No Soft Skills in Safety

No Soft Skills in Safety

imageWhen we think about the power of language to shape and influence the human unconscious, we know that words matter. This is why we need to be careful with the use of the word ‘safety’. Unfortunately, many people now associate scepticism, cynicism and negativity with the word ‘safety’. The recent use of the word ‘safety’ to justify the demolition of two perfectly good stadiums is an example. (

It seems when you want to mask real political motive or distract attention from what really matters, just invoke the word ‘safety’. Soon everyone will be in a tizzy distressing about petty risk and such a strategy works. There’s nothing like instilling panic in a population by falsely invoking the word ‘safety’.

So, we can see how language can make a difference. Just mention the word ‘asbestos’ when needed and panic sets in, even when there is no asbestos on site. This is what the word ‘zero’ does, it infused the unconscious with minimalism and pretty risk. Soon, every pissy petty risk on site is magnified. Just trot out another mindless safety slogan and amplify the risk, even when it isn’t there.

Of course, the motivation to amplify petty risk enables power to those who wield it. There’s nothing quite like a safety advisor driving panic to draw power to position. Especially when there are threats to ‘shut down the job’ or PIN a site. Unfortunately, this is common archetype of Safety. There is nothing quite like the safety crusader wandering around site with tin snips cutting untagged power chords. What a method to switch everyone off to safety.

Wouldn’t it be good if Safety were more aware of the dynamics of language and the power of words?

I always get irritated when I hear ‘people skills’ described as ‘soft skills’. The truth is there is nothing easy or ‘soft’ about tackling the challenges of people and risk. Indeed, people skills require greater intelligence and sophistication than any other dynamic in safety.

If anything, people skills are tough. More so, the safety curriculum doesn’t even address people skills. What a strange industry that has a Body of Knowledge that has a 75% focus on objects!

Whenever I am requested to come into an organisation regarding safety it is always to help with people skills. Whenever, I am asked to investigate an incident, the most common element is a failure in people skills. Why is it that Safety is so focused on objects and so poor with subjects? The answer can be found in safety language and symbols. It’s so easy to be brutal to others when your key word is zero!

I never use the description ‘soft skills’, such language should be eliminated from the safety sector. It should never be used regarding supervision, management or leadership. It should never be used when tackling the challenges of people and risk. As if we need any more pejorative language in safety!

If you are interested in people skills there are amazing resources on the market, you just won’t find them in safety. Here are a couple of links to get you started.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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