An Essential Skill for Safety Professionals–Reading Other People

An Essential Skill for Safety Professionals – Reading Other People

Article by George Robotham

Basic principles

The greatest motivator is not money. It is the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, to contribute and be recognised.

Be tough on the task but gentle on yourself & others.

People judge you by what they see you doing not by what you say you are doing

Learn the context, culture and past before trying to make changes. Unless a crisis situation is apparent realise effective change requires a lot of effort and time.

It is often the relationships you build not your technical skills that determines success, network for success.

Communicate your expectations

Do the things that give the biggest bang for your buck

As a leader it is more important to be respected than liked

Catch people doing good and make a fuss of them, routinely thank people for their efforts.

Reading other people

There is no doubt the most difficult issues one has to deal with in any job are the people ones. You have to understand the people you interact with to get them to join you on the safety journey. ”Reading” others is a skill that must be developed.

I put posts on several Linkedin OHS forums and hs-canada asking people how they respond to this challenge.

Comments were-

Genuine consultation is the key. Get out in the work environment and interact with the workers.

One respondent said he had developed an asshole focus and when most people said an initiative was good he did not react to the assholes. This meant he could work with the assholes but did not trust them

People do not trust those they have caught lying to them. If you want to be a bulldust artist you have to be incredibly good at it and have an exceptional memory

You have to establish What Is In It For Me from the perspective of those you are trying to influence

The skills of Appropriate Self-Disclosure and Reflective Listening are important (Look them up on the internet) Give a bit of yourself and many will reciprocate

Requires a knowledge of psychology that is lacking in the safety sector, skills development in observation and listening are important

Listening to people is sometimes not done well

I make sure non-verbal communication lines up with verbal communication

Getting out in the ground level with the workers helps to build relationships and respect

Reading up on and applying personality type indicator models can be useful

Reading up on different personality types will help

Observing people without spying on them is beneficial

Check out how people interact with others and how people react to them

See if there is resonance or dissonance between their statements and their actions. Good old rapport building and relationship building is a good technique, work towards common ground

Use face to face communication whenever possible

Beware of people who engage in impression management

Thoughtful use of humour can help to break down barriers

Be genuinely interested in the thoughts of others

Celebrate success

Show an interest in the real world not just theory

Try not to be too complex

Give and make it clear you expect feedback

Use active listening and questioning

The formula

There will be times others do things that annoy you, often they will have what they think are good reasons for what they are doing and they will have no idea they are annoying you. A good formula for these situations is to express your feelings as follows-

“When you A, I feel B, because C, and I would like you to do D, because E”

The only person who knows how you feel is you and most people will not know how you feel and many will be happy to adjust their behaviour accordingly. If this does not happen at least you have the basis for ongoing discussion.


Reading other people can enhance your and their effectiveness. Some study of psychological interpersonal relations material is recommended .People Skills by Bolton is of value.

George can be contacted on, he welcomes debate on the above (it would be indeed a boring world if everybody agreed with George)

George Robotham, Cert. IV T.A.E.,. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia,,,07-38021516, 0421860574, My passion is the reduction of permanently life altering (Class 1 ) personal damage

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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