As a subject matter expert in safety, we always believe that we know best. We identify a problem and swoop in with our fix and the situation. But sometimes, the management team is not enthusiastic about our idea and they push back. This is where having some conflict management strategies can help.
It’s not that the management team doesn’t want to keep people safe, it just a misalignment in the ideas.
Sometimes, you need to be understanding of their position and realize that the end goal of stopping incidents is most important.
Too many times, Safety Managers attach their effectiveness to whether or not their initiative or program is approved. When in fact, it isn’t a judgment like that at all.
It’s a business decision.
ALWAYS VIEW IT THROUGH AN EYE OF POSITIVE INTENT
When someone disagrees with us, our brains go into defensive mode. It gets ready to fight.
But we are no longer back in the caveman days and have the advantage of using our executive functioning part of our brain in this situation.
Instead of getting defensive, look at it as if there is the intention to solve the problem. Just because management said no to your safety idea does mean they are saying no to keeping employees safe (and I get it, and automatic closing steel cages around every open dock door to prevent falls is genius).
Positive intent gives you a starting point in resolving the conflict. When you believe that your boss is doing their best and that their decision is meant to be helpful.
This works better in negotiations than thinking they are just against every great idea, won’t spend money on safety, and doesn’t support your program.
NOT ALL PUSH BACK IS NEGATIVE
Many times, it results in a better idea. Both parties understand there is a problem and have different approaches to solve it. When you compare and discuss, you get a better understanding of how to best choose the right solution.
An answer that works for the business as well as the employees & managers.
Here’s an example:
My boss was frustrated paying for security guards and tasked me with hiring a company to put up a gate. My vision was a key card system that would let delivery trucks or cars in one at a time and a full-height turnstile for pedestrian entrance. The quote was around $50k. This could keep entry and exit secure without guards.
His vision was a 10-foot arm that went up and down to let cars and trucks in without any entrance security for pedestrians. That quote was $3k.
Obviously, he was taken aback at the difference and thought that I was going overboard (I possibly was, but I like to ask for more than I need and settle in the middle).
We were misaligned on the goals and the ideas. He wanted the resemblance of security and I thought the goal was entry security.
This lead to a more in-depth conversation about safety, security, and what the future held for our company. Resulting in a plan that met all the needs.
CLARIFYING YOUR MESSAGE BEFORE PRESENTING IT
Are you sure you are being clear about what you are asking for and what the results will do for the company?
This was the problem with the gate. Neither one of us was clear and it ended up wasting a lot of time, as well as stress for our security guards; they thought they were getting fired.
Go over your proposal like you are talking to a layperson. Would they understand what you are asking for?
Remove any clichés and ambiguous terms.
Don’t inflate the results, be honest about what you expect and know the true return on investment for the project.
BRING MORE THAN ONE IDEA TO THE TABLE
When you have a safety problem to solve, there is always more than one way to fix it.
Give the management team a choice. I like to bring these three options:
- The bare minimum – meets regulations, but someone can still get hurt a little
- The mid-range – it solves the problem at a good cost, but it may be hard to implement and administer.
- The one you want – this is the high-end solution, the Cadillac version to use a cliché, this one
engineersout or almost eliminates the problem, but it will cost you to do it and usually results in it being easier for the Safety Manager
With each idea, you have the pros, cons, and ROI ready for discussion. You lay them out there and let them decide.
Limit it to three ideas. The brain gravitates to that and will likely make a decision. Studies have shown that when there are more than three, there is a higher chance of them walking away (think of all those dressing choices at the grocery store – too many to decide, so you don’t and grab Ranch). Also, always have a bare-bones one; that way, they understand that you know your regulations and are offering the minimum if they want it (and, no one really wants the cheap seats).
The beauty of this method is it is harder for them to say no altogether. Your boss will likely pick one of the three or come up with a combination of them. Either way, you’re still moving forward.
Compromising is one of the most important aspects of negotiating and working with your management team. It means that everyone gets part of what they want, not necessarily ALL of what they want.
Unless both parties agree on the solution from the beginning, there will always be some compromise.
This is OK. And, it doesn’t’ mean that you failed at protecting the employees.
As long as you were clear in describing the problem, how your solution solved it, and the cost & results expected, you have done all you can do. You should feel good about yourself.
When you don’t get your full 100% idea of how to solve the problem, keep holding onto that idea. When the issue comes up again, you lay out your Cadillac plan again.
You never know – the budget Gods may align the universe just right and a Genie will grant your wish – lol.
Now It’s Your Turn
Comment below and tell me the one project they keep pushing back on at your facility and the conflict management strategies you will implement. I would love to hear about it. Mine was electronic onboard recorders for our forklifts – I never won that one, and I am still sore about it today.
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.