Why Being a Decision Makers Doesn’t Mean Getting Support

As the safety expert, your management team might expect that you’ll make all the decisions on safety matters. That you’ll solve any problems related to safety.

You might have the same mindset because, after all, they hired you to be in charge of safety. You likely feel the need to show what you can do. That you’re an expert.

But, having this mindset can hinder the success of your safety programs. Let’s talk about why.

The Common Mindset: Experts Should Decide

The mindset that experts should decide on problems is really not a bad mindset. Because after all, it’s a logical line of thinking and gives us peace of mind.

For example, we want our lawmakers to be experts on the constitution. Or, if you have health problems, we want the health experts, the doctors. Because you’ll have peace of mind, knowing that these people are experts. Meaning that they have the right set of skills and the necessary knowledge to solve problems. Because of this, we sometimes even want these experts to decide for us.

This common mindset is also present in companies where we work. That’s why your management team expects you to also solve safety problems. And you might think this way also. But that mindset is a problem.

Why That Common Mindset is a Problem

The main reason why this mindset is a problem is simple but petty as well.

People tend to reject the ideas of others.

This is why, when you go into that meeting, give out all the ideas, and become the decision-maker for others, they will reject it. Or worse, you won’t get their full support for your program.

Think about this…how would you feel if someone outside of your scope of work came and told you how to do your work properly? You might feel annoyed and frustrated because it hurts your pride.

That’s how you, a safety professional, may look to others when you’re telling them how they need to change their processes to improve safety. If you come in, decide for them, and tell them how to properly do their job, you will become a nuisance and lose support from others.

How to Work Around the Problem

Despite this problem, you can still work around it and be the expert. But to do this, you’ll need to become the influencer instead of a decision-maker. You’ll need to influence them to support you.

To do that, you’ll need to apply certain principles when solving safety problems. Here are some of them:

  • listen more than you speak
  • acknowledge their expertise, and
  • use questions as a guide.

When you apply these principles, they’ll feel that their thoughts about the issue are important and they’ll arrive at your desired solution. Resulting in the management team actively participating and giving full support to your programs, thinking it was their idea.

But all along, you’ve just led them to it.

Take Action

In case you missed it, you can check the last episodes that focus on management support. We’re going to continue this conversation over the next few weeks. So be sure to subscribe to the podcast and while you’re at it, please leave a review. This helps others find the podcast and I would love to hear how this podcast has helped your safety program or career.

Why Safety Managers Are Influencers And Not Decision Makers

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] When a safety issue comes up, everyone looks to you for the solution, but should you really be the person who decides what to do, even though you're the expert, being the decision maker in these situations, is actually making management support for your program more difficult. Let me explain.

Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to the Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent CSP and 20 year safety professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again, I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you. At the Safety Geek you will

learn how to manage an effective safety program that increases your management support, and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up

[00:01:00] in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer and leader, you're in the right place. Let's get to it.

Hello. Hello. Hello, my safety friend. Happy December. We are only four weeks left in 2022. Can you believe it? I am so looking forward to the new year. So first off, you know how I love New beginnings. Like I love, like I'm a morning person cuz I love new days. I love Mondays cuz it's the beginning of the week.

I love the new months and I love a new year and I have always believed that it is a chance to set a new intention or to set a new goal, or it's like a fresh start or a new beginning. You should see me every single morning, I wake up and I clean my house. Now, clean is a relative term, I guess. It's being loosely used

[00:02:00] in this case. I straighten up my house, right? And I always think it's like I'm getting my house back to start, right? And that's how I kind of feel about New Years. So I always get excited around the beginning of December because I spend the entire month of December, not only thinking about the holidays and the Christmas cheer and the gift giving season, but I also love to think about what am I gonna do in the new year.

What is my intention? What is my word of the year? What are my goals? How am I going to make the most of this opportunity? And I think in this next year, all of us need to set an intention to step more into the roles that help us succeed, whatever that happens to be for you. So I would think in safety, that would mean more management support for your program.

[00:03:00] I think that that is a really, really good goal or intention for anybody in safety for the upcoming year, because here's the thing, when we start in safety, we are put in charge of improving safety and improving compliance, and we step into the role of an expert, and many people believe that the expert should be the decision maker.

And in many cases this can be true, right? Like I personally want experts making decisions that are going to affect my life, right? So like government officials, I want them to be experts in, you know, our constitution and our guiding documents, and in the laws. If I go to a doctor, I want them to be an expert in whatever field I'm going to them for.

And those decisions seem to be like so important that I would love to just hand them off. Like, have you ever gone to

[00:04:00] a medical professional? And they're like, well, you could do this, or you could do that. And you're just like, please, you're the expert, just decide for me. You just wanna hand it off to them and let them make the decision.

But they don't, right? Because they are the expert. But really they're just a guide. There the guide on the side type of thing, helping you in making the decision, because when you make the decision, you're more likely to follow through with it. But this is what your management team does to you. This is exactly what is happening.

When a safety issue comes up, you bring it to them and they're like, well, you're the expert. What do you think we should do? You decide, you tell us what to do, right? But have you ever worked for a company where an expert made the decision, like let's say the CEO of the company who was supposed to be the expert of everything in the company. Correct? They made a

[00:05:00] decision and everybody just shook their heads and was like, oh my gosh, what were they thinking? This is the stupidest decision in the world. This will never work. They are so out of touch. You know, we hear that a lot. And then what happens is that the support for whatever they decided becomes very haphazard.

People might be pushing back on it. They may even sabotage it. And I've literally been in situations where something came down from the top like, oh, this is a corporate initiative. We have to do it, right? And I was told, just ignore it. They don't do anything until you're sure this is actually going to stick because this is a stupid decision and it probably isn't gonna work anyway.

So why waste your energy even doing it? And they don't stick. The decision doesn't work out. Why? Because they

[00:06:00] don't have support for it, and it fails due to that lack of support, even though the idea may have been a good one. It ends up that the decision was made in an ineffective way, so then it fails. So it's kind of like you made the decision poorly, so that way nobody supported it and because of the lack of support, it failed.

So it wasn't, the decision was a failure, it was the ineffective manner that the decision was made that made it to be a failure. This is exactly what is happening in safety because safety experts or safety managers or people that are put in the role of safety, they make the decision. But the people who were not involved in the decision making process, they don't agree with the decision or they feel like they were stuck with it because this is what you told them to do. So what happens? They don't

[00:07:00] put forth effort into supporting it. They may do nothing or they may wait or worse yet, they may sabotage it, and then you end up giving up and the problem perpetuates and it ends up becoming this cycle of where it's like you're telling the company what needs to be done. They agree with it, but then nothing gets done.

So then you give up on it. So then the problem persists. Then you come up with another idea. You tell them what to do, and then they. Hey, that didn't work. And then it just perpetuates over and over again. And in a worst case scenario, your boss swoops in and basically says, no, this is a better idea. This is what we're gonna do instead.

Right. Which in your mind is like not the best decision, but everybody then supports it and it works. And where does that leave you? That leaves you either feeling worse because you couldn't do your

[00:08:00] job. You've tried multiple times to try to get them to implement your ideas and it doesn't work. Or it leaves you looking like you can't do your job.

So you end up being the person where the boss has to come in and swoop in and and save the day. Right. And how does that look when you're trying to move up in your career if you can't actually get people to act on your ideas? So what is creating this problem? This is the same problem as our CEO is having.

It is the way that safety improvement decisions are being made. People support ideas that they agree with or that they were involved in when the decision was made. And what you have to realize is that nobody, even yourself, nobody appreciates somebody outside their scope of work

[00:09:00] telling them what they need to change to improve their work. Think about it. Would you appreciate somebody in quality or HR or you know, transportation or the manufacturing department coming to you and saying, this is what you need to do differently to improve. Nobody appreciates that, but you might be thinking like you are the expert and that they don't know what to do, so that you have to tell them what to do to improve safety.

But it's never gonna work when you tell people what to do. So what you need to do instead is to become a safety influencer and realize that it is your job to influence the decisions. That they're making so that risks are reduced and influencing comes down to a very simple process.

[00:10:00] But because of our egos that our brains are designed with, they can be very difficult to implement. So basically to influence somebody else's decision, you wanna make sure that you are listening more than you speak. And that when you do speak, that you are educating and encouraging, and that you always acknowledge their expertise, that you're asking a lot of questions to help them gain understanding and then to guide the understanding into your way of thinking, and then to acknowledge their objections.

Now, the reason why influencing can be so difficult to implement is that we wanna look like the superheroes. We wanna walk in and be like, oh, we could save the day. But what

[00:11:00] you need to understand is that you are not the hero in this situation. You are just the guide on the side. So you wanna influence the management team to be making the right decision.

This means stepping down off of the platform where you get the cold medal and you are the coach that's on the side or the support staff and all of that. And that can be difficult for people because as you are moving up in your career, you end up gaining more and more power. And sometimes you want to be seen as that expert.

But let's apply this to a safety issue and you can see how you will still be seen as that expert because you will be getting things done. It's more important that you get the bragable results to move your career forward than it is for you to be telling everybody what to do. So let's take this technique and apply it to a safety issue.

[00:12:00] So let's say that you have an issue that you present to your management team, and you tell them all the facts about what you found. And all the data, the trending, the tracking, all that good stuff. But you never talk about how to fix it. You never talk about your idea or your solution to fix it. Cuz I know you, you've got three or four different ideas and you have one.

You are a hellbent on implementing right? So the person in that room, who your solution, your ideal solution, is going to affect the most, what department manager, what supervisor, whoever is in that room that it's going to affect the most. You acknowledge their expertise and then you ask them what they think about the situation.

So basically you're presenting a safety issue, then you're pointing out. Hey Manager John, I know that we see this situation a lot in your department and that you know a lot about what's

[00:13:00] going on there. What do you think about this? You stay quiet and you let them talk. Then you educate them on what is likely going to happen, not worst case scenario.

What is likely going to happen and what the likely costs of that are going to be. And then you get everybody to agree that this is an issue. And then you ask for ideas and you might be thinking, Brye, why am asking them for ideas? They don't know what to do about it. I know what to do about it. But you want them involved in the decision making process.

So that means you ask them for ideas and more than likely, some of the ideas they come up with are gonna be very similar to what you wanna do anyway. And then, you bring up any anticipated objections, don't let them object to your safety idea. You bring it up ahead of time. What are they going to

[00:14:00] object about? What you're wanting to do? Is it gonna be cost? Is it gonna be time? Is it gonna be a hassle? Is it going to mean changing processes? Is it gonna mean changing schedules? Is it going to mean an effect on the customer. You bring up those objections first and you go, Hey, here are some issues I see with it. And you bring up all those objections and you go, what do you guys think about this?

Are these going to be a problem? Is it going to be a problem that it's gonna take 15 minutes more? How is that 15 minutes going to affect our business? So what are you looking like right now? You're looking like the person that is looking out for the company. And not just your issue that you've presented, and then you get them to answer those objections.

So instead of them objecting to your safety solution, they're actually giving you ideas on how to handle those objections because you brought them up first. And then once you've had

[00:15:00] this discussion, you can then say, okay, how do we wanna proceed? How do you guys think that we should proceed? And let them decide out of all of that discussion what they're gonna do.

This is how you influence, my friends. This whole scenario shows you as a leader, and that you are still expressing your expertise. You are still looking like the expert to this entire room, but instead of telling people what to do instead, Putting your ideas first, shutting them down, telling them what they're doing wrong.

You're making it more of a discussion and you're letting them make that final decision. Because when they decide something, they are going to support it. Even if, let's say that it was brought to a vote and you attend

[00:16:00] people in the room, and seven of them voted yes, and three of them voted no. Those three people are still going to support it because they understand that they are in the minority.

Because they were in the decision making process. They had the opportunity to voice their opinions, their objections. It was not thrown in their lap to do. They were part of the process. Now, I would love it if we could make everybody part of the process. It would make our jobs a lot easier. Quite honestly, when you have too many people in the decision making process, it ends up muddying the waters and making it hard to make a decision.

That's why I kind of like bringing safety issues through a communication cadence, which is something I teach in Safety Management Academy, where you start with employees, work your way up to management, and then bring it back down to employees, and then what happens when you go to implement this

[00:17:00] solution, you have a lot more support for your program, so it turns from being you being the decision maker, to you being the influencer, as well as the leader who is making sure that the action is taken. Now, don't we all wish that our CEOs would do the same thing and that they would just stop throwing things at us from nowhere and telling us what to do with things that aren't gonna work?

Totally. But we can't change them, but we can change our own behavior and make sure that we look like the leaders. Now, if you have not noticed over the last couple of episodes, I have been talking a lot about management support. And we're actually gonna continue this conversation over the next few weeks. So if this is a topic that you are interested in, make sure that you subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast player. I'm pretty sure you can get this pretty much everywhere by now.

[00:18:00] And while you are at it, if you can leave a review on the podcast, that would be amazing. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It does help others find the podcast. I would just love to hear how this podcast is helping your safety program or helping your career.

That's all I got for you this week, my safety friend. I will talk to you again next week. Happy December.

Hey, if you're just getting started in safety or you've been at this. For a while and are hitting a roadblock. Then I wanna invite you to check out Safety Management Academy. This is my in depth online course that not only teaches you the processes and strategies of an effective safety management program, but how to entwine management support and employee participation throughout your processes. Are you ready to finally understand exactly what you should

[00:19:00] be doing and ditch that safety police hat forever? Then you have got to join me and your fellow safety scholars over at Safety Management Academy, just go to thesafetygeek.com/sma to learn more and to get started. That's thesafetygeek.com/sma and I will see you in our next Students only live session.

Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • Why Safety Managers Can’t be the Decision-Makers
  • How to Effectively Influence the Management Team to Support Safety
  • People Support Ideas They Agree with or Were Involved In
  • Safety Managers are the Guide on the Side

Links Mentioned:


So, that is the reason why you shouldn’t be the decision-maker. Instead, you should become an influencer. And if you want to learn more about how to do so, you can always check out my Safety Management Academy.

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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.

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