Safety culture

The power of influence

Put yours to use


Photo: kali9/iStockphoto

As safety and health professionals know, their work goes beyond systems, processes and key performance indicators.

“We have an impact on people,” Safemap International CEO Corrie Pitzer said. “And that means we have an impact on line management – influencing them. Influencing people on the floor.”

Safety pros can use their influence at every level of an organization. When used effectively, it can be a powerful tool.

Build rapport and trust

Want to influence others on the job? Start by building rapport.

“Like in sales,” said Rosa Carrillo, president of Carrillo & Associates, a consulting group focused on organizational effectiveness, leadership and team development. “[People aren’t] going to buy anything if you don’t make a good, friendly, caring impression. Influence is closely related to what type of relationship you established with that person.”

Being personable is one way Laynnea Myles, assistant vice president of environment, health and safety at L’Oréal, works to build positive relationships and influence. A simple “hello” first thing in the morning can be the key to opening the door for a worker to share a safety concern.

“I want to be infectious,” Myles said. “You never know how your personality can influence somebody just by saying ‘hi’ to someone. When I get that crack of a smile, now I can get a better understanding and build that relationship.”

From there, your influence can grow. Aim for quality conversations, which should be open and honest. “If you see a positive reaction or an openness, you can assume your influence had a positive impact,” Carrillo said.

Becoming an influential safety pro also involves good listening skills. Ask yourself: What is it that they’re really asking me? Did I really hear and understand what they were asking? “It takes time and practice and really being thoughtful when responding to someone,” Myles said.

To Victor Lawe, safety officer for the City of Rocky Mount, NC, influence is often synonymous with another value.

“I treat influence like trust,” he said. “I want you to be able to tell me something in confidence and it dies here.”

Myles added that workers trust her and her team not only with safety issues, but also those related to human resources. “You have a really big impact on people’s lives, not just from a safety standpoint.”

Associate Editor Barry Bottino discusses this article on the July 2023 episode of Safety+Health's “On the Safe Side” podcast.

Know the trade

In Rocky Mount, Lawe leads safety efforts for a city that spreads into two counties and has 15 departments and 44 divisions. How does he apply his influence and earn workers’ trust?

“Being present,” he said. “I refuse to be one of those safety professionals who hides out in a cubicle or office and fields phone calls or emails. I get out there and put boots on the ground.”

When Lawe gets a call about a safety issue, he asks for an explanation first, and then visits the worksite in person.

“I show up and say, ‘Describe it to me now. Use your hands.’ Now I understand the hazards and can make recommendations. Being able to touch the process and smell the process – it shows the employee that you care.”

Myles can relate. She encourages other safety pros to be open to new knowledge.

Learn the trade. Learn the business. You really get that buy-in and influence when you actually understand: What is it that the operators are doing? What is it that the office people are doing?

Laynnea Myles
Vice president of EHS

“Learn the trade. Learn the business,” she said. “You really get that buy-in and influence when you actually understand: What is it that the operators are doing? What is it that the office people are doing?

“When you get that understanding, that’s how you get that influence.”

Pitzer said he learned that lesson as a young safety pro working at a South African mine. “The biggest favor a manager did for me was he chased me out of his office and said, ‘You go work underground and get a blasting ticket (certificate),’” he said. “I had to become a miner. You can’t influence people if you don’t know what they do.”

If you don’t have an answer for a specific safety issue, it’s OK to admit that, Carrillo said. “You can always get back to that person or bring back somebody that does have the answers.”

Broaden your expertise

Before working at OSHA for more than three decades, Richard Fairfax was a journeyman pipefitter and welder at several Texas oil refineries. Now a principal consultant for NSC Networks at the National Safety Council, he said expanding your professional expertise can bolster your influence on others.

“Most safety and health people are probably generalists,” Fairfax said. “They know a little bit about a lot of things, and that’s important. To become somebody who people go to and who has an impact and influence, one has to have developed a lot of expertise in a number of other areas.”

That may mean joining committees, which can provide advanced knowledge on various topics. It’s something Fairfax learned firsthand as a member of a committee that set threshold limit values on the airborne concentrations of chemical substances. “That was probably the most rewarding professional experience that I’ve had,” he said. “Those people on that committee were just brilliant.”

Over time, that experience led him to dive deeper into other safety-related topics.

Influence “doesn’t come from your title,” Carrillo said. “It doesn’t come from the fact that you went to school for a number of years. That does not give you influence – only the credibility of day in and day out, keeping commitments, developing trust, and showing that you know what you’re talking about.”

Expand your reach

With so many avenues available from which workers can learn, the extent to which you can grow your reach and influence to larger audiences can be as unique as the various industries themselves. For instance, Lawe has more than 200 subscribers to a safety and health email he sends three times a week. Other formats include podcasts, YouTube videos, and social media accounts and platforms.

In Pitzer’s view, however, the most powerful communication is one-on-one and face-to-face. “Influence is a social interaction,” he said. “Without social interaction and the proximity of people in an environment, I don’t know that there is great capacity to influence.”

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