To be honest, Industrial and Organizational Psychology was an odd direction for a safety person. I/O Psychologists are more of leadership coaches or Human Resources people. It was early in my career when I realized that the technical aspects of safety do not change easily or often. The more I worked in the field of safety, the more I came to the idea that safety was about engaging and motivating people to follow the safety policies. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to work with people
As a mentor, we need to help further someone’s knowledge of the standards and technical items of the safety profession. I am always amazed at how much knowledge we are expected to have access to: fire codes, electrical codes, chemical knowledge, rigging, trenching, workers compensation, trucking, vehicle safety, road safety, and safety systems just to name a few. There are also the items outside of safety that are equally important: accounting, leadership, presenting, root cause analysis, and lean theory as just examples. So many times, we focus on teaching the technical that we can forget to help mentor the so-called soft skills.
Teaching and learning soft skills are harder than teaching technical skills and that can lead to them being avoided. It is also hard to quantify soft skills. How much time management mentoring is enough? When is someone at an acceptable level of people interaction? How to mentor someone to be focused and ambitious? How can I make the soft skills practice relevant to the person I am mentoring? All these are valid questions and are something that should be considered when becoming a mentor.
Let’s first consider what skills should be emphasized when coaching someone. Similar to my previous mentoring post, this is all about investing time in being a mentor. The should be a conversation about the needs of soft skills. Sometimes, it is apparent how a mentor can be assisted. Other times, a mentor may have requests of skills they want to learn. Good communication is vital to both understanding the needs of your mentee and helping them understand what you will be doing to assist. There needs to be a plan and direction.
I was fortunate to have an intern at one of my positions. One day the plant manager was in my office chatting with me when an intern came in to ask me a question. The plant manager asked, “good to see you, what have you done to make my site safer today?” The intern replied while caught off guard by the question, “uhhhh . . . nothing?” Now the plant manager knew the intern was making a difference. They had projects that were going well. The point of the questions was to give them a chance to shine. It was time for me to start teaching soft skills. In this case, the art of the elevator speech.
I took time to talk about the importance of being ready to be asked questions about what we are working on and the progress that we are making. An elevator speech is a quick 60-second pitch on what you are doing and how you are bringing exceptional value to the organization. The idea is that if you are in an office or in an elevator with a key influencer of your organization, then you can quickly talk yourself up by having a prepared elevator speech. It never hurts to be ready to promote yourself and the safety profession in your company.
The elevator speech is just one of various soft skills that can help someone new to the safety profession. In future posts, we will continue to work our way through other scenarios and how helping a mentor with soft skills can be a huge benefit. I think this is one of the neatest things about the safety profession. We get the opportunity to teach some very technical skills along with key principles of leadership and people interaction.