Safety coaching, yes, you heard me right! But it might not be what you think it is. As a matter of fact, some people think coaching is like in sports and some companies use the term when they are disciplining their staff. Safety coaching is neither of those things and actually it can become your superpower of leadership!  As a safety pro, are you ever tired of telling people what to do? To always be the one person who has to approve things, because you are the safety person. If you have too many people waiting for you to say yes or no to things, and need them to build their own strengths and make their own decision, this post is for you! It doesn’t matter what industry you are in or what special knowledge you possess, if you don’t lead your team so they can make their own decisions and grow their own professionalism, you are just working harder than you need to. 

In this post we will explain what safety coaching is and what it isn’t, so you can start to practice this often-misused and underappreciated consultative strategy. We explain how safety mentoring and coaching are very different, but both are important in growing your team and your organization. We will start the process of explaining how you can change your style from mentoring and telling people what to do, to listening and coaching them so they can make their own good decisions, all while making the team better.


What is safety coaching?

Safety coaching is a management tool used to describe the discipline and practice of listening and questioning. Key words in this definition are listening and questioning. A coach is a strategic partner who frequently and methodologically practices active listening and formulates relevant and appropriate questions to make clear the challenge, unlock potential and spark action. To be a great safety coach you have to, well, shut up and listen, to not advise, to basically be the opposite of what we have been doing for years. Because what we have been doing for years is mentoring not coaching and if you are like many other safety professionals, you are overworked and drowning in decision making that others must learn to do for themselves.


Why is safety coaching a superpower?

Safety coaching is a superpower because you will teach people to fish, instead of giving them a fish. To be a great safety coach is to build your team and colleagues to make their own decisions based on their own skills and abilities. Starting a safety coaching practice will lead others to make their own conclusions based on sound thinking and experience, but most importantly, it will grow them to make decisions without you telling them what to do. For the record, I know this is going to be really hard for a lot of safety pros, because telling people what to do is the core of our work. We are fixers, it is what we do- but what if we didn’t, what if we listened carefully to what is on someone’s mind, and asked them appropriate questions so they unlock the solution themself? Yes, that would be an awesome superpower.


Safety coaching is not mentoring!

A mentor is a trusted guide who references past experiences to advise, support, and enhance the personal and professional development of the mentee. The emphasis is on active listening, providing information, making suggestions, and establishing connections. Mentoring occurs most often between senior and junior employees for the purpose of career development, emphasizing organizational goals, “the way we do things around here” and advice. The mentor serves as a personal consultant, counselor, and cheerleader. He/she will identify and share resources that may help the mentee. An honest mentor must have a willingness to share not only the successes of their own careers but also their failures. 

The bottom line is that mentoring is about listening and advising how to solve challenges. Safety coaching is about listening and asking questions, so the other person solves the challenge themselves. Listening and no advice – we can do that, right?


Listening and questions, but no advice!

Let me be clear here. Coaching is not the only type of consulting and support you should provide. And it only works if the other person has the skills, confidence, and capabilities to actually solve their own problems. Mentoring, facilitation, and coaching all have a place in our leadership profile. Ultimately it depends on you and the other person  – specifically, where you both are at in professional growth.  The first step in safety coaching is knowing how to listen and let’s be honest, we can all improve on that. There are three kinds of listening but usually most of us default to the first one  — internal listening. We are all guilty of this one. The listener may or may not hear what the speaker is saying. He is waiting for the speaker to stop so he can relay his own experience, observations, advice, or opinion. Sadly, this is the most common type of listening and usually results in mentoring not coaching. Think about it. We don’t usually like it when someone does it to us, so maybe we shouldn’t do it to them?

Then there is focused listening – when you genuinely connect with the speaker and actively respond through non-verbal cues and/or offer supportive comments, empathy, and solutions. The listener brings problem-solving feedback to the speaker, not solutions…this is a good way to listen and very useful for mentoring and facilitating.

Finally, there is global listening when you go beyond focused listening. The listener becomes an active observer by putting the speaker’s words in context, relating to what the speaker has said previously. The listener doesn’t just hear the current conversation but relates it to the “Big Picture” of the speaker’s communication history. So, this is the tough one, but so satisfying to give and receive. To truly be heard as a person is a wonderful feeling, and I promise, global listening is just as wonderful. To abandon all of your own thoughts and opinions and just listen is beautiful! But it’s hard, really hard, impossible for some actually, but if I can do it, anyone can. 



Imagine this, the other person fully speaks their mind and after they finish speaking, you pause, thoughtfully considering what they said and then ask the big question – “And what else?” This is where the superhero kicks in for you, because most likely they have more to say, but are used to being told what to do by now (by you or others) and no one has given them the chance to keep speaking. After that round of talking, you may even be bold and do it again and ask, “And what else?” The best part of your global listening is that you might actually start to hear things you would have missed using internal listening because you weren’t actually listening, or you interrupted them before they finished speaking.

Is that it? Just listen? No, but it is a critical start, and it is the one thing you must be able to do if you are ever going to break false dependence that others have on your safety decisions and direction. Go ahead and start to practice global listening and join me next month to help determine what other questions you ask during a great coaching session and how you decide to whom and when you can start to offer coaching instead of mentoring.

Do you want a free coaching session? Maybe even be a part of my next blog on this topic? Fill out this form and tell me what is on you mind. I will choose someone from the email submissions and get back to you.