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6 ways to boost safety managers' influence at work

By Mari-Len De Guzman
| www.cos-mag.com
Robert Cialdini at the opening session of the ASSE Safety 2012 Conference

DENVER — The ability to demonstrate the business value of safety in any organization is the message that came across to attendees of the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Safety 2012 Professional Development and Exposition.

Safety professionals must learn to effectively communicate how prevention translates to profitability for the organization they are supporting, ASSE president Terry Norris told close to 4,000 conference attendees at the opening session today.

“We must move past the plateau of complacency and cultivate a culture of prevention,” Norris said, adding safety professionals must direct full effort towards achieving better safety, and not just try to meet minimum requirements.

Gerard Hand, president-elect for the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, based in the United Kingdom, echoed Norris’s call saying safety practitioners need to ensure that “businesses know what we do.”

“The message needs to be loud and clear,” he said. “We want our businesses to achieve what they want to achieve in the safest way possible.”

The keynote speaker at the opening session provided some key pointers for safety professionals on how they can effectively communicate their safety message throughout the organization.

The power of persuasion is not achieved by changing the merits of one’s case, but by changing the way those merits are presented, said Robert Cialdini, retired professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University and best known for his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

“When you’re presenting your case — your valid, excellent argument for safety — focus on the delivery of those arguments, because there are arguments on the other side as well that are compelling,” said Cialdini, who delivered the keynote at the opening session.

There are six universal principles of  influence that Cialdini said can be used by safety professionals to hone their persuasive power at work. Master these principles and the next time you have a safety meeting may be your most fruitful yet.

1.    Reciprocation — People say yes to those they owe, according to Cialdini. If you want people to do you any favours, you should be the first one to give favours. “Help people to do their job better, and invest in people you want to team up with and they will invest in your success.”

2.    Scarcity — You have to accurately describe to people what they stand to lose if they fail to act on what you’re presenting to them. This is more effective than merely telling them what they stand to gain, the once-professor of psychology said. “People are mobilized into action by the idea of losing something of value than gaining something of value.” For example, when trying get management to approve a new initiative that aims to improve a particular safety process, focus on what the implication might be for inaction, such as falling from a good safety ranking. Exclusivity of information also tends to get people’s attention. When you tell people the information you are about to give them is unique or not widely known, they’re suddenly interested in what you’re about to say next, Cialdini said. Use that advantage to get their attention and say yes to you.

3.    Authority — It is in people’s general nature to follow the lead of legitimate constituted experts. If an expert says it, then it must be true. Credibility is the single most effective trait a communicator can have, said Cialdini. If you’re the credible communicator in the eyes of your audience, no one can beat you. There are two essential elements of credibility: knowledge and trustworthiness. To be credible, you must demonstrate unquestionable knowledge about the message you’re trying to present. Earning credibility also means you are upfront about your weaknesses or the weaknesses in your argument, but able to turn that around to declare the positive that enhances your credibility to your audience.

4.    Consistency — There is a fundamental tendency in people to want to be consistent with what they have publicly committed to, said Cialdini. Find out what people’s true priorities are or what they would commit to based on what’s valuable to them, and align your requests or initiatives with those priorities. This would cause your workers to want to say yes to your proposal because of what they have already committed to in the first place.

5.    Friendship and likeness — How do you get people to feel some rapport with you? Give them genuine compliments, said Cialdini. People will feel positively towards someone who acknowledges and appreciates them. Find something admirable about your workers and verbally express that admiration. People tend to say yes to someone they like.

6.    Consensus — When there is uncertainty, people look at what many others or similar others are doing in this situation, and they use that to reduce their uncertainty about what they should do, Cialdini said. In safety, communicators often make the mistake of telling workers that so many people are not wearing PPE, leading to injuries. This only gives validity to a wrong practice because “so many people are doing it.” “It’s not about the rules; it’s not about the regulation; it’s about what you’re neighbours are doing,” Cialdini said. Telling your workers how many employees are participating in the safety perception survey will likely cause them to participate as well.

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