There seems to be a battle happening in workplaces across the country. One that can be felt, but is never spoken about. Unless you consider the complaints by each side. The battle is between Safety and Operations.
Operations says they’re trying to do their jobs the best they can.
Safety says they’re trying to keep the company out of trouble and the employees safe.
Operations says Safety is a pain and is always trying to stop them.
Safety says that Operations tries to skirt the rules and takes too many risks.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
They may both be right. There isn’t a winner or a loser.
The short answer is YES.
Running Operations can be done without increased risks. And still, it can result in a profitable department. Safety can agree with the risks that Operations is taking. And believes the best solutions are in place.
THE ORIGINS OF THE BATTLE
The goal of the safety department is to get the job done with a minimal amount of risk and incidents. It’s a continuous improvement process that doesn’t have an end.
So, the Safety Department is continuously asking for changes and improvements. Like the toddler asking for another cookie after they just ate 3.
It is no wonder that the Operations team gets frustrated and starts to push back.
WHY IS THERE A COMPROMISE BETWEEN SAFETY AND OPERATIONS
The two departments have to compromise. Between the grand best practices that the Safety Manager is asking for and what the budget and goals of the Operations Department can handle.
Compromise means that neither party gets what they want 100%.
As the Safety Manager, it doesn’t matter that you have found the ultimate, fantastic, perfect, only solution to a safety hazard. You’ll have to compromise some of it.
And this is a good thing.
Compromising develops a more reliable team. It allows Safety and Operations to converge together.
IDENTIFYING THE DISCONNECT
The first step in any compromise is to identify where you agree and where you don’t.
Using a Venn diagram to do this helps visualize how close or far apart your positions are.
There are likely several areas that Safety and Operations agree on and don’t even realize it.
But moving your program forward can’t rely on only where you agree. You need to find that place where both parties are a little uncomfortable.
If it’s one-sided, where only one side gives something up, there will be resentment and no real buy-in.
THE COMPROMISE HAPPENS BETWEEN THE C GRADE AND THE A+
There’s NEVER a compromise about regulations. Meeting the regulations is the bare minimum. It’s like getting a C in school.
Regulations reduce fatalities and have the weight of the federal regulations behind them. They’re not difficult or expensive to meet. So these should not be part of the compromise.
Differences occur between the regulations and the absolute, ultimate, best of the best, safety solution. Or, the A+ grade.
It’s your goal as the safety manager to move the company up the grading scale. One small compromise at a time.
When in any disagreement, it’s easy to think that they’re being difficult or don’t care. This causes a defensive mindset and anger.
When you’re feeling like that, it is hard to see past your anger to an end solution.
Always approach the compromise with the belief that Operations has a positive intent. Meaning they believe their solution is the best one and won’t harm anyone or cause risks.
They indeed have positive intent like it’s true that you do too. When you approach it this way, it’s much easier to come to an agreement.
SEEING IT FROM EACH SIDE; BOTH FROM SAFETY AND OPERATIONS
Put yourself in their place. Understand their goals and what they’re trying to achieve.
This little bit of empathy goes a long way to understanding why they feel the way they do.
Stop being sanctimonious. You may be wrong, and they may have a better idea. Until you look at the situation from their perspective, you may never know.
FIND THE SWEET SPOT
Your Venn diagram showing you where Safety and Operations agree and disagree. You have a defined sweet spot.
The next step is to expand it.
Pick one area where you disagree with Operations. And pick one domain where Operations disagrees with you. Then discuss with positive intent in mind.
The goal is to be swayed to their side, and they swayed to yours. This will give you the one thing (or more if you repeat) that both parties are giving up, so the compromise feels fair.
If either party feels short-changed in the compromise, resentment builds. And the next battle begins.
A NO is Not a NEVER
When someone tells you NO, that only means NO right now. It does not mean NO forever.
The current situation, experience, and knowledge is what drives the current answer.
If any of those things change, the answer could change.
This is why you never let go of your great safety improvement ideas. When you get a no, file it away. Bring it up again whenever the situation calls for it.
SAFETY MANAGEMENT IS ABOUT CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
We are always in a state of continuous improvement. A small change here, a little tweak there, and the needle moves closer and closer to a safety culture.
So know that the compromise you make today won’t be your last on the subject. Slowly, steadily, you’ll go through the process again and get closer to the same vision.
Ultimately, you won’t have a Venn diagram anymore. You’ll have a circle where everyone agrees on the best safety solution.
Create a Venn Diagram for something that you are butting heads over with Operations. Find your sweet spot and identify 2 areas you can compromise on. Don’t forget – Positive Intent.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
Safety Management is more than regulations, that’s why The Safety Geek includes articles about leadership methods like this one. Share this post in your favorite Safety group and start the conversation about how to improve leadership skills in safety.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.