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All About You: Securing supervisor and management support

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Sometimes it can feel like you’re the only person cheering for your “safety team.” Learning how to encourage employee participation in a safety program is the most common wish stated by safety professionals who attend my workshops. (For more on this, read my column from the June 2015 issue of Safety+Health.)

The second most frequent question I receive is, “How can I get more support from upper management and production supervisors?” or something similar. It can be discouraging when you’re not getting the buy-in you need.

No matter how much support you’re getting, here are tactics to help you get more.

Be ready with detailed examples

If you tell someone they don’t give you enough support, the initial response likely will be, “What do you mean? Yes I do!” Now you’ll need to supply at least one example to prove your assertion. If you have only vague proof, it’s unlikely you’ll change the person’s mind (and behavior).

When I ask workshop attendees to give me details about their “no support” claim, often they can’t. They’ll say something like, “When we have a tight production schedule the supervisors and managers take shortcuts to get things done,” or “At meetings upper management talks a good game about safety, but it’s not the same in the field.” But they can’t remember a particular example.

Details matter when you’re giving examples. Whether you want a larger budget or a supervisor to stop allowing shortcuts, specifics will make a stronger impact.

When I was a safety supervisor, I wanted the crews working a cable-pulling job to slow down. I went to the project manager with my request. He gave me a halfhearted “OK” in response. To his surprise, I pantomimed the speed of two carpenters on the job picking up material and climbing the scaffold they were building. He laughed and then followed me to the jobsite. My animated example worked! We held a meeting with the supervisors, and the manager wholeheartedly supported me.

Tell a story

Many times, I’ve used a story to get support. One time I needed money for a management safety training program. When I pitched the program to the VPs, I told a story about how my daughter Amber was injured as a toddler because I was “too busy” to install a stair barrier properly. I even passed around a picture of Amber before I told the story. Although it was a tough sell, I got the money! No doubt you can come up with true or realistic stories to support your requests. “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story” by Peter Guber is a book chock full of examples of how stories helped the author become an entertainment mogul. (A few of Guber’s many accomplishments: CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, producer of hit movies such as “Rain Man” and “The Color Purple,” owner of three professional sports teams and chairman of Dick Clark Productions.) Guber’s book can help you learn how to tell better stories and offers practical ways to use them to gain support. It’s worth reading.

Thank people for their support

Earnestly thanking colleagues when they help you (even if it’s part of their job) will make them want to continue to support your efforts. It also will send a message to others that you’re an appreciative safety professional. And asking supervisors and managers, “How can I better support your efforts?” will move them to reciprocate.

You also can use detailed positive examples as a thank-you. If a crew did an exceptional job of housekeeping during a project, take some pictures and show them around. Display them at your next safety meeting or company newsletter. You can’t go wrong with an honest accolade.

I’m confident that these tactics can help you increase the support you receive. Give them a try!

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Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit

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