to do the work to achieve our goals. And I would say even the coach. And that’s often something I clarify with the clients and say coaching is different from the consulting, it’s different from mentoring. It’s different from even therapy. For some, I think that the coach is a therapist and the coach I like to look at it as a support for the leader’s journey. You’re on your journey, you’ve identified areas that you want to focus on.
It could be external goals. For example, it could be improving your team’s health and safety outcomes. For some, if it’s outside the realm of safety, it might be improving their employee engagement scores. Or it can be helping improve more of the internal goals, being more influential with their team, being able to lead meetings better, have more difficult conversations. And so, the coaches there, when there’s a recognition of what the changes are made, the coach is there to drive the conversation, to drive the process, to support the executives on their journey. But the executive is doing the work. They’re the one. They need to be willing to try new things, approach new situation and experiment.
And I’ve seen this over and over like you coach everywhere, from the CEOs of Fortune 100 organization, all the way to operational leaders and everywhere in between, cos, et cetera. They can be an incredibly powerful tool when the person comes is open to explore, open to experimenting and trying new things. You can see some significant breakthroughs.
Definitely. And what’s interesting with coaching, I mean, sometimes people think coaching is a new practice, but it’s been around since 1950s. But it’s only, I would say since probably in mid 90s that it has become a profession. And there’s been a lot of research around the effectiveness of executive coaching. And it’s one of the practices that brings quite a high return on investment for the organization and for the leaders who are taking part in the coaching engagement. But especially, we’ll see improved productivity, better teamwork, more job satisfaction. Coaching is especially good for executives’ task to lead change. That helps to facilitate more strategic thinking. It provides new insights or even a space just to reflect and brainstorm around the issues that the leaders may face.
And that check in. I think that’s incredibly important that you talked about before. The accountability check in is okay, we’re going to go experiment, try something next week. Let’s debrief on how that went and then explore how we could be even better at it.
Exactly. And I see the role of the well, first, in a coaching engagement, we’ll see there’s different forms. And for me, it’s about finding what’s the best form for the client. For some, they’ll say, hey, let’s meet every week. Every second week, I ask, do you want me to hold you accountable or how do you want me to do that? Meaning that when we start a new session, like, okay, how did that go? What progress have you made? What are some of your obstacles? Okay, let’s debrief what happened and let’s set the stage for the next week or the next month. But at the end, I look at it as the executive responsibility to determine what is going to work for them. So, it’s not that there’s always one solution or coaching solution, but it’s that sort of partnership that makes it work.
Yeah, I agree. How do I know if coaching is for me? Because I talked about sometimes a stereotype that people think coaching is if you’re on performance management. Yet if you look at every professional athlete out there, there’s not a single athlete that doesn’t have a coach, if not multiple coaches trying to figure out how they can be even better at what they do.
I know that’s what’s interesting. People think, as you mentioned earlier, that there must be something wrong with me. So, I’ll get a coach to fix that. And there’s certainly a space for that sort of coaching. But sometimes it is about working with someone who can put it they’re there to identify sometimes our blind spots. They’re there to provide a platform for us to receive feedback, to get even an outside perspective on our business and our teams that often as executives, we might not get otherwise with the team that we work with.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s really finding the right fit. We’re going to get to that very soon as well. When it comes to safety leadership is also getting a coach that understands what that really means. What does safety leadership really mean? What do some of the tools need to look like? How am I supposed to show up really that depth and safety culture, organizational change in safety leadership? So, tell me a little bit more about why that’s so important. I mean, it seems natural if you’re trying to win the Olympics and swimming, you’re going to get a swimming coach. You’re not going to get a football coach. If you’re trying to win Stanley Cup and hockey, then you’re going to get a hockey coach. You’re not going to go find yourself a soccer coach, because that wouldn’t work.
Exactly. In fact, Eric, what I find is with our client organizations that we work with as they develop the culture of safety, we find that many of them are expecting increasingly that their executive team take more ownership over the organization safety culture and performance. And while it looks like, okay, that’s quite normal. Maybe that’s how companies do. But I’d say for some executives, it’s often a major shift from how they used to think about workplace health and safety, because for many executive teams, safety is the responsibility of a health and safety Department, or there might be a VP of health and safety that’s part of the team and that’s person roles. And so, the idea that all executives should be accountable for the safety performance of their team, the organization can be a challenging thought, and nobody will dispute the importance of pursuing their safety goals. But often there’s a thought, oh, if it’s someone else that do it for us. And so, what the coach comes in is first is an understanding of what does it mean to take full ownership over safety, regardless of where we’re at in our organization, but also coaches in safety leadership.
They bring a unique understanding of environment, I would say first in high-risk jobs, and they understand the drivers of safe work, but also the necessary influence that executives must apply to successfully drive safety performance. So, there’s an understanding safety isn’t just a function, but it’s an outcome that all leaders are accountable for.
Absolutely. I think it’s interesting because I explored executive coaching myself. I’m going to say probably about six or seven years ago and really saw the value and kept having an executive coach because I realized the value is not just bouncing ideas, like you said, it’s exploring blind spots, its exploring new tactics, trying something, seeing how it works. And now I rely on a coach literally every week, except when I’m on holidays and short engagements. I found that works better for me, regular, frequent short check ins as opposed to long ones I’ve had before where it was like 2 hours in a month. But the power is incredible. And I think for somebody that’s trying to drive at the safety leadership side, that’s really trying to drive that ownership at the front line, team member level, ownership at different levels in the organization supervisory level, this can be a very powerful way to explore. But how about the VP of safety? Because we talked about the safety, the leader, the operational leader in safety. But I think there’s also a huge benefit for a VP of safety in terms of our director and safety, in terms of how do they increase the influence that they have within the organization?
Because essentially, they’re a resource, but others need to follow their lead to be successful for sure.
And that’s one of the challenges I’ve noted with some of our clients that we work with at the VP level in health and safety is they often are very progressive in their approach. They know where to take the organization forward. They understand the concepts of safety, culture, maturity. But sometimes they’re not in the position or the authority to drive the decisions for the team themselves that belong to operational leaders. And so, their role become how to get the buy in with the rest of their team. And that’s where the coaching can come in. And especially a coach, you understand both sides of the equation from the health and safety and the operations and understand that the priorities that operations have to drive profitability, drive productivity, but at the same time helping, finding tactics and strategies for the VPN health and safety to start influencing their team and start getting the buy in for the change, them.
Task to bring or even influencing safety culture change. Just because I have experience in safety and I’m head of safety doesn’t necessarily mean I’m also an expert in organizational change. There could be some tactics around how I overcome resistance, how do I gain buy in at the front line, things of that nature, which is really about energizing the programs that I’ve got, particularly in a smaller organization, because the smaller organization may not be able to draw in a strategy consulting firm to help them through a big organizational change effort.
Exactly. And one thing Eric I’d like to share is for coaching to work. It is an investment. You referred for yourself, the coaching you’ve had. And I want to bring to our audience that an engagement typically will last minimally. I’ll say three months, but usually three months will be for very tactical goals that we’re aiming for. And that if we were looking for deeper change, we’re often talking like six months to even the twelve months in certain case, depending on the kind of change we’re aiming for. So, it’s not for everyone. So that some people might think like, oh, I got a couple of things I want to work on, and maybe four or five sessions may work it’s fine for small, let’s say small goals, small outcomes we’re looking for. But if you really were looking for a deeper change, this becoming a mid to long term investment sometimes that we need to take off.
I know for me first three months, sometimes it’s just getting to know the relationship and get to understand how you can leverage a person. And there’s an element of success that needs to come. You need to have vulnerability to be able to be successful through it. And it takes time to build the trust with the coach. So that’s part of the equation. And as I shared, this is something when I saw the power for me, I’ve decided to invest personally, multi-year. Now we’re talking probably six, seven years that I’ve been drawing on that expertise to think through problems, to bounce ideas to explore how I can grow. And I would definitely recommend and if that’s something that you could with the right partner, with the right coach could bring some exponential value over the long teams.
This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and Safety Culture Advisory Firm Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit [email protected].
Totally. And I think what’s to me an executive need to understand is also what is the coaching is going to do? Sometimes the coaching engagement might start with maybe an assessment. It might be a 360-feedback process just to get a state of where we at, where are we starting from? Sometimes it’s about identifying the broad issues that we’re trying to tap into, into the organization. For some, it might be even like, it might be about career progressions. It can be about where we see the future of our organization. And often what we can expect of a coach will be for me that will help ensure the goals, what are the goals of the engagement, what are we trying to achieve? And that these are Crystal clear, very specific and that the coach or the client can expect that the coach will challenge them over again, over these goals and ensuring there’s that progression until to me, if the client says okay, no longer important, this is no longer what I want to focus on and that’s fine, that happens. But to me, unless I’m being asked that otherwise I will keep that sort of accountability for the goal progression.
Because at the end having a coach isn’t just to have just a chat, there’s a process, it’s an investment for a certain outcome that will decide together basically.
And that outcome could evolve over time. At the beginning, I may be trying to overcome bearers with a VPN operation. If I’m a VPN safety and down the road I may be looking at, how do I increase the effectiveness of some of our engagement with supervisors and things of that nature. So, I may be exploring different things or my influence tactics with a director team and exploring how do I increase impact. So those goals, I think can shift and can evolve as well, which can help, although like you said, it’s not exactly consulting, it’s adjacent to consulting. Consulting to me is I’m giving you the answer. But coaching is I’m helping you figure out the answer. Would you agree or would you have a more eloquent way of positioning it?
No, totally. And that’s what to me it’s important to clarify at the beginning is that you have the answers. I’m going to help you find them. But sometimes people don’t want to be told. And what I do to me in a coaching engagement is I ask for the permission, okay, or I’ll say I’ll put in my consulting hat if you’d like. I can offer some insight into what you’re describing. And for some they appreciate if and others say, no, I got this and that’s fine. The coach shouldn’t be there to tell the clients what to do, what to say. It’s more to help them get that sort of confidence that ownership over their own challenges.
Absolutely. So, we’ve talked about individual one on one coaching, which I’m a huge advocate of particular for executives. Tell me a little bit about some of the advantages of coaching as a group, maybe a leadership team, things of that nature.
Yeah, for sure. And it’s good to distinguish between what I call the group coaching and team coaching. It is a practice I would say probably has to gain more popularity in the last ten years, and there are differences. So, team coaching typically works with an intact team. It is about helping the team process their issues at the additional level, helping sometimes resolve conflict, help them to work better as a team to support each other. Whereas group coaching is about getting people together. It could be executives from different client organization or from different parts of the organization that don’t necessarily work together but might have similar face similar issues.
And what’s interesting, I really like the group coaching because it has another level of value for the executives. One of them is being able to realize that we’re not alone in the challenge that we face, that others may be facing similar challenges. We find that we can leverage the insights from everyone through the process and build that sometimes, and especially in teams that might be a bit dispersed throughout the organization to bring that sense that we’re all in this together and all going to move in a different pace. But we’re there to support each other and hold ourselves accountable. So that’s what’s interesting with group coaching, which to me it’s usually for small groups like four to eight typically is what we’ll see as the best, but it helps to first, there might be themes that gets brought in. So, if it’s a group coaching around safety, leadership to the coach might be bringing different topics of relevant to the executives are faced with help them set the goals, but also the group starts to hold themselves accountable for their progress. And that’s what’s interesting. It’s no longer just a coach who’s there to support the executives, but it’s the group itself that sort of manage themselves and what they want to accomplish and how they can help each other to achieve their commitments and the coaches being there as more of an Orchestra conductor those sessions to help the group move forward.
And I think that, like you said, could work well for dispersed members of an organization. So maybe different leaders tackling things from different angles, or maybe even a leadership team that’s trying to figure out, okay, how do we together really, truly commit and own our safety and our safety culture and show up in a way that makes real change?
Exactly. If the organization is in a culture change process to create some shared thinking around safety, some shared beliefs to have the group reflect better and how for them, what’s the common ground that they have and how for them then within their own function departments, how are they going to apply that new mindset that they’re trying to instill in the organization?
Yeah. And like you said, I think coaching is an incredibly powerful tool. Often people think about safety and think of training, but it’s a very good complimentary piece to really make sure you’re embedding. I’ve seen very progressive organizations as we talked about bringing in executive coaching at the Csuite, all the way to the Co, dedicating in some cases every week or every two weeks or every month, the time to the Cos, the VP of Operations, all the way down to senior operational leaders in the field. And I think that can be an incredibly powerful tool, particularly if it’s coordinated. It can drive some very rapid change all the way to some organizations, go all the way to more the front-line regional leaders that maybe have accountability for 100 team members within a region and area. And they’re saying, okay, how do I level up and maybe they won’t do it all at one shot? Sure, they’ll do it in small subsets, which I think becomes incredibly powerful tool. And I’ve seen people really have significant revelations. I remember one executive I was coaching, and they were very candid. They said, my entire career I was convinced I was showing my commitment to safety and I was doing the right thing.
And then when I realized the time and the conversations were having every week, in this case, it was an hour every week to think about how we level up our safety commitment and safety leadership is that I was kidding myself. I wasn’t really investing the amount of time that was proportionate with if I’m saying it’s a number one value, what time commitment should I be spending to this?
So, what would be the main value that executives get from coaching? You’ve touched on it a fair bit. What are some of the key themes that somebody could expect to gain out of this?
For sure? Some of the themes to me is, first, if you’re looking for a thought partner to be able to get like an outside perspective, that would be one of the reasons sometimes that we’re looking for an executive coach. For some, it might be that support some of the challenges that they face, have a space where a safe space where they can be challenged, they can vent at times because of the struggles that they may experience. So that coach is going to be there to support that sort of a journey. At the same time, I would say anyone who is their staff to support the transformation in their organization, I think can benefit from having a coach or someone who’s asked to launch new initiatives and wants to be feeling confident, wants to try new things and being able to be in a space where they get challenged by their coach.
And personally, I think everybody should explore this, especially obviously in the safety space, leadership, safety culture space. And like I’ve shared before, there’s not a great team. There’s not a great sports athlete that isn’t invested heavily in having a coach. Alabama and football wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing if they didn’t have a great coach. You go sport team to sport team. As my colleague Josh Williams would say, everybody has got a great coach behind them, helping them get better every day, get greater. And I think that’s something that needs to be more accessible.
I totally agree, Eric.
So, on that note, one of the things because we’ve talked about this, Martin, we’ve both coached executives in Fortune 500, very large organizations to drive change. One of the things that Propulo decided to launch a couple of months ago is really democratizing executive safety coaching, really bringing the expertise, the value of somebody who’s knee deep in safety culture, safety leadership, who understands the concept, who understands coaching to partner with executives either in HSC functions or in line operational functions, to really democratize and make it available to everybody at a very reasonable, affordable cost. With some of the indicators we talked about, some of the 360s, maybe some Pulse assessments. So, you’ve got some data to see. How am I actually showing up and how is it driving impact and where is it? Do I need to throttle more in a certain direction to drive more impact? So, if you’re interested in having more details on it, the website is execsafetycoach.com. So execsafetycoach.com, incredibly affordable way. I encourage you to reach out, tapping into the same expertise that Propulo uses to support Fortune 500 organizations, but in a much more scalable, affordable way that makes it accessible to everybody, because at the end of the day, there’s no more important goal than making sure everybody comes home safe to their loved ones every single day. And this is just a way to help other organizations really tap into some of that expertise.
So, Martin, thank you so much for coming to share some of your background experience. Have a ton of experience, years of experience helping executives and organizations and having seen the value. I really appreciate you sharing some of the expertise, and I encourage everybody to start exploring just like I did probably seven years ago, the value of having a coach, to be the most powerful leader you can be.
What a pleasure, Eric. Thank you so much for allowing me to share more about those insights on coaching.
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. Elevate your Safety.
Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com.
Come back in 2-weeks for the next episode with your host Eric Michrowski. This podcast is Powered By Propulo Consulting.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Martin Royal is an expert in Human Performance & Business Transformation, coach and facilitator who helps clients create a committed and mobilized workforce to achieve their operational excellence, safety and wellbeing outcomes. He holds a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from Saint Mary’s University and brings over 15+ years of organizational and talent development experience. Since joining Propulo Consulting in 2011, he has delivered well over 500+ safety culture change workshops and training programs centered on the development of employee safety engagement, coaching and leadership skills for global clients in North America and Europe. Martin supports Propulo’s client organizations in developing and implementing enterprise-wide training and coaching solutions that drive improved safety ownership and better safety performance. He also supports Propulo Consulting’s contractor facilitator workforce to enable them to deliver exceptional safety leadership training programs. He also supports the development and client-customization of Propulo Consulting’s various leadership and employee training offerings.
Originally from Montreal, he lives in Denver with his wife and gets to enjoy Colorado outdoor adventures. Martin has earned a reputation as an engaging, thought-provoking, playful, and effective professional who delivers outstanding results for his clients. He can deliver client engagements with ease in French and English. Martin is an active member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and also holds the ACC coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation.
EXECUTIVE SAFETY COACHING
Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.
Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.