Author Bio ▼

Andrew SharmanAndrew is the CEO of RMS Switzerland, a global consultancy specialising in safety behaviour, culture and leadership. With offices in the UK, and Switzerland.  RMS has an enviable track record of improving culture and enabling excellence for NGOs and blue chip organisations around the world through industry sectors including aviation, automotive, mining, construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and FMCGs. Find out more at www.RMSswitzerland.comAndrew is also Professor of Leadership & Safety Culture at the European Centre for Executive Development in Fontainebleau, France, and Professor of Risk Management at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  He is a Chartered Fellow and Vice President of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH); a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.Far from being risk-averse, he loves adventure sports including climbing, free flying, sea kayaking and swimming with sharks. He uses these pursuits to re-energise the language, perceptions and functions of safety and risk management and align the disciplines with broader organisational issues driving positive impact and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and businesses.Read Andrew's New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at and enter code SHP 25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.
January 29, 2019

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New rules of safety

The New Rules of Safety: Ask the RIGHT questions!

Andrew Sharman offers five questions to boost your strategic influence and drive sustained safety improvement in your organisation – today!

In a previous post for The New Rules of Safety (Rule #22), I suggested that we need to be more curious, and to question everything.

In that article I explained that modern safety leaders need more than just technical skills to survive in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous) world. Adaptability to change, the ability to tolerate adversity, make decisions quickly (and well!), and have an entrepreneurial spirit – essentially by finding opportunities to add value – are all essential tools for those striving to be the best.

Beyond these skills, I reckon one thing many OSH practitioners (and business managers and leaders) lack is the art of being curious. In questioning the why of what we do what we do.

EHS 2018 - Andrew SharmanJust this week I was in a room standing in front of 43 of the most senior leaders of a global FTSE100 corporation, a household name, and 30 minutes in to our workshop there was not a single question asked by the audience. Despite my usual deliberately provocative style, they all sat in silence. By coffee time they’d warmed slightly, so I started asking. Feedback was fantastic, they were loving the session, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t asking about what I was sharing. “Because we don’t have time for questions when we’re working usually” was the response. WOW!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO, an Ops VP, or an OSH practitioner, being a strategic leader is all about asking the right questions.

So how can you, as an OSH practitioner be more strategic as a leader? You can start by asking yourself – and your team or OSH department – the five questions here. They’ll leverage off each other and help you build a solid strategic approach to workplace OSH and increase your chances of success as an practitioner, leader and as a team.

1. “What do we need to work on today?”

Each day there’s more and more dumped on our plates, right? New initiatives, campaigns, targets and projects – as well as all that BAU stuff! Asking this question shines a light on the most important. If you can’t answer it with complete clarity you aren’t working towards your real objectives.

2. “Why are we working on this now?”

After considering what you need to do, go past the urgency, the demands, the email hustle and consider why. There’s a triple bonus here: first you get clarity on what’s really important, and second, be able to surface any disagreement or uncertainty within your team (or stakeholder group). Third, you get the prize for adding real value and meaning to why you’re all doing this particular task. Ding-ding-ding!

3. “How does what I’m working on align with the big picture?”

Malcolm Gladwell would thank us for considering the gaps and outliers of performance, but by asking this question you ensure that your work contributes to the macro goals of the organization. It’s a big question though, and easy to fob off, so dig deep – and if you can’t show a clear link, call time and reassess your answer to question 1.

4. “What does success look like?”

Here’s the tough one. You’re gonna have to go beyond those nonsensical metrics (some folks call them ‘Lagging Indicators’) here. Get the team a coffee and really knuckle down with this one. Get the Post-It notes out, brainstorm, blue sky! Forget about what the company over the road does, or what the industry says, look inwards and define success in your own terms. Be brave. The more you can align the team around a clear vision of success the more chance you have of reaching it.

 5. “What else?”

Don’t be fooled by the brevity of this last question. Size doesn’t matter. And don’t leap straight to this one either. No-one appreciates an early climax. If you haven’t put in the graft to the first 4 questions, it doesn’t matter what you say here. So as Mick Jagger says “Get Back” and start over.

If you’ve worked to get here, listen in. Now you really understand how you add value, so this is about in what other ways could you add even more value? Serve your stakeholders better? Redirect resources? Refocus your activity? Revise your strategy? Align your work more closely with the overarching business goals?  Don’t leap too fast, whatever answers you come up with here, put them through the test of the first four questions before you set new ideas in motion. Now you’re working strategically.

The New Rule of Safety #23: Ask the right questions

Being a strategic leader is all about asking the right questions at the right time, and building the right dialogue, with the right stakeholders. When you do this, you’ll not only raise your game, but that of everyone on your team – no matter whether direct reports or matrix connections. The more comfortable and effective you become in asking these five questions, the more you’ll contribute more strategically to the success of your organization – in OSH and beyond!

Professor Andrew Sharman is a consultant to leaders at Apple, BMW, Burberry, IKEA, Heineken, JaguarLandRover, MercedesBenz, Tata, and more, and the co-creator of the world’s only IOSH certificate in Behavioural Safety Leadership, find out more here. Email [email protected] and quote SHP25 to get 25% off your course.

In From Accidents to Zero – the world’s best-selling book on safety culture – Sharman shares more than 80 questions that help leaders drive strategic safety improvement, improve culture and enable excellence. Get your copy of the book with an exclusive 25% discount by using the code SHP25 at to order your copy now.

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Andrew Floyd
Andrew Floyd
5 years ago

From Accidents to Zero!! Really?

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman
5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Floyd

Hi Andrew, I’m not sure what your question is here. ‘From Accidents to Zero’ is the title of one of my books.

Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
5 years ago

Naaa, if you were to ask the “right questions” that would put expediency of “denial and omission” into question and most likely increase the risk of being found “wanting”, feigning ignorance and/or directly negligent not something on the agenda unless abso-bloody-lutely necessary forced to by the courts.

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman
5 years ago

Hello Nigel, with my colleague Dame Judith Hackitt, former Chair of the Health & Safety Executive we tackle this challenge in our book ‘Mind Your Own Business: What Your MBA Should Have Taught You About H&S’. Avoiding asking the right question in case it creates more work to do doesn’t feel like a solid strategy, so digging deep and focusing on what’s important is what we suggest. Solid safety management is founded on understanding what the risks really are, and then ensuring focus on them is proportionate and effective. These questions help do that, and, importantly, help safety practitioners align… Read more »

Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Sharman

Yeah but, no but, therein lies the difference between PC Professional Ideologies and the reality of personal ideologies and expediency in terms of funding over the last 28 years from 1990 to 2018 where, along the way, the HSE Better Display Screen RR561 2007, the new 2012 EU MSD Directives spectacular failure to launch, new 2017 BSI ISO 45001 and HSE putting off any review of the 1993 UK DSE Regs until 2020 smacks of denial and omission to address the predictable eye-strain and RSI’s presenting in visual MSD’s scaled in the WHO ICD 9 & 10th revision, under the… Read more »