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Confidence in Safety

29th July 2022

It’s been a while since we’ve posted, mostly due to holidays and a busy workload, but here’s a post on a topic I’ve been mulling over for a while, confidence in safety.

I was in course last month.  During the course, the topic of confidence came up.  Confidence in safety professionals.  It’s a fascinating topic.  So I thought I’d delve into it a bit.

Early Years

When I first started out in safety I was a first aid attendant for a print company in Richmond BC.  I was terrified that someone would actually need first aid and I would have to provide it.

I wasn’t confident in my skills despite having completed the course, and receiving my certification.

This would be a theme throughout the early part of my career in safety.  Always worried that I didn’t know enough, that I wasn’t smart enough, experienced enough, or adept enough to address safety situations.

Learning and Improving

Here’s the thing that I didn’t get.  Every week that I continued working in safety was a week that I knew more than the week before, and gained more experience than others getting started in safety.

At some point mid-career I realized there’s no way to know everything in safety, no one does.  How do you know what you don’t know if you don’t experience what’s out there?

What you don’t know?  Ask.  Figure out what you want to know, and go research, study, learn, and network.  Focus on continuing professional development, it makes you a better safety professional, and builds confidence.  Don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know, but I can find out!   It’s better than guessing or giving a wrong answer.

That’s how my confidence was built over years of experiences, failures, and mistakes.

OH&S magazine had an article on confidence in leaders, one of the points they make I believe is truly key to confidence “Learn from any event, even crises.” Learning from a bad situation, and how to better manage the situation in the future builds confidence.

Asking myself and others how I could have done something better.  Looking for other ways to do things, it’s a heck of a lot easier now with the internet, and tons of networking groups.

Don’t be afraid to try things differently or to fail.  Be afraid not to learn, and improve.

Obviously not having confidence to speak, or act in the manner you’d like can be a problem, however another potential problem with confidence in safety is that it can be misplaced.   We have all been in a situation where we thought we knew the answer, and were wrong.

Who remembers your early days in safety when you were going to change the world? Only to learn the world didn’t want to be changed, or at least not as quickly as you wanted it to change!

Over confidence can be incredibly dangerous, and lead to assumptions that are incorrect, errors in judgement, lack of response, or an incorrect response.  Know your limits. We are human, and we will all make mistakes, this is a given.  As safety professionals however, we bear a responsibility to keep others safe, and so our mistakes can have weight, and consequence.  So working within our abilities, and limits will help maintain confidence, and limit mistakes.

It’s also good to push yourself once in a while and throw yourself in the deep end when you have the right support.  That can do wonders for confidence!

While we want to limit mistakes, and be conscious of being over confident, these are fantastic opportunities to try and understand why we made a mistake, why we were wrong, and learn from that experience.

Corrective actions apply to us too, not just incidents, and the work environment!

I think it’s also critical to adjust expectations.  Our confidence is influenced based on what we perceive as success, and success builds confidence.  Sometimes if our confidence isn’t quite where we want it to be, simply adjusting the goal posts and shooting for smaller wins can be helpful.

In Short

The next time you have a crisis of confidence, throw yourself into assessing why, apply yourself to learning something new, and remember, there’s always going to be people who know more than you, and less than you.  So focus on knowing what you need to know, and continually improving your skills, and experiences, it’s going to help build confidence.

Perhaps even seek out a mentor.  A mentor.  That sounds like a whole other blog post!

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