Leading With Safety Conversations

When you go on a Safety Walkabout, what do you have on your mind? The whole point of a Safety Walkabout is to visit the job sites or workplaces of your company and assess the real state of safety. We see a lot of ineffective walkabouts, and there is usually one reason behind that.
The right conversations are not being held.
So, when you go on your own walkabouts, do you know what red flags you are looking for and what questions you should be asking your team?
Conversations should be a two-way activity and an opportunity to build strong relationships with your whole team. So, here are our three best tips for getting the most out of this opportunity - have a ‘learning’ mindset as opposed to a ‘confirming’ one, use open and linking questions to discover more, and always ensure you apply the 80/20 rule of 80% listening and only 20% talking.
Let’s look at these tips in more detail now…

What Is The Purpose Of A Walk About?
Before we dive into the tips, let’s explore what the walkabout is really meant to achieve. Firstly, the name sets an incorrect tone for the purpose of the exercise. It can be very easy to simply ‘walk about’ the site and not delve any deeper. That is why it is important to go into the exercise with the intention of having Safety Conversations about both the good and the bad aspects.
These safety conversations are about building relationships which will support the growth of your company’s culture. They are not about judging anyone’s performance or ability, but if the risks are being managed effectively and what needs to be done if they aren’t.
Show your commitment to safety by conducting these conversations on a scheduled regular basis. Don’t simply tack them onto another task, like they don’t warrant their own focused time. Plan when you are going to do it, how you are going to conduct the conversations, and the main risks you are going to assess. Don’t be distracted from your conversations by taking notes - this can make your team feel like they are being interviewed. Instead, jot down the key points away from the group, after you have finished speaking with them.
The process should not end when you leave the site. You need to follow up on the information that you have. Commend the team on the things they are doing well and have an action plan for how you are going to better manage the risks that aren’t being addressed properly. Decide how you will follow up on this and prevent the same mistakes from happening going forward. Finally, a written report should be created and the next Safety Walkabout should be scheduled.
So, how can you get the most out of the session? By using these three tips…

Learning Not Confirming
Many managers enter into a conversation thinking what they have in their mind is correct. Then they ask a series of yes/no answers to confirm their suspicions. They send the conversation in a particular direction, making it difficult for the team member to communicate what is really going on.
To prevent this from happening, you need to open yourself up to a learning mindset instead of a confirming one. Don’t arrive on site thinking you already know the answers. Give your team the chance to speak and really learn about what is taking place. Only then can you know the true risks. There might be a reason why someone is not following procedure, but you won’t understand that reason unless you have an open mind.

Use Open And Linking Questions
If you ask someone a direct question then they will give you a direct answer. This will often be a yes or a no, or some other one word answer. These kinds of answers do not reveal anything useful. Try using an open question instead, encouraging the team members to speak freely. This will help you to learn so much more about how they manage risks.
Linking questions are a really good way to draw out more information. When someone is speaking about a topic, ask them to tell you more, or use a follow on question that relates to the same topic. When the words flow freely, so does the information.

Use The 80/20 Rule
The whole purpose of the exercise is to build a relationship with your team and to find out the true state of safety. How can you do that if you are the one doing all the talking?
Go with the purpose of leading the conversation in the right direction and actively listening so that you get the information you need. That way you can also keep the conversation on track with your open and linking questions. Go into it with a plan to listen 80% of the time and only talk for 20%.

Safety Conversations are an important part of your health and safety maintenance. The perfect way to conduct them is on a safety walkabout. Really take the time to listen to make them effective. If you need some help with the process, devising the kinds of questions you should ask, or the risks you should be focusing on, then get in touch with Noel at Safety IQ for guidance and support.