Why You Should Manage Safety With CPR

Just not the mouth to mouth part… HR won’t approve

“Jason!” our new safety manager, Wally, hovered over my desk and studied my name tag. “Your name sounds familiar.”

In my mind I flashed back through the half dozen or so times I had introduced myself to him at various company events through the years. At least one of those times he had spilled his gin and tonic on me, so his lack of recollection wasn’t any surprise.

“We’ve met, Wally.” I said. Then I bit my tongue and decided against saying anything else.

Wally was a corporate guy who had outlasted his usefulness. The company had closed his region and needed a place for him. Our project was a nice, quiet corner to tuck the old drunk into. As a bonus perk his best drinking buddy (The Tongue) was already there.

Shortly after our “introduction,” Wally assembled the staff for a meeting and announced there would be substantial changes to our operation. At the end of his speech on of the clerks raised her hand and asked when we could expect the changes to start. He didn’t need to take any time considering his answer.


We all thought he was joking. As it turned out, the joke was on us. Wally reassigned everyone in the department, demoted our supervisor, and put his drinking buddy in charge of the safety team. It was a nightmare.

In the span of just a year, the changes he’d made proved so damaging that nearly 60% of the staff had left to find new jobs. All of us were actively looking, too. It was a shame, because we worked for one of the best companies around. I eventually left as well ( that crazy story is in my book, and worth getting a copy just for that one section)

Any decent leader knows that going into a new environment guns blazing isn’t a great proposition. Still many think they know more than everyone else and feel the need to assert their dominance. Every time I’ve seen that done it’s been a sure path to poor performance.

There’s a better way though.

Look, Listen, Feel

If you’ve been through the American Heart Association’s CPR training, you’ll likely recall that mantra. It’s what you do when you find a victim who potentially needs resuscitation. First you look to see if the person’s chest is rising (are they breathing?). Next you listen for sounds of that breath. Then you feel for air movement. Finally you (firmly) tap them on the shoulders and loudly ask “are you OK?” It’s a simple way to distinguish between passed out drunk or dead.

The idea also works for leadership. When you take over a new area of responsibility figure out what’s happening and how your style fits. Here’s how:

  • LOOK at the way things happen in your new environment. Be critical, but keep your mouth shut so you can do the next thing on the list.
  • LISTEN to the things your people say. Are they negative, positive, apathetic, passionate? If you take the time to listen, make sure you actually hear what they are saying.
  • FEEL your way into your new role (figuratively… don’t be creepy). Ask around about what people expect, but more importantly what they need.
  • ASK your new crew how they’re doing and how you can deliver on what it is they need.

Wally was an ass, don’t be like Wally

If you’ve never had a gung-ho know it all manager like Wally, count your blessings. But also do your best not to become him. You might have the greatest ideas in the world, but if no one respects you, they’ll never get any traction. Build relationships first, then use them to change the world.

Being on good terms with your staff will also make it more likely they won’t hold it against you when you spill your drink on them and forget their name. Here’s to being good leaders!