Improving Safety Through Interpersonal Skills

George’s Safety Reflections – by the late George Robotham 

Improving Safety Using Interpersonal skills

When interviewing OHS professionals many interviewers focus on their technical skills. Frankly I think communications and interpersonal skills are much more important than technical skills. You can be really bright, you can be highly qualified and trained, you can be well read but if you cannot get on well with people and influence them to change, you will be a waste of space as an OHS professional.

I adopt a philosophy that “People Support What They Create” Lots of communication, discussion and identification of needs will give you the buy in you need. A bit of humour never goes a stray AND please get to the point and do not give excessive detail. Focus on the benefits of initiatives to the other person.

When interacting with others you need to try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and focus on What is in it for me from their view.

The following 3 techniques are invaluable:

Appropriate Self-Disclosure

You will find in a new relationship if you reveal a little bit of you (provided it is appropriate)the other party will reveal a little bit of them (provided it is appropriate), if you then reveal a little bit more of you (provided it is appropriate) they will reveal a little bit more of them (provided it is appropriate), and so the cycle goes on. This is very simple, incredibly effective and I use it all the time to build relationships. Of course if you really hang all your dirty washing out it will probably stuff up the process.

Reflective Listening

This is a very powerful technique to get to the core beliefs of those around you. Someone says something, you may say “If I understand you properly you think x” ,this gives the other party the opportunity to expand on their view or “Correct me if I am wrong but I think you are saying y”

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.

I suggest all safety professionals read up on these techniques, it can make your life much easier!

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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