I met with the head of safety for a global oil services company last week, John. John was very proud of the difference that he had made at the company, and indeed to me it was clear he had made huge progress in both getting the numbers of people being injured down and building a culture that has safety at its heart. However, he was hugely frustrated with his role, his senior managers’ attention to safety, and most importantly the fact that people inside his organisation continued to be hurt, or worse.

Like many people in similar roles I have met, John was questioning what he did day in day out, who he was being and was reflecting on how challenging being in a safety role is – in his case ‘trying to do the best thing for 2,000 people’. We talked about this for some time – how it is so difficult to hold the possibility of no one getting hurt, and continually working towards that, when people continue to be hurt, seemingly confirming that this will never be possible – this it seems was at the core of his frustration.

I reminded him of the many lives that have been saved from the trauma of dealing with incidents and injuries, as a direct result of the work that he had done, and reminded him that they don’t even know who they are – and hence would never thank him.

 As safety professionals, no one thanks you for not getting hurt.

Whilst this conversation helped, it did not easy the frustration.

‘There has to be more we can do…if only the senior managers led safety more, better engaged the workforce when they did their visits…anyway why do people choose not follow the rules..why do they keep on doing stupid things?’

I know many people feel these type of frustrations.

A common dictionary definition of ‘frustration’ is;

a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.

The conversation that seemed to help the most was the one that explored the question, what causes you to be frustrated. We explored what caused John to be frustrated or there to be unresolved problems in the work he was doing. This naturally led us to a conversation about the gap between what he saw a possible and the current reality. This is where we got into the conversation as to what he was committed to – which he described as ‘no one getting hurt, and even more than that, every one of his organisation’s employees being healthier as a result of working for the company’. This was the real source of his frustration, his commitment.

Without commitment, there would be no frustration.

So given this, we were both able to see his frustration, which currently was showing up in negative ways, as a direct and positive consequence of the commitments he held. We reflected on the fact that we both wanted to share this, as there are probably many others, particularly in the world of safety who feel this frustration, and by reframing it in this way, may find new energy and ways to proceed.

Indeed, when you deeply connect in with your commitments, the things you believe and the world you want to bring into existence, then frustration with the gap that exists between where we currently are and your commitment is almost inevitable.

 If you don’t want to be frustrated, don’t make any commitments!

In some ways, the more frustrated you may feel, the bigger your commitment is…

We hope that by sharing this conversation, it may trigger some different thinking and create some positive energy to be released for people in similar situations.

For further reading on taking a positive perspective on safety and life’s challenges, please see;

The Future of Safety is Why-Based

Safety is not the absence of harm.