Is safety coaching under-valued?

Why is it that so few safety practitioners on LinkedIn have ‘coaching’ listed amongst their top skills in the Skills and Endorsements section of their profiles – even those with the title Safety Coach? Is safety coaching under-valued? The safety profession in the UK has long been fixated with technical knowledge almost to the point of being obsessed with NEBOSH this and NVQ that. Practitioners are assessed first and foremost according to their qualifications and work experience and so the absence of soft skills generally, and coaching skills particularly, from LinkedIn profiles is probably a reflection of this. I suspect also, that there are other reasons. For example, I don’t think the ability to collaborate is a skill that is valued highly. I’m sure that if people were asked the question directly – “How important do you think it is for safety practitioners to be able to collaborate?” – the majority would say it was a top 10 requirement. Asked to list their top 10 however, or to evaluate an individual’s top 10 abilities, and most people seem to have a blind-spot for coaching skills and perhaps this is the true measure of how highly people regard them. I don’t have any evidence for this but I suspect also, that it is connected with a general attitude that safety practitioners must know the answers to health and safety problems – and therefore it’s their knowledge and experience that are most highly prized. We discussed this during a recent Coaching for safety course. In addition to two freelance safety professionals, the delegates in the room were practitioners from a food manufacturer,...

Be Curious

Safety coaches support their colleagues to find the best solutions to their health and safety problems. They use highly-developed questioning and listening skills to help colleagues explore options and it’s the coach’s curiosity that drives this exploration. But coaching is a development technique too, it’s not just about problem solving. If it were, the coach’s curiosity would be firmly focused on all of the information needed to fix the issue. When the objective is to help the coachee solve the problem in a way that supports their development however, the coach’s curiosity is focused in a way that is subtly different. Let’s consider the example of a supervisor who asks for support about the use of a hazardous substance. Clearly the practitioner is interested in the substance and what the Safety Data Sheet says and all the other relevant factors that affect the risk assessment (including the COSHH assessment if UK legislation applies). But a practitioner who is a coach is interested first and foremost in supporting the supervisor to find the best, most practicable solution for him/herself. This means being curious about their knowledge and understanding of how to obtain and analyse the information required, the operational constraints and the practical implications of the recommendations. The coach’s curiosity is focused mainly on the supervisor and the operation, rather than the substance. The sorts of questions a safety coach might ask in this situation are: – what do you know about the substance? where could you find more information? what’s the information telling you? how does this translate to your situation? what are the implications of this information for you? This isn’t...