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Why You Should be a Safety Salesperson

Why You Should be a Safety Salesperson

ALBERT MITCHELL
Directorate of Analysis and Prevention
Workplace Safety Division
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Novosel, Alabama

Most Army safety and occupational health (SOH) professionals did not seek out career paths to be business-minded salespeople. As unattractive as the role seems, this is a critical skill that must be adapted, learned and practiced. SOH within the Army does not happen without people. Organizations must develop acuity, grow partnerships and reduce barriers through reciprocal learning to increase success and drive initiatives. The goal is to gather support, create strong SOH cultures and implement real change in the workplace. These are the main reasons why SOH personnel must develop business acumen and communication skills — in other words, become a safety salesperson.

Influential conversations

Much research has been conducted to determine the most and least effective approaches to creating SOH programs. We know approaches that focus on operator error (blame), technical solutions without employee engagement and placing all emphasis on lagging indicators (mishaps) are not the most effective ways and that our conversations should reflect that. SOH personnel are both technical experts and facilitators of change. They are leaders whose strategies and styles impact the organizational safety culture. They shape culture and perception through both communication and action, and their influence can be more effective with potent and practical conversations. SOH professionals can increase their effectiveness with shaping culture and perceptions through developing and applying practical conversational skills. Similar to sales professionals, SOH professionals must expand their contacts, build trust and create substantial relationships with these contacts.

Influential conversations come through the SOH professional’s ability to communicate empathy, whereas blame, guilt and admonishment increase resistance. SOH professionals must be able to turn the tide of negative interactions into positive conversations to influence others. Studies of successful salespeople have shown that sociability, conscientiousness and openness to new experiences were all found to directly contribute to their ability to sell their products. Salespeople who use a more powerful language (in conversations) are also perceived as more trustworthy, convincing, competent and intelligent. Just as salespeople must hone these skills to have influential conversations, so should the safety professionals to enact change.

Communicating the value of safety and occupational health

The idea of a safer and healthier workplace is not often the priority compared to operational necessities. When attempting to create SOH initiatives, SOH personnel are constantly facing some sort of opposition. Salespeople know that to sell their product, the customer must see the value in the product or service they are selling. SOH personnel must show the economic benefits of safety and communicate the value associated with safety initiatives. When trying to implement these initiatives, safety professionals must address the question “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). Here, the SOH professional must be able to show the benefits that come from change to gain acceptance by painting the picture of the changes being made and how employees, supervisors, managers and the organization will be affected positively in the short and long terms.

SOH professionals need to align their initiatives with the organization’s strategies to create value and address the motivations of the command team. Many organizational leaders are driven by performance statistics, but those with the power to implement the safety culture are still driven by compassion for their employees. SOH personnel need to be able to adapt their message to appeal to the emotional appeal of these leaders as well. Remember to respect the notion that those who are not SOH professionals will have different opinions and motivations, especially when they are operationally focused.

Success depends on someone else

Due to organizational and budget constraints, the SOH professional cannot be present to implement and constantly manage an organization’s safety culture. To create and sustain a culture, the safety professional must ensure that the right controls and leadership guidance are in place so that safety happens without their presence. It is especially important that the success does not belong to the safety professional but to the organization’s supervisors, managers and command.

To institute a real change in the safety culture, the SOH professional needs more support than the command staff. Sales personnel know that their success depends on getting the consumer to buy, and continued buy-in only happens through mutual success. They must recognize key contacts within the workplace and find safety success through them.

Because SOH professionals are subject matter experts, the perception is that they are also enforcers. However, supervisors and managers are the ones with the authority and resources to enforce safety. These folks must be positive and actively engaged in safety initiatives; otherwise, rules, regulations and expectations may be overlooked. While buy-in is critical from the command team for implementing overall safety strategy, these initiatives will only hit the deck plate if first-line supervisors and managers see the overall value and drive it home.

Conclusion

Just like sales professionals, SOH professionals must be able to have influential conversations, expand their contact list and build relationships with key players in the workplace to fuel initiatives. This requires developing positive communication, strong language techniques and finding what motivates employees and command staff and, ultimately, create buy-in at all levels. SOH professionals may not have sought out careers as salespeople, but this is a set of skills we can no longer ignore to protect our people (Soldiers, civilians and contractors), Army property and our environment.

  • 17 March 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 229
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyWorkplace
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