Opinion: influencing and visible leadership behaviours – advocating and inspiring

Author: Craig Foyle, Immediate Past President, IOSH, Director, Foyle Safety & Management Limited

When I started my career in safety and health the textbooks highlighted the importance of complying with the law, which was black and white and required us to do what was written. I soon worked out it was not that simple, as there were several shades of grey to contend with as well.

I realised the importance of being able to influence both internal stakeholders, e.g. management teams, engineers, workers and external stakeholders, e.g. clients, auditors. In order to do this I had to earn their respect for me as a safety and health practitioner. I have faced many challenges in my career and had a few ‘light bulb’ moments that have helped me along the way.

As a relatively new safety advisor, I unfortunately had to postpone work on a project. I received a great deal of ‘feedback’, let’s say, from the management team and workers alike. However, I listened and stayed to find a solution with them. My response took them by surprise as they were expecting me to walk away and let them try and fix the problem on their own, which would not have helped either of us. This was my first step to gaining acceptance from those around me. They did not like being challenged but knew I was right and worked with me after that to prevent any recurrence.

A few years later I received feedback from a client who said to me ‘Don’t quote the law to me – tell me how to comply with it’.  This was another lesson I learned which has enabled me to develop very close working relationships with all those I work with as I became much more useful as a practitioner.

When introducing an IOSH Managing Safely course, I provided an example of a site that had repeated accidents every month and we worked out the human and financial costs of these accidents.  A finance manager on the course said it was unacceptable that money was being wasted every month. At first I paused, initially expecting the focus to be on the human cost but it taught me that everyone had a ‘hook’. Some people do not want others to get hurt, some think about the financial cost, others may not want to go through all the paperwork. To influence people, you have to find out what their ‘hook’ is and use that to your advantage – find the hook and you can help influence people in a manner they understand.

In both my working life and volunteering with IOSH I am very fortunate to be able to engage with people at all levels of an organisation, from the boardroom to those making things happen at the sharp end in manufacturing, construction, universities and institutions alike. Engaging with people at all levels allows you to understand an organisation and its people, therefore assisting your decision-making process when advising them.

To be successful you have to prove you are a credible safety and health practitioner but that alone is not enough. To build long-lasting and meaningful relationships it is equally important to have the inter-personal skills required to be able to engage with people in a way that motivates them to do the right thing.

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