What is coaching?
How would you define it? Would you say it’s a form of training where the trainer – or coach – demonstrates abilities they have, e.g. at assessing risks or investigating accidents, so that others might be able to do these things better for themselves? You wouldn’t be alone. It’s a common interpretation in the safety profession. A growing number of practitioners have the title ‘Safety Coach’ and that’s what they do and they call it coaching.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), defines coaching and mentoring as development techniques based on the use of one-to-one discussions to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge or work performance.1 Traditionally, the defining characteristics of coaching are:
- that it is non-directive (really!);
- that it holds to the coachee’s agenda (not the coach’s);
- that it is based upon a high level of rapport between coach and coachee;
- that the coach uses highly-developed listening and questioning skills to pull ideas, suggestions and plans from the coachee; and
- that it is solutions-focused.
Mentoring uses the same skills but is generally used to describe a situation where a more experienced colleague uses his or her greater knowledge and understanding to support the development of another.
What do you think about this definition from Janice Caplin? “A coach is a collaborative partner who works with the learner to help them achieve goals, solve problems, learn and develop.”² For me, with the slightest of adjustments, that could be the definition of a safety practitioner. It completely blew my mind when I first read it.
The way I look at it is this. The very best safety practitioners are both a mentor and a coach. They know about the legal requirements that have to be met and other standards that have to be achieved and they have experience of how organisations manage health and safety and solve safety-related problems. This is the greater knowledge and understanding they bring to a conversation and they are prized for it.
But the very best practitioners also coach. They may not have the answer to a problem. Their experience of how other organisations manage may not apply to a given set of circumstances or their knowledge of what the ACoP says might not suit a particular situation. What do you do then? You coach. You use highly-developed questioning and listening skills to support the duty-holder in exploring the problem and coming up with the solution that suits him/her best.
I too used to think that coaching was about me demonstrating skills I had to support the development of others. Since the penny dropped for me, I’ve really come to value coaching skills and now consider them to be absolutely essential for the modern safety practitioner.
What do you think?
If you’d like to evaluate your coaching style, please email Michael at [email protected]
² Caplan, J. (2003). Coaching for the Future: How Smart Companies Use Coaching and Mentoring. London: CIPD.
Michael Emery, CMIOSH
Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing
Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
This free director’s briefing contains:
- Key points;
- Recommendations for employers;
- Case law;
- Legal duties.