HOW Matters… Leading Safety Takes, Well… Leaders

Round tables are great, but sometimes the King needs to speak

Not long ago, I sat around an oval table (maybe that was the problem) with a group of people who DID NOT agree. I’m sure most of us will sit around that table at some point. Or have already. It’s part of life.

In those moments someone needs to direct the circle. Not to agreement, but to action. A good leader will recognize those moments of distension and do three critical things: listen, process, then take action. It won’t please everyone in the group, but it also won’t produce a standstill.

The meeting I was sitting in, however, did not transpire like that. Our leader listened and processed. At least he seemed to based on the note taking. But then he opened the floor to further disagreement with a single statement:

“We all want the same thing, but how we get there isn’t important.”

Sooo… Let’s talk about basketball hoops

My family is incredibly short (those who have read my book know just how short I am). Regardless, my son believes that if he tries hard enough, a short person can be an NBA superstar someday. I went down that rabbit-hole when I was a kid and drew a different conclusion, but I’m also not a dream smasher. So, I bought and assembled a driveway hoop for him this weekend. It was his Christmas present. And my Christmas torture…

First off, who ever “designed” that shit needs to go into hiding. I wanted to throat punch everyone who had any involvement in that “easy to install” system. Pictures DO NOT explain how to put things together. Also, it’s not advisable to get your inspiration for designing instructions from IKEA.

I’ll keep the long story short

Here’s the thing: despite the terrible instructions and hours of profanity (my neighbors probably think I kill people in my garage… I don’t… Promise:), I had to assemble, disassemble, and then (correctly) reassemble that hoop three #^@*!$& times. THREE! That might not seem significant, but the little nicks and scrapes on my hands say otherwise.

What does that have to do with how we do things? Glad you asked.

The hoop is one of those adjustable ones that goes from 7-10 feet. As I mentioned before, my family is short. But I’m not a dream smasher. If there’s even a chance my son might become the next Pistol Pete, I want him to pursue it. Soooo, the hoop adjustment needs to work. The problem I ran into was trying to get these two little plastic flappy things (the “instrukshins” called them guards) to line up with a ridged piece of bur-coated metal and pin them all together with a bolt that was too large for any of their pre-drilled holes. The how-to document just said to assemble them with a picture that didn’t clearly identify their order. In my case, that meant a lot of bloody-knuckled trial and error.

I just wonder how much blood I would have saved if, say, the pieces had numbers on them and the instructions said something like: place 1 inside of 2, then wrap 3 around both and secure with the 7″ bolt. The point is incredibly simple. How matters. A lot.

Meanwhile, at the oval table…

Nothing much was ever accomplished at the table when how didn’t matter. We just kept fighting because everyone thought they knew better than the person next to them. The funny thing about it, though, was that only one subject was ever approached in that fashion. Every other area of the business had a plan for how. Operations had a plan, utilities had a plan, maintenance had a plan, but for some reason it didn’t matter how safety was accomplished.

I have seen more than a few organizations struggle with this issue unfortunately. I think (although I can’t say for sure) that managers feel pressured to think they need all the safety answers. Because no good manager wouldn’t know how to do safety, right? Wrong. None of us have all the answers.

But there are quite a few places that have some amazing resources. They’re called safety professionals. If you’re not sure who that is in your organization, go find the weird guy that collects gloves and safety glasses and has a bunch of weird looking climbing gear in his office. Then take the (metaphorical) handcuffs off of him and let him help you plan some work. Preferably before it starts.

Of course, most of you reading this are that weird guy (or girl). If you’re stuck in an organization that doesn’t value your input, get from under your pile of glasses and gloves and go prove your worth. But start with the workers. The people sitting around tables aren’t the ones getting it done anyway.