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All About You: Feeling discouraged?

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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.

Feeling discouraged at times is a natural part of life. I’d be thrilled to tell you that, as a motivational safety speaker, I never get discouraged. But that would be a lie. We live in a complicated society with all kinds of forces we have no control over that impact our personal lives – and our role as safety and health professionals.

A fatal incident occurred at the nuclear plant I worked at several years ago, and it rocked everybody’s emotions onsite, including mine. A young carpenter fell off a scaffold and died. His twin brother worked at the plant, too, which made matters worse. Although I wasn’t involved in the incident investigation (I worked in the radiation protection department at the time), I learned that the fatality wasn’t the result of gross neglect. Still, we wanted to blame someone for what happened – a typical human reaction. “Was it because he wasn’t trained properly?” ”Did he feel rushed?” “Did his supervisor tell him to do something that violated a safety procedure to get the job done on time?”

What the root causes of this tragic event were, I don’t know. But I do know that the site safety manager was distraught over the fatality. He felt some personal responsibility for it that still haunted him when I joined the safety department.

We safety and health professionals have a tough job. When things are going fine, we get a smidgen of accolades, but when incidents and – heaven forbid – horrible injuries or fatalities happen, we’re often put in a harsh spotlight. It can be upsetting and cause us to get discouraged, meaning we’ve “lost confidence or enthusiasm.”

“Disheartened” is another synonym, one I think best describes what it means to be discouraged. I’ve met safety and health professionals who have gotten into the field because of a fatality, and others who quit because someone died on their watch. It doesn’t have to be a fatal incident that causes us to lose heart, either. Many things can – if we let them.

Ways to keep your ‘chin up’

If you were neglectful or even culpable in an event or situation that has left you feeling discouraged, admit it to yourself (and perhaps even to others). Rectify what you can, and make changes to prevent the same thing or something similar from happening in the future. Although feelings of regret can’t change the outcome, it can stir us to action. The key to avoiding becoming discouraged lies in moving along and not continually reviving your regret.

Most times, though, we’re not a direct cause of a disturbing event. If your site’s safety performance tanks, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a poor job. However, it could mean something is occurring in the workplace that’s outside of your control.

Three years ago, I was called in to help an EHS manager at a power plant that was having a bad run of incidents. After a couple of days onsite, I found out there was serious tension between employees and management. The EHS manager was at his wit’s end. I reassured him it wasn’t his fault and that the leaders at the site needed to work on improving relations with the workforce or their safety performance was unlikely to get better. Realizing you aren’t at fault can go a long way to improving your outlook.

Focus on your successes

I regularly get requests to hold a date for a talk. This doesn’t mean I’ve been selected to speak at the event – sometimes I get chosen and other times I don’t. When I start to feel discouraged because I wasn’t chosen, I reflect on the many times that I did get the gig. Sometimes I’ll even look over my speaking calendar to see what’s coming up. You can do the same thing.

When you feel discouraged, ponder your successes or other positive aspects of your life – professional or personal. I like to think about my two grandchildren – that always adds a spark to my heart. What has turned out well for you?

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit makesafetyfun.com.

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