How to get YOUR Accountable Manager to say “Yes”!

If you are a safety specialist with unfettered access to the Managing Director/Leadership Team with complete autonomy to recruit staff as you see fit, combined with full management ‘buy-in’ to design and embed a SMS as soon as possible then this blog is not for you. If however, like most of us, you need to convince certain individuals that resources may be required and to gain that essential ‘Management Commitment’ then read on.

Those involved in Safety will be fully aware of the benefits a SMS can bring. However, it’s rarely the Managing Director (AKA Accountable Manager) that attends the influential and helpful SMS training courses or Safety Seminars. It’s these training course and/or conferences that provide those essential ‘aha’ moments (not the Swedish band!) where it all becomes clear how valuable an effective SMS is to the business. Full of energy, bright ideas and drive, a freshly ‘charged’ safety specialist is likely to return to work post training/conference wanting to change the world and will only realise too late that the ‘full backing’ of the CEO was actually only limited to improvements that won’t cost anything. “Surely we can have an SMS using existing resources”, or how about this one “We don’t want a brand new ‘Bolt-On’ set of activities and meetings, let’s use what we already have”.  A familiar story? Well, THI-SMS has a proposal to help you.

There are many great posts on the web already about “how to get your boss to say yes”. If you type those exact words into any search engine you will get dozens of posts with helpful tips for those vital (and often pivotal) one to one meetings or even presentations. I won’t summarise them here as this post is to offer help with the strategy and tactics specific to a SMS. Suffice to say, read these helpful tips on “how to get your boss to say yes”, commit them to memory and be ready to weave them into your ‘game plan’ as they will always come in handy.

So, onto gaining that essential Management Commitment. Firstly, you are dealing with highly intelligent and successful leaders but in some cases, as intelligent as they may be, there are still some leaders out there that hate to reverse a decision. It can be seen as a weakness to change one’s mind, not least because it appears that they have not absorbed all of the information presented before making a decision. Therefore, as a safety specialist trying to ‘sell’ an SMS you must, above all else be as fully prepared for every encounter with your boss/management team as possible. You do not want to be in a position where some time after an encounter/meeting/presentation you end up saying “oh I wish I’d thought to say that!”.  Emails, documents, strategies etc are all important but, in comparison to the face to face interactions and the influence you can bring to bear on gaining the essential resources required of an SMS, they are trivial. Put in the time to get your structure, message and psychology for your presentation perfect and then practice practice practice.

Secondly, allow your passion to ‘bring to life’ the benefits (and nasty things can happen if you don’t proactively manage safety) by practicing your ‘pitch’, and ‘pitch’ is the right word to use here as you are effectively a salesperson trying to explain to someone that doesn’t want to part with hard earned profit why they MUST provide what is needed. So what do we mean by ‘passion’. Well, if the ‘pitch’ you deliver has a good pace, uses pictures instead of words/bullets (best tip ever!), is enthusiastic and not monotone, well practiced (you must welcome criticism from your colleagues/family etc in order to get it perfect for when it really matters), and you engage with the audience using both rhetorical and interesting questions (interaction and allowing the audience to help make your point by sharing their own experiences) then your passion will bring the ‘pitch’ to life.

Thirdly, gain a friend in the camp! You will need someone to act as both a sounding board for your draft presentation/proposal that understands the way the Managing Director and Leadership Team think/operate, and during the actual presentation  you will need their support for your ideas/motions and to help steer the conversation. It’s always good to understand what the worries are likely to be (i.e. what pressures are the management team under at the moment). If you can propose to work within the process/meetings/systems already in place and you can gain advice from your ‘friend in the camp’ on what already works then you can anticipate and ‘head off at the pass’ any worries about additional lengthy meetings or dozens of new (and bespoke) procedures/manuals.

Fourthly (I how I wish I hadn’t started with ‘Firstly!), ‘don’t scare the horses’! If you start out on meeting/presentation No1 by saying that everyone will have lots more meetings, they will need to fund up to half a dozen people for what is effectively a business overhead (that will bring far greater returns to the business I hasten to add), there will be 20 documents for everyone to approve and they will need to fund a safety conference for 100 people then guess what…you will be laughed (or thrown) out of the room. It’s a far more effective strategy to let the organisation grow organically in their understanding and expectations, and it’s also far better to present one resourcing problem at a time. Perhaps start by asking for help to draft the project management plan, then some admin help for the meetings. You will need to take workers away from the ‘coal face’ at some point (when it is least likely to adversely affect production/profit) to conduct hazard identification activities. Can each department provide a small percentage of its staff for a one day investigator training course so that low risk reports or incidents can be thoroughly investigated….you get the picture. Don’t drop a bombshell…you need to win the war through a series of well considered battles with sufficient time in between to let the pain of the last request be forgotten. Remember the phrase, “I’m all for progress, I just don’t like change” and this will help you to remember to pace yourself.

Finally (although there is so much more to say, it’s important to keep this blog short to prevent the ‘too long didn’t readers’ from tuning out), concentrate on the structure. Structure structure structure. You must find a way to break the managements view of the world without upsetting anyone (as there will always be someone in the room that has worked hard to get the company where they are) and to gain agreement that there are ways to fix this broken world. Don’t try to boil the ocean in a day, first gain agreement that something should be done, then, at a later date start to explain how much work is required (i.e. if we are asking everyone to report, who is going to monitor the reporting system, provide initial and ongoing feedback to the reporter on how the investigation is progressing, manage the Information Technology, conduct trend analysis and then report the information to the safety meetings). Structure must be applied to both your overall strategy and to each individual presentation/document/proposal as a poorly structured strategy will be confusing, will lead to unwanted ‘rabbit hole’ discussions, distractions, frustration and ultimately will cause the loss of credibility and an unwillingness to entertain the idea of parting with the resources required. Happy hunting and don’t forget to reflect on both what worked well and what could have gone better as you should try to ‘continuously improve’ your own performance to enhance your success rate.

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