Mind the Gap: The change agents of Health and Safety
The use of "self" as an instrument of change is not a new concept. As consultants we talk of personal leadership, authenticity and congruence impacting the way we work with others and the outcomes we generate. On a individual level the development of these skills can result in transformational personal change. But can the concept of "self as instrument" be used to breathe new life into an entire profession?
Health & Safety
The Health and Safety profession in the UK doesn't have a great reputation. Ask the average man or woman on the street what they think about Health and Safety and you will hear tales about jobsworths and the banning of conkers in school. It's a profession with a reputation for regulation, where 'no' is the default answer and where most conversations begin with a sharp intake of breath. There are those who say that Health and Safety is broken and in crisis.
But inside the Health and Safety sector is a group of 'tempered radicals' pushing for change. They want to rebrand Health & Safety, overturn public opinion and change the very nature of the profession. They need to breach a growing gap.
As Health and Safety specialists these people didn't sign up to be change agents. But the shifting landscape in which they must operate means that far from being clipboard toting naysayers with one hundred reasons why something should not be done, the modern H&S manager needs to be an agent of change; a passionate embracer of appreciative inquiry, a flag bearer for coaching and behavioural leadership.
And as an instrument of change they need to play a virtuoso performance.
A new skills set
For some the journey has started. Like all development journeys the route to becoming a powerful change agent starts with a growing self awareness of individual values, behavioural strengths, preferences and blind spots. A new vision is forming. The hard hat wearing regulation enforcer must now develop into a rapport building networker with strong influencing skills and high emotional intelligence. They need to exhibit authenticity and congruence. And they still need to know those regulations like the back of their hand. It will require a certain attitude and technical strength, and it means that the Health and Safety Advisor that you recruit tomorrow will need to be a very different beast to the one s/he replaces.
The ripple effect
But what does this mean to the rest of us? Why should we be bothered? The truth is that H&S teams exist as part of the overall system, and in industries such as hard technical services and construction that rely so heavily on internal H&S advisors the effects of this change are far reaching. As the effectiveness of this new band of change agents and attitudinal influencers grows, so does their impact across the entire business, for to be truly effective, these culture minded strategists will not be restricted by artificial organisational and team boundaries, but will instead look to influence, facilitate and nurture change in other departments much further upstream. Those ripples will push for wider change and facilitate growth. Cross team working will become the norm. Instead of saying "no", these new H&S practitioners will ask "why?". Instead of "tell", they will "listen" and instead of "regulate" they will "lead".
Farewell Mr Clipboard
So no more Mr Clipboard. Instead, these astute practitioners will follow the trail of change to the root cause and will bring a new energy and empowerment to the workplace. And their mantra will be to continually re-assess and re-invigorate the way that things are done. And they will do that with a continued awareness of "self as instrument".
So is Health and Safety broken? Or is it actually metamorphosing into something much more powerful?
Nick Skinner is lead consultant at Poppyfish People Development.