Coaching for safety 5th Anniversary – Turning the corner

I’ve often thought that my career in health and safety chose me. I remember a day in 1988 when my then boss, called me into in his office to say “Cliff’s retiring, I want you to be the new health and safety adviser.” My first thought was “Cliff’s the health and safety adviser!” and my second thought was “What’s health and safety?” It was the first time I remember hearing the phrase. I’d played a part in helping this company achieve the quality standard BS5750 and I thought I was destined for a career in Quality. To say I was reluctant about a detour into this remote backwater called health and safety, is an understatement.

So it was with coaching too. I very nearly didn’t attend the course that turned me on to the importance of coaching skills for OSH practitioners. Had I not attended, I’d have continued thinking of myself as a traditional, systems-led health and safety practitioner. But I did attend, and my career took a very unexpected turn.

Having achieved IOSH Approval for my Coaching for safety course and received no bookings, not a single one, for the first four open courses advertised, I realised two things: –

i. the health and safety profession was fixated with technical knowledge and didn’t value soft skills at all; and

ii. practitioners didn’t understand what coaching is.

It seems strange now that I didn’t give it all up there and then, but it didn’t cross my mind. Instead, I saw that it was down to me to promote coaching skills and educate practitioners about how important they are.

I presented to IOSH Branch meetings from the Highlands & Islands Branch in the North, to the South Downs Branch in the South, from the North and South Wales Branches in the West, to the Humberside Branch in the East. I’ve presented to many IOSH Branches and other gatherings of safety people and I presented free in-company presentations to whoever would have me. I gave free coaching sessions and I talked to as many people as I could. I wrote articles for the SHP and HSW publications and others, and I volunteered a guidance note that IOSH published in March 2017. I did everything I could think to do.

Gradually gradually a corner was turned. From zero interest at the beginning of 2013, bookings on open courses increased and now it is the norm that open courses sell-out … and we’ve had a number of international delegates attend too. The number of in-company courses increased and it became clear that the course had real cross-sector appeal; we’ve provided courses to companies in the waste management sector, university education, oil and gas, aerospace, water supply services, steel distribution and retail to name a few.

From my vantage point having made this journey, it’s clear that things have changed significantly but still, the most common remark on a Coaching for safety course is “I had no idea that this is what coaching is about” and the second most common is “all practitioners should do this, it’s a must.” So there’s still a long way to go.

For me personally, the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had in work, have been during Coaching for safety courses. I’ve met some fantastic people and had some of the most remarkable conversations and it’s been a pleasure to work alongside the fabulous Arnie Burrows too.

The whole Coaching for safety experience has been an absolute joy and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything … but of course, I so nearly did.

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