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All About You: We all need encouragement

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.

After the bell rings and a boxer walks over to their corner, they have only a minute to prepare for the next round. In that time, they’ll typically get wiped down, be checked for injuries, have any cuts treated, be given advice and receive encouragement.

Often, that last item is most crucial to their success – especially if they’re losing the match.

All of us need encouragement from time to time. Even when we feel confident about something we’re striving to accomplish, having someone in our corner to cheer us on can still be inspiring.

As safety and health professionals, we have plenty of opportunities to encourage others, whether it’s during a safety meeting, pre-job briefing or one-on-one coaching. When a serious incident occurs and discourages a co-worker, we can boost their confidence – and even comfort them – with encouraging words.

Encouragement is simply the action of giving someone support, confidence or hope. Still, encouraging others can be done in many ways and can be helpful in a wide variety of situations. I purposefully look for conditions – on and off the job – where I can encourage others. Here are three ways I do that.

When someone has set a new goal

At conferences, I often meet fellow safety and health pros who want to become professional safety speakers. I always encourage them. A few times, I’ve helped colleagues get started.

You can encourage anyone who’s striving to reach a new goal. The key is to listen closely to the person’s intent and then respond with a spirit of caring – not with a cold response like, “Oh, that’s great.”

I particularly enjoy encouraging work teams before a challenging evolution. A few months ago, a crew I was supporting had to complete an awkward lift of a huge generator and transfer it several feet. I encouraged everyone on the team – not only during our planning and pre-job meetings, but also one on one – by telling them how much confidence I had that the lift would go without a hitch, which it did!

When things aren’t going well

Like the boxer losing a fight, when something goes awry, spirits can drop and performance can suffer. This is when encouragement can make a big difference. Even something as simple as someone having a bad day can be an opportunity for you to help them try to turn it around. Don’t ignore that something is amiss. Acknowledge and describe the problem so the person knows you understand what they’re experiencing. Then, offer some upbeat (but realistic) encouragement.

When someone gets hurt or causes an incident, they’ll be upset about it, so now’s the time to encourage them. Let the person know that what happened was an anomaly and that they don’t need to let it get them down. Everyone makes mistakes. If it seems appropriate, you can also work with them to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

When someone has had a serious setback

A layoff was planned at the plant I worked at this year. During the week leading up to it, I practiced my encouragement skills. I researched and found positive information about the job market, the nuclear industry and a few other things to help boost my co-workers’ morale. Part of my goal in encouraging everyone was safety-related. When anxious or even afraid, people are more likely to make mistakes that lead to mishaps. So, that week leading up to the layoffs, I was concerned that the work crews wouldn’t be focused. My encouragement helped reduce that.

Encouraging others is one of our best tools for creating a vibrant safety culture and helping others succeed. It’s also a skill set we can practice every day. So, I encourage you to encourage others as much as you can.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be considered 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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