The words ‘risk taking’ and ‘safety professional’ aren’t often used together. Sure, we have heard the story of the safety professional who failed a site drug and alcohol test. The safety professional who didn’t follow the working at heights procedure. Well, I’m not talking about these people or this type of risk taking.
I think that we should be taking risks in safety. Safety is not going to improve if we keep doing the same things. How can we expect change if we aren’t prepared to go out on a limb every now and then? If we aren’t pushing the boundaries? As T.S.Eliot said “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” But trying new things comes with risk – the risk of failure, the risk of being wrong, the risk of making a mistake. I am not alone in thinking this way and Safety Differently is evidence of this.
I believe that there is another form of risk taking that is not so obvious. It is a risk that safety professionals may face in their roles. If your approach is to support your organisation by helping people develop and implement solutions, then you may know what I am talking about.
It is the risk of not being recognised for the work that you do. Or worse, it is the risk of people thinking that you are not doing your job properly.
Consider the following. You are speaking with a manager and while in conversation you discuss a safety issue or opportunity. You work with the manager, bouncing around ideas and help to create a solution. You do the background work converting the solution into an initiative. You coach the manager, assist in advocating the solution and support in launching the initiative. You know that you have done a good job when the manager sends out the communications, sets expectations, leads the implementation and follows up on progress. Better yet, the initiative is successful and you feel proud of your contribution and hard work. Are you then prepared to not be recognised for the work that you did?
Another scenario. You have been working with a management team to prepare for an upcoming audit. It is like pulling teeth. No matter how hard you try, you find it impossible to engage the team. You know that there is a good chance that you can pass the audit with some quick fix solutions. Instead you allow the management team to score poorly in the audit. As a result the managers become invested in safety. You now have a management team that is engaged and actively works on improving safety. Are you then prepared to be questioned about the poor audit result and how you allowed it to happen?
With risk comes opportunity. I was elated when an engineering manager asked me to be part of a project team. He said that with my support he knew that the initiative would get off the ground. I have also been passed over in favour of a safety manager who promised he had all the answers, the silver bullet. To me, in the end, the risk of not being recognised, of being overlooked, is risk worth taking. Because there is also the chance of success.