President's Update 13/5/20

By NZISM Secretary


Kia ora koutou to all members and supporters of NZISM. Over the last few weeks, I have had a few conversations with members that have been about how they can better create influence within their workplaces. Of course, you don’t have to look hard to find references to key skills that the Health and Safety Practitioner or Professional must hold to find the word influence, influencer or influential. From the INSHPO Framework which describes the WHS role as having the ability to “build a web of relationships and influence others to bring about change…” and being “influential with senior management” to Dekker, Provan and Rae’s definition of Social Safety Work including a reference to “influencing others to create understanding and enable participation”.

To me, the following portrayal of Influencing really describes what this skill is all about. “Influencing others is the subtle use of interpersonal tactics and social skills to change the values, attitudes or beliefs of another”. Organisational Growth Expert, Margaret Consadine says that “Influencing is not persuading, which uses argument to convince others, influencing is about gaining the trust of others in order that they will do what you want without actually having to ask, effectively the aim is to gain voluntary support for your idea." As a health and safety professional our aim should be to issue a persuasive appeal which sees the other person making a decision based on the merits of our argument.

It is said there are four components that make up the ability to influence, that of Positional Power, Emotion, Expertise and Non-Verbal Signals. Now I don’t know too many health and safety managers who are also the CEO of a company; yes there are some who hold significant roles within corporate organisations but let's face it, generally we don’t have the positional power that leaves us having the final say.

Without that positional power an individual would likely talk less, interrupt less and have less say in topics of conversational focus. That leaves our influencing focus with the other three components. Emotion, or in this context I’ll use the word passion, when you have passion for your cause you can dominate the discussion, your emotional commitment to the subject at hand can put you on a par with the person in positional power. Think about how passionate performers grab the attention of judges in talent shows or how Hillary Clinton swept to power over Obama in the Democratic Primary Elections of 2008 due to her authentic emotional speech. An impassioned delivery can both suppress and procure someone in positional power to your way of thinking. If you are going to use your passion to influence over positional power, it does pay to be well supported and able to back up your passion with some knowledge.

This is where the next component emerges, expertise. Passion and expertise can overcome positional power any day of the week. Expertise on its own may not always get you where you want, particularly if you take a hesitant or reserved approach, as your voice can be obscured by others who wish to be heard.

So, what role do non-verbal signals play. Think about conversations without non-verbal signals, those winks, nods, smiles, furrowed brows, hand gestures, eye contact and other body language movements that sometimes we have little conscious knowledge of in terms of the impact it can have in a conversation. In this time of physical distancing think about how your conversations over the last couple of months might have played out if you only had a telephone and not a video platform to engage on.

Of course, there are other models that discuss the components that make up influence and human interaction. Whether it’s the SCARF brain-based model for collaborating and influencing others, which includes the five domains of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness, or Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion, incorporating, Liking, Reciprocity, Social Proof, Consistency, Authority, Scarcity. All of them are relevant and provide an opportunity for personal development in the way we communicate and engage with others and in terms of the health and safety role, how we influence others to think and act differently about health and safety in the workplace.

Which one of the four components to successful influence do you do really well at? Work that out and then think about how you can develop in one of the other areas, you’re more likely to be successful at influencing if you have an advantage in at least one of these components, preferably more.

Ngā mihi mahana

Greg Dearsly