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Executive Safety Coaching: The Key to Unlocking Safety Performance with Martin Royal

Executive safety coaching the key to unlocking safety performance

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Seeking a bid idea to significantly level up safety leadership and performance as an Executive or Safety Leader? In this episode, Martin Royal introduces the power of Executive Safety Coaching and dives into its ROI – improved productivity, better teamwork, a safe space to process and reflect, and support for your internal and external goals. Interested in executive safety coaching? As part of Propulo Consulting‘s subscription-based executive membership, you will have the opportunity to gain access to the same expertise, insights, and research that many of the leading Fortune 500 organizations rely on to transform their safety cultures, in a format that better suits mid-sized organizations. Tune in to learn more!
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at https://www.execsafetycoach.com.

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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. 

Sure. 

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? 

Wow. 

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. 

All right. 

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. 

Awesome. Thanks. 

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.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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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.

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The power of change: Frontline Leadership & Supervision with Eduardo Lan

Episode 35 - The power of change: Frontline Leadership & Supervision with Eduardo Lan

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Front-line employees are more influenced by their supervisor than their CEO on a day-to-day basis, yet many supervisors are never provided with safety leadership training. In this episode, Eduardo Lan, partner at Propulo Consulting, discusses the importance of investing in your supervisors’ skills. Abilities like assigning work, asking questions, involving employees, and connecting with team members are often overlooked and dismissed, but they are the key to a safer, more productive workforce. It’s time to move beyond outdated “command and control” methods and ensure that all supervisors are taught how to lead effectively and respectfully to achieve the best results.

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aReal 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, 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. My name is Eric Michrowski. Very happy to have with me Eduardo Lan, who’s a partner with Propulo Consulting, has done many, many years in organizational change within different contexts and more recently, in the last 10 to 15 years, it’s been a lot of work driving transformations around safety and safety culture. Eduardo, very excited to have you with me today.

Thank you, Eric. Very excited to be on the podcast as well.

So today we’re going to be talking about a very interesting and important topic around front-line leadership, supervisory skills, around safety. But before we go there, I really want to understand if you can share a bit about your journey that got you into this safety world and where that passion comes from.

Absolutely. So, I didn’t start out as a safety consultant at all. I didn’t even start out as a consultant. I started out as an executive in the transportation industry. I was a warehouse manager and the company I work for and I won’t mention names. I had an old style of command and control and it was really an abusive environment where you scream at people and you were even rude to people. And I received that kind of treatment. And I dish that out. I was very young. I was like twenty-five years old at the time. And it got to a point where I really felt icky about being in that kind of environment and treating people like that and being treated like that. And I remember I was being groomed to be a director. I was a manager at the time and I remember thinking to myself one day, I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t treat people like this.

There’s got to be a better way to work and be productive. And so, I left that company and that started me on the path to really figuring out ways of managing organizations and leaving in ways that were both respectful and dignified and at the same time increased production and had a result, positive result on the bottom line. And a few years later, I became a consultant, management consultant, a leadership consultant, and then a few years later, somebody asked me if I would be willing to do some safety work, and which was really strange at the time for me because I had no idea what safety and anything about safety chert and I am the person and I told the person, look, I don’t know anything about safety, I’m not I don’t know the technical elements of safety. I don’t know what I wouldn’t know where to start. And the person told me that the type of work they were doing had a lot to do with commitment, leadership, with communication and that I would be a good fit for it. And so, I decided I decided to try it out.

And this was, I don’t know, maybe almost 20 years ago. And I soon found that it was that I was very passionate about it, that this passion I had around treating people right and had everything to do with safety. There’s nothing more important that than watching out for the physical well-being of people. But when we talk about safety, at least the way I hold it, it’s not just physical. It’s mental. It’s emotional. It’s social.

It’s everything. Does that answer your question?

Absolutely. So, you’ve done a lot of work over the years around safety. And one of the things that you are realizing was really the importance of the role of supervision in safety. Can you share maybe some thoughts and how that reflection came about?

Sure. So as soon as I got started doing work in the area of safety, I was. Basically, doing training sessions for frontline workers and we were trying to raise their risk awareness and have them have changed their mindsets and their attitudes and be more responsible in terms of safety. And it was all great work and it did have an impact. But very soon in my career, I discovered that sometimes I would go back to some of the organizations I work with, and these things were back to the way they were before and we would try to figure out what was missing, what had happened.

And one of the things that we found was that workers change the way they communicated with each other or worked and. Because of the training we had done with them, but then they were shut down by their supervisors, like, for instance, we would tell them, if you see anything that doesn’t look quite right, that seems unsafe to you, to stop the work and figure out a way to do it that would be safe. And sometimes we would find that they would do this and then they would get in trouble with their supervisors because their supervisors would say to them, like, what are you doing?

You’re here to work. Just get the work and stop with the nonsense. And so, it became apparent quite soon in my career as a safety consultant that the front-line supervisor, the front-line leader, had a huge say in how work was done and how workers behaved.

Sure. And I think in many cases in interactions even with frontline workers, the feedback that’s become clear is they often listen to the supervisor more than the CEO in terms of relevance from day to day. So, they have more influence in terms of how they show up, which is unfortunately, I think that the sad part is very few organizations and industries have really invested in in in their front-line supervision or front-line leadership skill sets.

Absolutely, so, yeah, to your first point, the supervisor is the person that is there with the workers day in and day out. So, her influence is huge on their behaviors, their mindsets. They are looking to him or to her to fit in, to be accepted, to be well regarded. And so, they will follow that person’s lead. Now, as you mentioned, very few organizations in this. We also have found. 

I also found this out very soon in my career, spend money training, developing, coaching, mentoring supervisors that they don’t see a need to do this. And I guess there’s some apparent logic to this. The people that tend to get hurt are the workers. They’re the ones doing the work. So, your logical and immediate response solution to the problem is let’s train the workers. They’re the ones getting hurt.

So, then I’ve heard that many times before.

Exactly. And the thing is, yes, in training the workers, it’s important and necessary, but it’s insufficient. If you do not train the supervisors, the supervisors will shut down anything that the workers shift or change in how they do the work. And when one issue with the supervisors, it’s typically the kind of the root of the matter. And the root cause of the matter is that supervisors tend to be to have been workers themselves, usually the most productive, the highest performing workers that got promoted through the ranks.

And here lies the conundrum in that many of the skills that got them to be the best worker, being assertive, being a go getter, getting things done, pushing through whatever issues there was, even taking shortcuts. They were celebrated sometimes for taking shortcuts. Are in opposition with the skill set that they now need as supervisors, right?

So how do you close the gap? What are some of the themes that a supervisor needs to learn? Because in a lot of organizations, when I’ve poked around on supervisory training, it’s often, I’d say more labor relations training, it’s how not to end up in a grievance over the contract or something really basic, but not on how to lead, how to influence. What are some of the things that you think need to be covered for supervisors to become more effective at safety?

Sure. So first off, I would say it covers some of the usual leadership topics. Sure. And so, supervisors don’t actually do the work. They lead people that do the work. So, their job is no longer about how high performing they can be, but how much they can get others to be high performing. So that has a lot to do with leadership. It has to do with communication, with influence, with engaging people, with getting people to think creatively and intelligently about the work that they’re going to do and with getting people to really own the work that they’re doing.

So, a lot of it has to do with general leadership training. Now, some of it and this is, I think, where a big difference can be made in terms of supervisory training and coaching and mentoring. A lot of it is very skills-specific. And so, it has to do along with how you assign work. And one of the things that we tend to do when we are the boss in terms of assigning work is we tell people what to do, and we tell them how to do it right.

So, I call it tight on what to do, tight on how to do it, as opposed to tight on what needs to be achieved and loose in terms of how you achieve it.

Correct? Correct. And then we make the really kind of crazy assertion that because we said it, they must have understood it. I mean, it’s clear I said it. I said it several times. I said it really loudly. I’ve said it many times. And we ask them sometimes if we’re gracious enough, do you have any questions or is everything clear? And if I’m your boss and I tend to be very tight, tight, tight, as you say it, and I ask you, when you’re one of the workers that that that reports to me and I ask you, do you have any questions there?

Is everything clear? What do you think your answer is going to tend to be? I’ve got it covered. Don’t worry.

Exactly. Exactly. And the problem with that is that that answer oftentimes has nothing to do with the fact that you really got it and you got it covered. It’s got more to do with the fact that you don’t want to look foolish. You don’t want to look bad in my eyes. You want to look good. So that’s where the trouble starts, because then we send them out and they do whatever they think is best. And oftentimes, it’s not what’s best and that’s where accidents happen.

And so, one of the skills that we teach supervisors is to learn to tell people what to do, because oftentimes, you know what the work task is, but don’t tell them how. I ask them how they’re going to do it right and ask them how they’re going to do it safely. And here in here, it’s a really simple but not easy at all skill, which is the skill of asking people. Sure. And if you ask and by asking, we mean not just any question, but open-ended questions and questions that get people thinking.

And it’s as I was saying, it’s this really simple skill. Everybody knows how to ask questions or understands what a question is. But asking questions is a real art. And I remember supervisor I work within a mining project that that when he got just the importance of asking people open-ended questions. So open-ended questions are questions that ask for information what, how, where instead of close-ended questions that require a yes or no answer. So, the moment.

The supervisor got the power of asking people open-ended questions, he was just amazed that what he could get his team to do in terms of thinking and really raising their risk awareness and their safety ownership in another theme, I think is that’s also important is really around coaching, because a lot of supervisors, like you mentioned, came from the ranks. Right. And coaching. Is it normally something that you talk about when you’re a frontline team member? So, tell me a little bit about the importance of coaching in those conversations.

I would say it’s huge, Eric. Unfortunately, yes. Coaching is not often considered for frontline leaders, for supervisors, if at all. It’s considered for senior leaders, but not for frontline leaders and supervisors. And it’s huge because some of the skills that will be teaching supervisors, such as asking people how they’re going to do the work using open-ended questions that get people thinking another skill that that is really important is acknowledging people for the safe work that they do, not just talking about the bad or the unsafe work and also redirecting or stopping in a skillful manner the unsafe work and unsafe behaviors they may be engaged in.

And these are all skills doing these things in a manner that really gets people thinking, that really helps people welcome the message that is a conversation instead of a monologue. These are all skills that require time to be learned and perfected in terms of understanding. They’re pretty simple in terms of practice. They’re extremely difficult because we have a lifetime and supervisors in particular of not working, not communicating with people in that manner, basically talking at people.

And so and so what coaching does is it provides a supervisor with a field coach that is an expert in that type of work assignment, that type of communication, communication, that type of engaging of people in toolbox, talk and work assignment, conversation. And when a supervisor gets that kind of coaching and the impact that he can have and the result and the safety results that can be obtained and will blow your mind, I’ve seen organizations that have really taken on and a supervisor skill coaching that have really made a huge difference in their safety records and in how the work is done.

And it has an impact not only on safety, which is the initial focus, it has an impact on quality. It has an impact on productivity. It has an impact on working environment, on worker retention. And it’s really incredible what can be done when leaders, front line leaders in particular, realize the power they have if they engage people in the conversation instead of talking at them.

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, energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety, leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com.

And I think when you think about a lot of behavior-based safety programs, even historically, that have been launched in organizations. One of the things that surprised me is how little training was actually provided on how to deliver the feedback when the entire point of observations is really to trigger a conversation around what people saw, how they could do it better, or recognize the right safe choices as well. And this is such a fundamental skill set to driving safety and reinforcing the right choices, the right behaviors and shifting attitudes and mindsets.

Correct? And it’s and in my mind, it’s a lot it’s one of the big reasons, if not the reason for the bad name, the bad rap that BBS programs have gotten because they become about how many observations you do, how much your hard to fill out. Then people start gaming the system and just creating cards that were no observation existed. Or if you do, go ahead and do an observation. The feedback is so poor that you might as well not have done the observation because that interaction actually hurt that person’s level of safety ownership, given the nature of the interaction that took place.

So, Yeah, a huge part of a program like that or any safety interaction is the quality of the conversation that you’re sharing with people. And supervisors are not taught how to have no conversations.

Many leaders aren’t taught, but definitely not supervisors. And then that’s usually where you needed the most. So, I’m curious of your thoughts. Organizations often if they’ve got a limited budget around safety in training, they often will say, like you mentioned before, I want to focus on my front-line team members. Is that really the best place to start? Would you say there? Would it be working with leaders or would it be with supervision?

I think the best bang for your buck is supervision. Obviously, if you want to have a radical transformation or step-change in how in your organization, safety, culture, you need to work with all levels of the organization because supervisors don’t are not there. Twenty-four hours a day, senior leaders hold the purse strings and many of the key decisions about systems that also impact safety and workers. I mean, are their own person and they will make their own decisions.

Right. But if your budget is limited and you have to choose one place, that place is supervision and its supervision, not only in terms of training, but as you mentioned, in terms of coaching and because training is just your entry point at developing skills.

Exactly. Any examples that you can share where you’ve had really sizable impact by focusing on supervision and maybe can you share how that can help transform an organization.

Yeah, absolutely. So, I was mentioning this example of a mining project I was involved in a couple of years ago where, you know, it was they had a they didn’t have a terrible safety record, but it wasn’t great. And they needed to improve. And there was also this working environment that was very much carrot and stick people. The. People are not very happy working on that project, and they work there because they had to there was a lot of turnovers, they would go to other projects and we focused heavily on.

Shifting the way supervision supervises the work and the way supervisors engage with their crews, and we did initially with the training with them, and then there was a lot of field coaching. Sure. That impacted really every touch point they had with their crews. So, the toolbox talks, the safety meetings, the shift handover and even the day-to-day interactions. This organization was so committed to improving that they embed it. Safety cultures. Yes, safety coaches, email safety coaches in the work.

And they just lived in that worker camp and where part of the population and really shadowed the supervisors and where they’re continuously helping the supervisor up their game in the ship was really incredible in terms of how safety was improved, of how the culture was shifted. You could see it in the numbers, but you could also feel it and people would talk about it. Like, I feel like my supervisor knows me. He cares about me.

He asks me what I think I feel valued. And you could see people’s contentment around being heard and heard and seen and allowed to contribute in that manner. But more than their contentment, you could see the level of commitment, a new level of commitment that they have to doing good quality, safe work.

Right. I remember doing some work in at a mine site is similar, just illustrating the importance of the supervisor. There was in one mine shaft, there were two supervisors and the crews were working side by side. And the difference between both supervisors was stark. One was barking, yelling, telling how the work should be done. The other one showed active care day in and day out about everybody’s loved ones, why they were staying safe. And you could sense it when we were talking to people that were working down this particular mine shaft, they you could see in their conversations you could almost identify who they worked for just based on their stories and their examples.

So, an incredibly powerful and important one. Obviously, safety results were very different, very stark difference between both in terms of supervisory training and we’ve talked about that’s a good first step. Is it really different from leadership training or maybe is it more in terms of the delivery and the topics that I cover that that you should consider a difference?

I think there is a marked difference. As I said, it’s not that some topics will be part of the general leadership curriculum, but some topics are varying and skills specifically in terms of assigning work. Sure. And their field base. So, the best type of coaching for supervisors may start out in or training for supervisors may start out in a classroom setting, but very soon it goes to the field. Right. And it’s in their work environment, at their usual work meetings.

And that’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s where they’re having a real impact on people in the way they engage with them and the way they communicate with them in the way they involve them or not. And so, I think that’s smart and markedly different, distinctly different from general leadership training. It’s a lot more field based, you know, that’s what I would say about that.

Absolutely. I would agree with you on that on that front. But I think it’s more importantly than anything else, is really the criticality of investing in front-line supervision, training, really investing in those front-line leaders. When somebody gets upgraded from the craft, there should be something that that teaches you how to get on board. There should be more investment even beyond peer support with somebody else. There’s so much that can be done to develop that skill set.

So, Eduardo, thank you so much for sharing some wonderful ideas on this really important topic of supervision. Any closing thoughts that you’d like to share?

Yeah, I’ll take two more things. I want to touch upon something. You sat around actively caring for people. Another key point that we stress that I stress and that we stress it in terms of how supervisors can engage with their crews is really is this thing around, Karen, concern around the relationship and really key to getting people to work safely to follow your lead is their belief that you care for them. And in terms of the impact on workers, which is what we ultimately are looking for, because they’re the ones doing the work and they’re the ones closest to the risk and usually the ones who get hurt.

And, you know, we know and we’ve known for thousands of years that telling people what to do doesn’t work it. And there’s this quote that they it’s really a quote, I think, by Confucius. But they attributed now to Benjamin Franklin that says, tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, but involve me directly and I will learn and I will make it mine. So that’s the kind of training and coaching we are alluding to, teaching supervisors how to really involve people directly instead of telling them.

Yeah, I think that’s very well said. I often even talk about the theme of safety participation just as a vehicle to get people more connected, involved around safety to drive improvements, but also more likely to follow the rules. But that’s also linked to it really is the more I’m engaging you, involving you, the more likely you’re going to do the right thing when nobody’s watching.

Correct. Yeah, it’s really almost like magic that it even trumps. Salary considerations, sometimes people have such a need to be involved and to be heard and to be seen that if we as leaders now I’m speaking about all types of leaders can learn to do that, the level of discretionary effort that we get from people will blow our minds.

I think it’s a very important point. I think it’s too often most people think I’ve got promoted so I can tell you how to do it. But listening is often important piece and sometimes it doesn’t even come out. That was one of the things I learned early on in my career when people were telling you the process and the tools, I have been adequate if you fix that. That didn’t necessarily solve the problem from a perception standpoint, because often what they were saying is you didn’t engage and involve me in it.

What actually came out from surveys, from focus groups was more focused on the tools and the methods, the procedures, as opposed to you didn’t engage and involve me.

Yeah, and I think that has to do a little bit with the culture that we live in. That’s not commonplace, particularly for big, strong men, which dominate sometimes the industry to say, I want to be heard, I want to be seen, that you’re not going to necessarily hear them say that. But here’s the thing. It’s a universal human need. And if you want to have an impact on somebody else, whether you’re a senior leader, a frontline leader or even a crew member, you should be well advised to know that.

Yes, absolutely. Well, Eduardo, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on safety, supervision, safety, leadership, particularly at the frontline levels. I think it’s such an important topic. Really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights on this. Thank you.

Oh, thank you. I’m very passionate about this. So anytime. Thank you.

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 guru Eric Michrowski.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Eduardo Lan is a Partner with Propulo Consulting, a global management consulting firm delivering significant and sustainable improvements in organizational performance. As an accomplished organizational consultant and safety leadership coach, Eduardo has extensive experience in safety culture transformation, leadership development, high-performance projects and operations across the United States, Canada and Latin America. With over 20 years of experience in Leadership and Organizational Transformation, Eduardo is truly an expert in Organizational Development and Change, specifically safety leadership.

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