3 Surefire Tips on How to Become the “Coach of Coaches”

One of the common misconceptions about safety management is that safety professionals are expected to micro-manage every aspect of safety. Meaning that almost everyone, including yourself, believes that a safety professional should handle and directly control everything related to safety.

However, this misunderstanding prevents the company from truly developing a safety-centered culture. And that is because employees and the management team will think that it’s only you, the safety professional, who should uphold safety. But the truth is that we should only act as a guiding light to the company.

But how can you successfully take on that role? Let’s talk about three tips that will help you.

Shift the Management Team’s Expectations

The first tip is to convince the management team that your role isn’t to directly teach and train each employee about safety. That it isn’t your role because you have no direct authority over the employees. And you aren’t the safety police, always ready to report any safety violation made to the management team.

But rather, you’re there as a coach of the coaches, including the management team. Meaning that your role is to be a guide to the company. A guide that will influence them to make the right decisions regarding safety. A similar role to Human Resources (HR) or a Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Changing their expectations won’t be easy. But just consistently show them why this is your role. As the coach of coaches, you will have a greater impact on the organization. And this will result in a slow but sure shift in their expectations of your job.

Focus on Training Your Supervisors

The next tip is to focus on the supervisors. And this makes sense because as the coach of coaches, it’s your job to coach the supervisors.

Focusing on the supervisors is a great way to ensure that safe work practices will be used inside the workplace. Supervisors are the ones with direct authority over the employees, therefore, employees will always follow their lead.

These supervisors know the ins and outs of the job, and they can show you everything that there is to know about their job. So, when you provide training to these supervisors, it’s not only you that are able to provide inputs to improve the safety in their workplace but also them.

To know if these supervisors are making progress, I recommend setting a regular schedule of assessments. If the data shows that there are supervisors lagging behind, then give them the necessary support through additional training and coaching.

Don’t Enable Others

The last tip is don’t enable your team. What does this mean? Although it will be much easier and faster if you do or correct their safety jobs and responsibilities for them, it’s better to let them do it. Because once you do, it will just enable your team to think that “oh, I’ll just submit this half-assed work because the safety manager will correct it for me.”

Once this thought process proliferates, you’ll have a lot of problems. Instead of becoming the coach of coaches, instead of focusing on providing proper coaching, you’ll become overwhelmed by constantly looking after their mistakes.

Take Action

Remember, it’s your supervisor’s job to coach and observe safe work practices and it’s your job to make sure they have the skills to do so, and that they’re being effective at their job.

You can do this even if your management team isn’t fully onboard yet. Split your time 50/50 if needed. As they are seeing results of you continually influencing them towards a safety culture, you can eventually increase this to 80/20; with 80% of your time spent on coaching supervisors.

If you’re just getting started, start with shadowing one supervisor at a time to truly understand their work. From there you can develop supervisor training, assessments, and more. Soon, you will see that your role shifts from managing safety to influencing it.

Simple Steps To Take On The Role Of "The Coach Of The Coaches"

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] One thing you will hear me say a lot is that you are the coach of the coaches. Saying this and describing it is very simple, but actually stepping into this role can be difficult. So let me talk you through the steps so that way you can take on the role of the coach of the coaches. Let's get to it.

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 in your

[00:01:00] 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.

Hey there, safety friend. I want to help you make a simple mindset shift today. . You see, when most people come into this field, they believe that their job is to manage safety, but they take the word manage and use it to mean handle or directing. But safety is not that simple. We don't have a staff that we can just boss around and tell them what to do and handle them or direct them.

We don't have direct control over their work, and there is nothing basically for us to handle or direct. Essentially, what we are, are the guides on the side while other people make the decision. So our true

[00:02:00] role is to be the guide or the coach to those who are making the decisions and influencing them to consider safety in their processes.

So unfortunately, too often, Not only do safety managers misunderstand their role, but so does the management team. We are expected to coach, observe, and train on safety. We are expected to hold people accountable to safety, and if we aren't the safety police themselves, then we are the safety snitches, tattling on the management team .

Now, if you continue to be seen in this way, you will never form those positive relationships that you need to build a safety culture. So what you need to do is actually shift your management team's expectations as well as your own. So when you understand why you're the coach of the coaches, it's a lot easier to explain.

[00:03:00] Why you shouldn't be the person that is actually doing the work of safety. You shouldn't be the person that is training employees, observing employees, coaching employees. You should be treated more as that subject matter expert and the guide on the side. And as you're trying to shift your management team's expectations, you can actually use comparisons with other department leadership.

Because if you think about how they treat HR or CFO and sometimes quality, a lot of times quality is treated the same way as we are. But like HR, they would never expect HR to be going on the floor and enforcing the company's policies. No, HR is the guide on the side. The CFO is never the one making the business decisions.

They're just the guide on the side telling them what the financial picture looks like. And you need to be treated the same way. So make sure

[00:04:00] that your management team understands how this works, and especially how accountability works, because this is one of the main reasons why you cannot be the coach of the employees because you have no authority over those employees and they will not listen to you as well as they listen to a frontline supervisor or their boss's boss.

So what you need to do in order to change this shift is to basically step into the role of the coach of the coaches. When you start taking on this role more often, your team will understand your position. They will start to understand the value that you're providing to the company and why this is a better role for you.

And little by little you can start passing tasks off to them. Because it's a better fit when it comes from them, such as training, coaching, observing, and even most accident

[00:05:00] investigations can be done by your management team and do not necessarily need to be done by you. In fact, all of these should be done by your frontline supervisors.

I used to have my frontline supervisors do all of my accident investigations because they were right there in the moment. And honestly, I did other things too, where I had them collaborate with employees in the process and the safety committee and all of that. The only accident investigations I personally did were the really serious ones, were the ones that, you know, they kind of met a threshold of going, Okay, this is more complicated, it's more complex.

But most of the time my frontline supervisors did them. And then I reviewed them with the frontline supervisors afterwards to make sure that they were thorough and that they were accurate, and that they've really uncovered all of the contributing causes. So my job was to be the coach of them, to train them, to make sure they had the skills in order to do this. So all of these are best

[00:06:00] done by your frontline supervisors. One, because employees will always listen to the frontline supervisor more than they will listen to you. Second to the frontline supervisor is the supervisor's boss, so maybe it's a department manager. Whatever your hierarchy is in your organization, that's who they will listen to.

Second, sometimes first, but most of the time they're gonna follow that direct line of supervision and listen to them first because they understand that that person has an impact on their day to day life, their work, their job, their security. And secondly, this is all best done by the frontline supervisors because they are closest to the work and they can understand how that safe work practice can be applied or how that accident may have happened and they're readily available where you on the other hand, have got a million other things going on. They're right there in the thick of

[00:07:00] it. Now when they are doing the work, They will also internalize the safety policies and procedures more so think about it like if you are constantly doing it, you're just constantly training and constantly coaching. But when they turn around, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it.

So when those frontline supervisors turn around and they start making safety, coaching, training, observing part of their day to day, Then it's actually going to get them to understand the rules and the policies, the procedures better, and it will help you build a stronger safety culture. So then it's no longer you preaching everything, it's them preaching it as well.

So to step into this role of the coach of the coaches, what you need to do is focus on your supervisors. See your frontline supervisor team as your employees to train and guide.

[00:08:00] So if you think about the structure in your organization, right? You have your hourly employees who have a supervisor. It's that supervisor's job to train and guide their employees and make sure they do their job right?

Correct. So then you are the coach of them. You are the coach of the coaches. It's where the term comes from. So it's your job to make sure that the supervisors are properly guided and train on how to do safety within their role. So when you go out into your workplace, I don't know what you call it, I used to call it the floor.

Maybe it's the site, wherever it is, if you have a construction or the rig, if you're out on an oil rig, whenever you go out into the workplace, your focus shouldn't be on the employees. It shouldn't be. Let me see how the employees are working and if they're doing their job right. It should be on the supervisors, cuz those are your employees. It is your job to train them. And the best way to do this is to

[00:09:00] develop a very structured supervisor training program, or maybe on a monthly basis or quarterly basis, you're meeting with the supervisors and you are keeping them informed this as to what's going on in safety, but then training them as how to apply it within their workplace.

Maybe you're sharing statistics or things that you're seeing. Maybe you're doing some role playing to reinforce some previous training. You should be meeting with them on a regular basis and training them on how to do safety as part of their job. And then you also wanna make sure you have a structured new supervisor training.

So think about what we put new employees through and new higher orientation. There should be the same thing with new supervisors because as an employee compared to a supervisor, they have different responsibilities when it comes to safety. And it's your job moving forward to guide the supervisors as they go.

And one of the best ways to do this is to shadow them regularly. Meaning that you're spending several hours with them, basically side by side while they do their

[00:10:00] job and observing how they do their job as a whole, not just for safety. This really gives you a clear understanding of what their day to day looks like, so that way you can point out opportunities where they can emphasize safe work practices and coaching opportunities.

And you should be demonstrating how to fit safety into their day to day, because you don't want them to be seeing safety as something separate. Safety is never separate. It's how we do business. It's how we work. The safe work practices are part of the job tasks and the SOPs, so you have to demonstrate to them that they shouldn't see safety tasks as something separate, but it's just part of their day to day.

And that is part of your role where you are the coach of the coaches, and then it's also your job to measure their progress. Meaning like do assessments on their department. How are they moving forward in safety? Maybe you look at their

[00:11:00] observation results. Maybe you guide them through observations. But the key is, is that most of your time should be spent with your supervisors and guiding them on how to be promoting safety.

And not necessarily on your employees, which is where I see a lot of people focusing. And what happens as you start to make this shift and you start to give the supervisors more work, We then turn from being the ones that we're always doing safety to now, we're enabling the team, meaning that they're trying to take on these new roles and these new tasks and they get stuck.

And yes, it is a hundred percent easier for you to just step in to swoop in and take care of it and do it for them. But this gets you nowhere. It actually proliferates the issues and does not help them become self-sufficient in making safety part of their culture. And many times because of this, we become the cause of our own issues.

[00:12:00] So let me give you an example from one of my coaching clients that recently came up. And they are a regional safety leader, and what they wanted to set up, or what they did set up was a tracking system for all of their accident investigations. So they had multiple locations and they wanted all the investigation results to come into one tracking system, so that way they can track and trend it and see where their problem areas are.

Yay. But when it came in and it was filled out incorrectly because they were so close to the situation, they just easily fixed the problem. And then they would send the team member just a message and saying, Hey, you did this wrong on your entry. Please watch out for this next time. Maybe they coach them face to face, right?

But what happened was that their problem just continued to persist. And this was what we were talking about in one of our sessions. It's like, how can they get their management team to actually do the work? And I was like, Well, you're not making them do the work. You're doing

[00:13:00] it for them. And people are brains. We are human. We are always going to try to get the easiest way out. We are always gonna try to say, You know, I did it the best I can, the quickest I can. If they don't like it, they could fix it. And if you're continuing to fix it, , then you're just proliferating the whole problem, right? You're causing your own issues.

So sometimes, and it is hard to do, you just have to have that hard line, and you have to just say, Okay, well, what would happen if I didn't fix it? First off, what's the worst that could happen, right? So like let's say that you didn't fix it and it just sat there unfixed, like in her case, the accident investigation was not reported correctly.

Maybe this stalled the entire claim process. Who knows? But that is not the end of the world. I truly believe very few things are like emergencies. So sometimes you just have to do the hard thing and just let it sit, not fixed, and send it back to them.

[00:14:00] And give them the tools to help themselves, right? Maybe you put them through retraining. Maybe I'm a big fan of like Loom, where you just record a little video and you show them what they should have done instead, and then ask them to fix it. You don't fix it themselves, but you're assisting them so you're not fishing for them, but you're teaching them how to fish, and you just send it back to them and you just let them fix it themselves, and if they don't fix it, then the process just doesn't move forward.

And maybe that becomes a big red flag on your system. And if this happens too frequently, right? So if it's one supervisor that isn't there doing their job correctly, then you know that that might be an issue with that supervisor. And then you can train them and spend more time with them and coach them and get them into excellence.

But if it is a whole bunch of supervisors, then maybe that's an issue with you, right? So this identifies, No, I'm doing something. So having these processes in

[00:15:00] place where you are not causing your own issues, you're actually making them fish for themselves. We'll help you identify whether you are being effective as well.

So I always find that to be extremely interesting and there's usually, whenever you put a new process in place like this, until it becomes a habit with your supervisor team that they're supposed to be doing these things, whether it be training, whether it be coaching, observing, There's always that period of transition.

There's always that period of bumps in the road. And the key is not giving up, not swooping in and doing it for them. But just refining your own personal coaching and observation process to make sure that you are getting them to excellence, because that is your goal. So instead of focusing on the employees, you're focusing on the supervisors and getting them to excellence.

So what I want you to walk away with today is knowing that it is your supervisor's job to coach and observe unsafe work practices with your

[00:16:00] employees. And it's your job to make sure that they have the skills and the knowledge and the know-how in order to do that, and that they are being effective as they are doing it.

Now you can do this. Even if your management team isn't fully on board yet, like let's say that your management team does not believe that the supervisor should be doing safety training or that they should be doing observations, right? You can still do this. I would split your time 50 50 where 50% of the time you were doing what your management team expected.

And 50% of the time you're focusing on your supervisors, and as they start seeing results and that you are continually influencing them towards making this shift in your safety culture, you can eventually increase this to the ideal of 80 20. 80% of your time should be spent coaching your supervisors and management team, and then 20% would be spent following up with your employees

[00:17:00] and building those positive relationships with your employees as well.

It's not that you're not coaching the employees at all, it's more of just getting feedback from the employees. Your job should be with the employees that you're just checking in on them and asking them how everything's going, and if there could be any improvements. It's not necessarily telling the employee that they're lifting improperly or they're not driving correctly or whatever it is that should fall on the supervisor, but you should be checking in with the employees to make sure that the supervisors are doing it right.

Now if you're just getting started and you're like, Okay, I get all of this Brye, but I'm not really sure what I need to do next, I wanna make sure I'm very clear with you. Your step one would be to shadow at least one supervisor at a time until you truly understand their job. And then from there you can start developing supervisor training and assessments and more and start putting these processes in place and just know, just like with everything with safety management, it's a bunch of baby steps.

[00:18:00] So you will start to soon see your role shift from managing safety to influencing safety. Now, recently, I believe it was in a recent podcast, I said like learning how to just be an effective safety manager, like trying to learn this on your own takes about five years, and it truly does. So this step does take some time, but when you know how to do it correctly, you could literally knock this out.

And start seeing that shift in just a few months. So when I say like you will soon see a shift in the management team, a shift in the role, it will probably take anywhere from four to six months. But you will see that as long as you are consistent in making sure that you are focusing on your supervisors more than you are your employees.

All right. I hope that you got a lot from this episode, and I will see you next week. Bye for now.

[00:19:00] 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 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.[00:20:00]

Highlights From This Episode:

  • How To Step into The Role of the Coach of the Coaches
  • Misconceptions on the Roles of Safety Managers
  • Shift the Expectations of Employees and Management Team About Safety
  • Why Safety Managers Cannot Coach Employees
  • Ways to Achieve Safety Excellence in the Workplace

Links Mentioned:


So, again, keep in mind that you’ll need to be the “coach of the coaches” in order to become an effective safety professional and successfully create a safety-oriented culture in your company. So, constantly strive in convincing the management team, focus on training your supervisors, and don’t enable others in your company to submit half-assed work.

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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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