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, a local authority, an event management organization, a medical research facility and a large university. The variety of issues and problems that arise in a university alone is huge so how realistic is it to think that a practitioner’s technical training and experience can prepare them for all eventualities? And what happens when the practitioner’s knowledge of the law and standards doesn’t provide the answer fully, or their experience of how other organisations have solved problems doesn’t apply to the situation they’re now faced with?

You would hope, I think, that practitioners have the skill to bring their technical knowledge and understanding to the service of those they’re trying to help. That they are able to share what knowledge and experience they have yes, but also that they are able to support their colleagues in an exploration of the problem with a view to identifying the best solution for their colleagues – a solution that also meets legal requirements and standards.

I’m convinced that many safety practitioners are highly-skilled in this area and safety coaches by definition must surely be, but coaching as a skill does seem to be only the faintest of bleeps on the health and safety radar.

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