Safety-Management is Relationship-Management

When it comes to keeping the company's risks under organizational control, the first thing that sticks out in one's mind is safety management. What is often not considered is the standing of the safety experts in the company and thus their relationship with the risk owners. This blog article illustrates how significant this can be.

Safety only results from concretely implemented measures. A lot of good intentions are not enough. But every safety measure has its price. Either in the form of a direct cash-out or in the form of a slowdown of performance processes in the company. They always affect the performance of the company in some way. The responsible executives, the risk owners, must therefore in each case perform a difficult balancing act when approving security measures between an abstract 'advantage', lower damage potential and or lower probability of occurrence, and the concrete visible 'disadvantage' that such measures cause. This is an assessment of two very differently designed and thus difficult to compare goods. They know that the measures will do their job, but they have to form a personal picture of their concrete effect. And they will not let themselves be deprived of that. Despite all the assurances about the effectiveness of these measures from the safety experts.

Who guarantees the best advice?

The responsible managers are confronted with the risk of doing something with the approval for the implementation of safety measures that could prove to be unnecessary in retrospect. Consider the following example. A father of a family wonders whether it is still worthwhile to take out fully comprehensive insurance for a car that is becoming somewhat outdated. In asking this question, he is probably guided by the assessment of whether a total loss of the vehicle is financially viable for the family or not. But now the crucial question: With whom does he discuss this consideration? With the insurance agent? With work colleagues or with his partner of many years and mother of their two children?

The insurance agent is a bad advisor. He has the shortcoming that he personally benefits from taking out the insurance. The work colleagues have the shortcoming that they cannot really judge whether he can financially cope with the total loss of the car. In any case, such has no impact on their circumstances. That leaves his wife. She has the same view on the problem as she 'manages' the family together with him. She knows what a total failure of the car would mean for the family. If she is willing to take the risk of partial coverage, she will share the burden in the event of a crash. And so she also understands that by again taking out comprehensive insurance, the family's finances will not suddenly grow like trees. Whatever the decision, in a good relationship, a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.

Respect and recognition for the other party

And this is also how it is in the company when the safety experts communicate with the risk owners. As always in communication, a purposeful exchange only succeeds when the two meet at eye level. When they do not devalue each other either as humans or by claiming superior argumentation in the matter. Only when the relationship between the two is characterized by respect for the other as a human being and as a manager does a dialog emerge that is capable of carrying out the difficult balancing of the two such different assets for the good of the company. Good advisors understand the risk owner's problem. They engage in the difficult assessment of goods that are so difficult to compare. They acknowledge the adverse effects of safety measures on the business to the same extent as they present their request for such measures. They leave room for the line-side responsible party to weigh in and do not push, as if in a bazaar of views, that their perspective is the right one. And they are neither disappointed nor offended when their submissions are not acted upon. They understand that in such a case, the risk owner has done nothing but take responsibility for the risk. In other words, they take care to build trust in every situation. Effective communication only takes place when there is mutual appreciation and recognition. The only people you listen to are those you trust.

A bold hypothesis

I put forward the hypothesis that a trusting relationship between the risk owner and the safety expert is better able to reduce the risk exposure of the company and is therefore more significant for the safety of the company than any safety department, no matter how highly endowed and professionally set up, whose superiors are not heard because there is a lack of trust on the part of the risk owners.

What needs to be done?

If you, as a safety-, security- risk- or compliance manager, are concerned with what you can do to build trust in the responsible managers, the following questions may give you food for thought.

  • Do you and the line manager(s) have a 'shared mental model' of how the company's success is achieved?
  • Do they understand the risk owner's problem?
  • Do you tend to present the need for safety measures as an urgent problem, making the risk owner feel pressured?
  • Do you link your personal success to the number of safety measures approved and implemented, to the size of your budget, to the number of employees assigned to you? Or do you link your success to the success of the company?
  • Do you sometimes find it difficult to present the arguments for your proposed safety measures in a purely factual manner?
  • As a safety expert in the company, can you live well with a decision by the risk owner to accept a risk that you wanted to mitigate with measures? Or do you get frustrated when safety measures you have proposed are not approved? Do you find it difficult to deal with it in a way that does not affect your relationship with the risk owner? What is the reason for a possible frustration?
    • Because you were not proven right?
    • Because you see the rejection as a defeat?
    • Because it makes you feel uncomfortable to deliver the message to your team?
    • Because you don't understand it and the work is no fun that way?
    • Or because in such situations you tend to have the thought that the risk owners will see how the risks will occur and do their damage. So let them deal with it themselves!

If you want to learn more about your incidentally predictable reaction, there is a proven explanatory model for this:

This model is very helpful in avoiding miscommunication and restabilizing relationships that are in danger of going out of balance.

Addressing each of these issues can give you clues as to where and how you can work on your standing in the company so that you can become a trusted advisor to line decision makers. That you can hold a position where you are respected and listened to. If my hypothesis is correct, this would be an important key to effectively reducing the company's exposure to risk.