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All About You: Stick to your guns

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.

Many breakthroughs – in every sector of human endeavor – have faced initial resistance.

Hygiene during surgery is a good example. When Dr. Joseph Lister introduced the concept of wound cleaning in 1867, he received a lot of flak. He stuck to his guns, and his now-accepted methods save countless limbs and lives.

“Stick to your guns” means not giving up on something even under solid opposition. Is there something you’re adamant about as a safety and health pro that’s difficult to convince others to agree with?

When I started in the safety field in 1981, the idea of making safety fun was novel. At times, managers and even regulatory officials questioned me about my unusual in-the-field tactics and creative training techniques.

Here’s what helps me stick to my guns about making safety fun and convincing others that it’s an excellent idea.

Explain the basis for your conviction

I explain to every audience that when I say “fun,” I mean energetic enjoyment. It isn’t the same as play. You can make many elements of your safety program fun and still be effective. For example, I designed a new employee handout for nuclear workers. It mimicked a popular magazine and included a sports section, advertisements for personal protective equipment and humorous pictures about reporting mistakes. It was fun – and gave the workers the information they needed to know.

When your audience understands the purpose of your unique ideas, they’re more likely to accept them. Because safety is a serious subject overall, straying from tradition requires more stringent depth of proof than in many other fields. That’s why you need to know how to persuade and have as much evidence as possible to prove your points.

Don’t be afraid to try something different

“Ode to a Face Pump” is a poem I wrote about respiratory protection while I was a full-time safety trainer. It portrays exaggerated adoration for a respirator. Later, I decided – with trepidation – to include it as part of my closing keynote at the National Safety Council’s Safety Congress & Expo.

Three audience members came up on stage and dramatically recited a stanza. I was concerned it’d be an over-the-top flop. Instead, it was a highlight of my talk and received hearty applause.

Have you held back from trying something you believe in because it might not work? It’s true that sometimes your efforts won’t turn out as you hoped – perhaps the new safety campaign you’re starting won’t catch on. I’ve had that happen. But I don’t let failures stop me from continuing my mission to make safety fun.

Be willing to change your tactics

You’re not “giving up your guns” if you change the way you propose or implement your stance. Instead, you’re improving your chances of success. Some industries I work with are more restrictive than others (i.e., nuclear power engineers vs. Head Start teachers). However, I firmly believe creating a vibrant safety culture by making safety fun is the way to go. Still, you should adjust your style and content to fit your audience, whether in the field or on the stage.

Dr. Lister realized he needed to change his tactics. At first, he didn’t use or publicize much evidence. Then, he started to write about his procedures and give lectures throughout London. Dr. Lister knew that’s what he had to do if his revolutionary ideas were to be accepted by the medical profession. It paid off. During his lifetime, Dr. Lister became renowned and received several distinguished honors.

More important than the recognition and awards, Dr. Lister’s methods of medical hygiene, though they changed over the years, resulted in significant advances in surgery. Keep that in mind when proposing your groundbreaking ideas. (I do.) Who knows what valuable changes you can create if you stick to your guns!

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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