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All About You: 3 tips for ‘fitting in’ with a new work group

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.

As a professional speaker and consultant – and lately as an employee – I’ve had to quickly “fit in” to new groups and cultures many times. This year alone, I’ve worked at three power plants and with several different work crews.

It’s essential to your success as a safety pro that the people you coach feel comfortable around you. But fitting in doesn’t mean faking who you are. In fact, doing that leads to all kinds of problems because, with time, your true personality will show through.

You don’t need to change who you are or what you believe. It’s simply a matter of understanding how people perceive and react to someone they don’t know well.

For example, everywhere I work, folks eventually realize I’m highly playful and stand out as much as I fit in. But I’ve got some tried-and-true tactics I use to help form a bond with whomever I’m working with. Here are three that work well:

1. Start off by listening. Everybody likes a person who listens, so you can’t go wrong by being attentive to what other people say and do. Put more emphasis on finding out what’s happening than on telling people what to do, especially at first. Sure, after a bit you’ll need to talk more, particularly if you’re conducting pre-job briefings or giving instructions. But whenever I arrive at a new jobsite, I always ask questions before I start giving any advice or direction. It shows I’m not a know-it-all.

The music industry has a saying that applies to nearly every profession: “You have to pay your dues.” That means you must put in some time to earn respect. Some of that comes with your education and previous experience, of course, but whenever you’re new to a group, it takes time to become part of it. Even just seeing your smiling face a few times will help your new colleagues feel more comfortable with you.

2. Don’t come on too strong. This is something I’ve learned the hard way. Unless you’re an entertainer on stage, coming into a work group and immediately “taking over” through force of personality rarely works out well. Your reputation will suffer, and people will feel slighted, especially those with tenure. I’ve succeeded by holding back for a bit until everyone gets used to me being with them.

How long does that take? It depends on the situation. But being a bold “safety cop” right away never works. Sure, everyone will listen to you and even follow your demands, but it’ll mar your influence, and few of the crew will like you.

Simply put, give it some time before you display how smart and incredible you are.

3. Show you care about people. The millwrights, carpenters, laborers and engineers I’m working with now are my work friends. I know a variety of things about their life outside of work, and they know a bit about mine. Sure, I have to “coach” them when they’re not doing things as safely as they should, but because I ask about their family, hobbies and other stuff they do away from work, they know I care about them and am there to help them.

All of us want to be accepted and liked. That’s a common and profound human desire. So, learning how to fit in when we’re working with a new crew or even a new company in a way that creates mutual respect and connection is a vital skill that all of us safety and health pros should strive to develop.

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

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at

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