Success vs Failure and a Method of Reflection

When it comes to internal motivation for a professional, I feel that safety has some unique aspects. The discussion last month was about Success vs Failure. I had a lot more questions than answers. When it comes to working in the safety industry our customers are varied and sometimes have very different ideas of what deliverables or items are important. Our company, our employees, the environment, and the community are just a few groups that rely on good judgement, proper ethics, and proper education from the safety person. When it comes to managing or understanding the cultures that make a safety person seek success or avoid failure, there are many aspects and variables that can be evaluated and understood.


The first step to managing is understanding.  Something that I enjoy doing as part of a group activity or even as a method of self-reflection is to conduct a survey of defining success and defining failure. It has been my policy to share my results with the team and allow members of the team to share on a voluntary basis with others. I do required that I get to see the results either as part of a one-on-one or through a text correspondence, which ever make them most comfortable. I even allow typed sheets with no name to be left in my office. I will say, though, that has never happened. They should feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Your team should have a level of comfort and safety with you for this to be effective. If you are a leader of others, I have found this exercise to be insightful and value added in understanding your team and their principles.


By understanding and observing the team, it becomes more apparent of their grouping in success seeking vs failure avoiding. I hope this is helpful and insightful in better engaging and understand your team. There are so many impacts that affect the life of a safety person. Culturally, organizationally, and individually, the safety person is impacted. This shapes the response to issues, the implementation of policy, and general attitude. It is should be the goal of good leadership to observe and impact these variables when possible to create the most effective HSE process.

Here is the basic format of the exercise:


suc·cess                                                                                                               fail·ure

səkˈses                                                                                                                 ˈfālyər

noun                                                                                                                     noun

accomplishment of a purpose                                                                    lack of success.



A key component of a lean system to work towards a goal. This is usually phrased as “what does good look like?”

Once someone knows how “good” looks and is defined, the process can be changed to become closer and closer to good through improvement.

The same can be said for success. Unless we define success, we cannot know if we achieved it.

In this exercise, I am asking you to define success for you as an individual contributor to define what you see success is for the organization in EHS.

With every endeavor there is also a chance for failure, and that must also be defined. I am again going to ask that you to define failure for you and the organization around EHS.

For each question, there should be one to three answers that are no longer than a sentence long. Success and failure should be simple, gradable metrics.

These will not be shared among the group unless you choose to share them. I will use these as part of our one-on-one discussions to help us focus on where the direction needs to be heading.


1) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what success is for you as an individual contributor to EHS.


2) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what success is for our organization for EHS



1) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what failure is for you as an individual contributor to EHS

2) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what failure is for our organization for EHS









Linkages of Behaviors and Conditions

As safety professionals, we are always evaluating the linkages between conditions and behaviors. It is the behavioral choice that leads a person, both at home and work, to engage a condition that could be thought of as unsafe. From my work on the behavioral and training side of safety, I feel there are four ways that the conditions and behaviors come together to either improve a safety culture or lead to incidents or injury.



The first behavioral choice when encountering an unsafe condition is Conscious Avoidance. The person sees the condition, knows it is unsafe, and makes a fully conscious effort to avoid it. This is one of the most positive behavior-condition interaction. This creates valuable data for the organization and culture to go and fix and issue before it leads to an incident. The act of consciously knowing the hazard would suggest they would follow the system to report and remedy the unsafe condition.


Example: Someone sees a puddle on the floor. They recognize the hazard, place a cone to notify others of the hazard, and reports it appropriately. A maintenance team is notified and fixes a leaky pipe. The environmental team is deployed for cleanup. The site fully benefits from this engagement.


Unconscious Avoidance is where a hazard is avoided but the person is not aware that they avoided a near miss or incident. It is good that they have an unconscious ability to avoid a hazard that the back-brain has determined to lead to injury. This is a primal reflex to avoid harm. The problem is that this does not help anyone else avoid the hazard. The hazard still exists. For those who might not have the finely attuned instinct of the Unconscious Avoidance, they would engage the condition and have the potential for injury.


Example: There is a puddle in the floor. Our Unconscious Avoider, changes their directional path to miss the hazard entirely. Nothing is reported. Nothing is fixed.


Where the Unconscious Avoider leaves the hazard in place, now enters the person that is Unconsciously Engaging the hazard. Once the hazard has been engaged, there are a few paths that are only directed by fate, luck, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. The site may get data from it, but only in the case of injury data or as a near miss. The Unconscious Engager can have an incident that leads to any number of consequences which can be as severe as death or as simple as nothing.


Example: So here is our ever infamous puddle on the floor. The Unconscious Engager (UC) does not waver or swerve. They walk right into the puddle. Here is where, it is complete out of our control. As a D&D fan, I will use the D20 analogy.


  • The UC rolls a 20, critical save. They walk right through the puddle. No slip. No Fall. Not even a loss of traction. Since this is a 20 roll, they recognize they just walked through a hazard and report it, so it can be fixed.
  • The UC rolls a 17. They walk right through again. But this time there is no report.
  • The UC rolls a 14. They lose some traction and report it as a near miss.
  • The UC rolls a 12. They lose some traction, but makes no report
  • The UC rolls a 9. They slip and fall with only a minor bruise. First aid only.
  • The UC rolls a 7. They slip and fall with a sprained ankle that needs medical attention. OSHA recordable
  • The UC rolls a 5. They slip and fall with a broken shoulder. Severe injury and lost time.
  • The UC rolls a 1. They slip and fall striking their head with fatal severity.


This example is not to make light of the severity of personal injury and suffering. There is nothing humorous about someone getting hurt from Unconsciously Engaging a hazard. The point of the example is to illustrate that once a hazard is engaged, there is nothing anyone can do to change the outcome. It is all up to the infinite variables of the universe. As safety people and people who care about safety, it is all about creating behaviors that mitigate unsafe conditions.


The final behavior is the most uncommon for good reason. It is the Conscious Engagement of Unsafe Conditions. In my career, I have encountered very few of these behaviors. These are ones who are actively seeking a method for injury. They want to create an example, utilize the system for personal gain, demonstrate their level of disgruntled attitude, or some other underlying motivation. Their goal is to exploit the unsafe condition to actively get hurt. There is still an element of uncertainty as they can never fully predict on control the outcome. They do, though, try to maximize the event to meet their personal goals.


Example: Once again the puddle is in the floor. The Conscious Engager walks rights through, assures they end up on the ground, and begins shouting for help. The injury leads to long term restricted duty and a moderate impairment rating with a final reasonable workers compensation pay out.


We cannot control the Conscious Engager before their intentions are known. What we can do is eliminate unsafe conditions. If we take away the opportunity, we create a better environment for all our people.


This interaction between behaviors and conditions is one that I have thought about for quite some time. It was actually an operations managers that said it most elegantly. He said that if we eliminate the unsafe condition we take away the opportunity for those who want to play games, and we create a better site. This led me to map out the chart and create the diagram. It was my desire to first understand the scope of the behaviors. From better understanding how the condition and behavior interact, it can help organizations lean to engage and empower their teams to create a real and improving safety culture.

Cognitive Dissonance in Safety: Part 4

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological principle that occurs when the mind encounters a principle that is contrary to the person’s current belief. The mind creates a “dissonance” between the thoughts as a method of adjusting

This discussion focuses on the aspects of the cognitive dissonance and how that applies to occupational safety.

The free choice paradigm is an aspect of cognitive dissonance that creates a greater difference in a choice when the decision is actually very close in proximity. An example: Someone is given a choice between two very similar items. When they are evaluating which to choose, they rank the two items very close. The person makes a choice between the two similar items and is polled again at a later date. At this time, they create a much wider gap between the two items, heavily favoring the one they chose. The mind wants the decision that it made to be the best choice. So in retrospect, it creates the idea that it made the better choice by a wide margin.

I think as a safety professional, I have found myself doing exactly this. There are times where I am having to explain why I made one choice over another. The regulations sometimes allow a decision to be made on how to conduct compliance. In those cases, it often feels like “six one way, half a dozen another.” Once the decision is made, it is easy to look back and really feel that the decision was clear and well made.

I can remember one decision in particular. It was a start up, and I was deciding which safety glasses was the best choice. The risk for eye issues was low, but still it was an avoidable problem through the implementation of a safety glasses policy. I had narrowed the choice between a light weight more slim line style or a wider slightly more heavy one. Both were equally good choices. Ultimately, the choice was for the wider slightly more heavy style. Some days/weeks later a near miss occurred where a small air hose had come loose and whipped against someone’s face. Instead of striking the area near the eye, it hit the glasses. I remember pontificating quite passionately of “that was why I chose the wider style.”

The truth  . . . the glasses may not have made a difference. The other style may have protected just as well. I see it now as a way that I created greater reasoning for why the decision was made.

In this case the cognitive dissonance was not destructive. Probably annoying, but not harmful. It does show that when we are faced with equal choices, we may be apt to increase the benefit of why we made the specific choice in hindsight or after an event.

For the safety professional, this is an aspect of human psychology to keep in mind. If someone has to make a choice of two equally justifiable items, they could be prone to unintentionally making the choice significantly more favorable than the alternate. This can come in handy as a tool for incident investigations or while gaining understanding of processes and procedures. There may have been a good reason for why something is in place, but there may not have been such a positive difference. In these cases, the facts could speak more clearly than the opinions.

Building Meaningful Work Relationships: Part 5

This is the 5th and final part of the series of building meaningful relationships based on Bartholomew’s Adult Attachment Typology Model. This is the section that would focus on secure relationships which is a positive model of self and others.

First though a bit of housekeeping, I am sorry for the delay in getting this post ready. I was in two classes at the same time, which is not normal for me. The one class was the first part of creating my dissertation. It took quite a bit of focus. While I was attending that class, I was also promoted from my current role effective taking on twice the responsibility as before. There was certainly an adjustment period. At the end of the day, something has to give. It was my blogging that had to wait on the rest of my life to calm back down..

OK . . . enough excuses . . . on with the post.

Ultimately, this is a safety blog so this is the post where I will really tie this process back in to the how safety needs good working relationships to work. The whole idea of having a positive model of self and positive model of others is classified as “secure.” A very fitting title.

Many behavior based safety systems focus on the peer observational process. This process has had many praise it and it also has many people who criticize it. My thought has always been that there is a time and place for BBS and the culture of the team and organization has to be ready to embrace that level of openness and change. At the very forefront of BBS is the idea of a “secure” organization.

What this means is that as an employee of a company I am open to give feedback and I am open to receive feedback on safety behaviors. If I am not secure in myself, I may choose to not give the tough feedback or become defensive when having to face a potential mistake. If I have a negative model of others, I would feel that my work or feedback would be wasted on someone who would not use it or not care to hear it.

Without the security of knowing that it is okay to build a relationship in which I can openly give and receive feedback, the process of creating a fully integrated safety system cannot come to fruition. As an organization, we have to admit that there is still opportunity for improvement and as individuals we have to be willing to admit that the change starts with one person making a choice. The goal is accountability throughout the organization in which there can be a full exchange of what is working and what is not.

Security also comes from knowing that the team has my interests in mind when it comes to safety. If I am about to do something that might get me hurt, I want someone to speak up and tell me. I want to be cautioned. I also want to see that same interaction continue with each individual for each task. The only way that this can be effective is if the the team has build truly meaningful relationships in which we are each secure and ready to accept responsibility for the individuals and the team.

The background information comes from the Third Edition of Broderick and Blewitt’s textbook “The Life Span.” The photo of the chart is taken from the same text.

Building Meaningful Work Relationships: Part 3

In this series of posts, I have been looking at how you can build meaningful work relationships. A theory of adult attachment can give some strong insights to how that process works. In the last post, I made a good description of my most common roadblock of building those relationships as someone who fits a dismissing typology. In this post, I will look at opposite side of the spectrum of someone who had a positive model of others and a negative model of self. This is commonly called “preoccupied.”

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The phrase preoccupied is a good description of this typology and is a concise description of the condition that leads to not building meaningful work relationships. The negative model of self creates an environment where someone is constantly second-guessing or focusing too much on inadequacy to interact in a meaningful way. They person is so focused on the negative model of self that they fail to engage the other groups in any meaningful dialog or activity.

There are three keys ways that someone behaves when encountering information that may not fully understand. The positive behavior of this situation would be for the person to ask intelligent questions, read the relevant policies, try to learn the information, etc. Another behavior would be to ignore the information and substitute one’s own opinion or information. This would fall more into the category of dismissing (positive self/negative others). A preoccupied person would shut down because they would feel that could not comprehend the information or even engage in the conversation in a relevant way.

Someone in the preoccupied typology would have difficulty building meaningful work relationships because there would be a lack of people willing to engage in the activity. If someone who needs information knows that when they ask the question, the person may or may not answer based on the comfort of the situation, slowly they will find other methods to gain their information. People will seek a path of least resistance. If they think they may or may not get a response, they will find a better path that will give them a higher chance of getting an answer the first time. This can create avoidance and thus more preoccupation with the negative model of self. Ultimately, this is a spiral of constantly losing confidence.

A preoccupied typology could also be considered someone who lacks confidence in their work. They can seem defensive or aloof based on how they normally react to an uncomfortable circumstance. There are more aspects to this typology than just what happens at work. In a very broad sense, self-confidence is not something that is bred and nurtured in a work environment. Self-confidence is a behavioral trait that needs growth and presence outside of the workplace. Self-confidence, or the lack of, has larger implications of both nature and nurture. If this were a root cause analysis, I would categorize this as “other causal paths would be more beneficial”. Solving self-confidence is not something I can or am willing to tackle. There are ways that someone can become more confident in their work environment, though. Forbes posted a really nice article that gives some nice examples of how to build self-confidence in the workplace (click here).

The information revolves around slowing growing into a method of making decisions and being okay when making those decisions. Self-confidence at work comes from accomplishing tasks that makes the person slightly uncomfortable and building confidence with those tasks. For example, someone has trouble fitting in with the quality team because the measurements are overwhelming. It becomes important that they have more time to ask questions and work with the tools of department until they gain more confidence with the process. They are doing something familiar but forced to be slightly outside their comfort zone in a safe way they helps them learn. The key is that they have to feel safe even thought they are uncomfortable and most importantly there has to be knowledge sharing.

In a similar context, I have also found that becoming a teacher of a topic is a great tool to increase confidence. For someone to teach a subject, they have to know that subject along with answering questions and having to convey the subject in a meaningful and relevant way. I am not saying that someone in this circumstance should be required to teach an auditorium full of people on a topic they do not know. I will speak from experience that when I started in the safety profession, I had to gain certainty in conducting training. I started with small classes and topics that I have a relative comfort with. The engagement with the classes helped me to become a better mentor and better acquainted with the topic. There are still times that while conducting a training, someone will ask a question that I do not know the explicit answer to. I have to research the topic and respond back later with an answer. This is a system of continual growth for learning and engagement. Through becoming a teacher/mentor/training someone can gain self-confidence in a topic. Most of all they are building strong working relationships with those people who are being taught/mentored/trained. This is one of those times where a solution can help in two ways. It helps in creating a better sense of confidence in a topic along with helping to build meaningful relationships with various members of a team.

Even though self-confidence is not just a single aspect behavior, there are some methods that can be taken in the workplace to help someone with a negative model of self to build really strong work relationships. It is important to start small and to start in an area of relative comfort. The goal is to not shock someone in to a positive model but to help guide them into feeling more comfortable and secure in their abilities.

The background information comes from the Third Edition of Broderick and Blewitt’s textbook “The Life Span.” The photo of the chart is taken from the same text. The theory is Bartholomew’s Adult Attachment Typology Model.

Building Meaningful Work Relationships: Part 2

This is one post where much of the science and research goes out the window, and I will face the facts that I know this typology way too well as it describes me. The focus will be on the struggles and the process of over coming the negative feelings that dictate unhealthy relationships. This typology is one of “Dismissing”

Again, the background information comes from the Third Edition of Broderick and Blewitt’s textbook “The Life Span.” The photo of the chart is taken from the same text. The theory is Bartholomew’s Adult Attachment Typology Model.

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One item to note is that there is no way to build a meaningful relationship with everyone you work around. The goal is to allow you to build those relationships as they become available and in different degrees. There will be those that have a strong connection and create a strong sense of trust. Others will be of a lesser degree. This is a fact of any organization. The goal to makes any relationship as healthy as it can be.

A positive model of self, but a negative model of others is considered a dismissive typology. On the surface, it sounds a bit arrogant. It really has more to do with not having a high level of trust of others, so the focus is always what I can do or what I can accomplish. The deep-dark thoughts that come along with those thought patterns is “I might as well do it myself as someone else will just let me down.” It is not about having a perfectionist attitude, but simply havingthoughts that someone else cannot be trusted. I do believe that this stems from my INTJ tendencies. To see my point, go to Pinterest and type in INTJ. Hilarity ensues. INTJs are well known loners. I fit the mold a little too well.

This is not about me making excuses for what I am but more about the journey of self-discovery and working toward having a positive model of others. For me, creating that model was all about creating trust and building relationships in which trust can grow.

Early in my career, I made a name for myself as a safety cop. I took detailed notes of every encounter, every event that was out of compliance, times, locations, and even sometimes photos of items and behaviors. Why did I do this? I felt that simply approaching people and talking about safety would not yield any results. Sure photos and good notes can help create a strong case for change, but it cannot be the only tool of a safety professional. As you can imagine, this not help me build any relationships that were meaningful and did not help in bringing about sweeping positive safety changes in that workplace. I recognized that the employees feared me, supervisors loathed my reports, and management felt I was finger pointing. That was not the type of healthy work relationship that needed to be built.

In the safety world I have found two types of dismissive models. The first is just what was described above. Everyone is dismissed and not engaged because there is no trust. The other is the dismissive model in which someone does not listen to an idea because they already have the answer. It is common in the workplace where someone will get dictated an answer rather than having ideas free flowing and discovering the answers through a process. Others are dismissed because they are perceived as not as knowledgeable, experienced, intelligent, etc. In the medical world, this would be considered poor bedside manner. The doctor does not have to listen to your symptoms because he already knows what to do. Here is an article detailing some of those finding about physicians. It says that if doctors would spend 10-15 minutes with patients rather than 5 or less minutes, they could see reductions in malpractice claims. The physicians are seen as dismissive because they are not investing that time.

Both of these are unhealthy relationships.

In the first case of having trust issues that create that negative model of others, there are ways that can help. Since that is so near and dear to me, allow me to speak from personal experience. I had to first give trust to build trust. There has to come a point where little pieces of trust are given to others to see how they will treat it. I am not saying that I invite anyone to babysit my kids as a trust exercise. The point is that I had to learn to talk to people and make real connections to understand the how’s and why’s of the behaviors. In a safety cop mentality, someone without safety glasses is in trouble, period. With an integrated safety scope, it is important to learn why. Do they not fit? Was it an honest mistake of forgetting? Did they fog up? Are they scratched? Did the person simply choose to not wear them? Each answer is important but takes a level of trust and understanding. For safety cop, the answers do not matter only the fact there was non-compliance. The situation needed a remedy, but it had to be the right one. Without a meaningful relationship being built those questions do not have a method of fruition.

This change did not happen overnight. There was much introspection before I finally realized what I was doing and why it was not working. I had completely isolated myself and that was not a healthy relationship. I had a few supervisors and superintendents that I apologized to for putting them in an unfavorable spotlight. The next step that I had to do was to ask, “How can I help you make safety a success in your department?” I had to bestow a level of trust in those I worked with. I had to let them help me find the direction I needed to go. I spent more time gaining understanding of the methods and working with people to find the answer.

In the second case where physicians were used as the example, there is a simple trick that can drastically help in this area: Listening. Such a simple word and yet it is so hard to do. We are a culture of actions. Have you heard phrases such as “We’re not moving fast enough” “We need to see results” “We need to get this done now” and many other similar sayings? It is tough in those environments to take the time and effort to really listen to what is happening.

I had the pleasure of being able to participate in a leadership team building exercise years ago. The Industrial Psychologist told us a story of when he was in residency. His instructor asked him if he smoked a pipe. The gentleman indicated that he did not and asked why. His instructedor explained that each time he felt the need to speak, he should puff the pipe a couple times to refrain from speaking. He was not giving enough time for people to fully finish their thoughts. By giving himself a physical queue, he would develop a better sense of giving the moment a few more seconds to assure that all that needed to be said was spoken. I watched the way he worked after that story and noticed that he would put the tip of his pen on his chin. If no one continued to talk, he would interject some of his observations. He had a physical method of reminding himself to take time to really listen to the needs of his clients. The same should be said for building any type of meaningful work relationship. We should want to learn and listen more than we want to talk and explain.

The dismissing typology is a tough one to overcome as it does take serious introspection to see where the faults lie. By giving little bits of trust in key places, slowly there are relationships that start to form. Listening is also a key method of gaining trust. By listening to someone completely, there is an empathy that can be found in the situation or circumstance. That can lead to not interjecting solutions too soon or dismissing the other person’s opinion. Creating a positive model of others comes in two forms: listening to understand and giving little opportunities to let trust grow.