There has been much debate recently about what OHS professionals should do to best improve OHS outcomes given the constraints of the organisational structures they work in, according to The University of Queensland.
“While advice abounds about how we should communicate, engage, and influence OHS decision-makers, there is very little practical guidance on how these skills should be applied within the context of OHS practice,” said Cassie Madigan, senior lecturer in OHS programs for The University of Queensland.
Most OHS professionals already know that influencing managers, particularly where they have no formal authority, can be tough going and sometimes frustrating, she said.
“Tackling these challenges and powerfully influencing managers to take action to improve health and safety is the focus of my PhD studies,” said Madigan, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference – ONLINE, which will be held from 22–24 June 2020.
“We know from the influence and OHS literature that there are many factors at play when it comes to successful influencing attempts – the choice of influence tactics, individual traits and characteristics, quality of relationships, and organisational factors to name a few.
“But when it comes to OHS professionals’ influencing effectiveness – which of these factors are more important?”
Madigan said a surprising finding from her study of OHS professionals and managers was that the behaviours of OHS professionals themselves mattered the most (i.e. more than certain individual and organisational factors) and that certain influence tactics made more of a difference in effectiveness.
Using logical arguments and factual evidence (rational persuasion) and appealing to the values and ideals of others (inspirational appeals) were reported to be effective.
On the other hand, appealing to a higher authority and referring to OHS policies and legislation (legitimating) and offering incentives and favours (exchange) were not effective.
Many OHS professionals also reported success with using different strategies (i.e. strategies not found in traditional influence models) such as storytelling, coaching, role modelling, humour, and social proof (for example, explaining how other organisations are doing things).
“So, if the use of specific influence tactics makes a difference when it comes to improving health and safety outcomes – what steps can we as OHS professionals take in order to improve our influencing skills?” Madigan asked.
While her program of research is still ongoing, Madigan’s initial findings suggest a number of steps OHS professionals should take.
“Firstly, developing self-awareness of our current influencing behaviours, and also knowing how others influence us is critical,” she said.
There are many ways to create influence, and Madigan said it was important to observe if the tendency is to default to only one or two influence tactics, or whether there is a preferred fall-back position.
Secondly, the OHS professionals who had the most success in Madigan’s research were those who clearly understood their influencing goal or objective, pre-planned and timed their approach, built trusting relationships, used a wide range of influencing techniques, and demonstrated flexibility by navigating between different tactics (or combination of tactics) depending on the situation.
“Finally, reflecting on our influence attempts and testing our own assumptions about our influencing behaviours, regardless of whether our influencing outcomes were successful or not will build our influencing capabilities,” said Madigan.
Madigan will be speaking at the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference – ONLINE, which will be held from 22–24 June 2020. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://aihsnationalconference.com.au/.