The Safety Manager

The Safety Manager

Most workplaces these days have a designated safety officer who, supported by a myriad of policies, procedures and systems, helps identify and manage the risk of workplace accident and injury.

Recently I’ve noticed I also have my own internal safety manager who monitors my choices, decisions and actions to prevent me from coming to harm. And I’ve also come to realise how much this safety manager gets in the way of me achieving my goals. He’s the voice in my head that says watch out, be careful, danger ahead, go back, not now, not me, are you sure???  I’ve given him a name and a persona to help me take back control!

From working with my clients, I know the internal safety manager might give out warnings like

  • ‘better not take on that new client in case you don’t really know what you’re doing’
  • ‘don’t tell the interview panel about that important project you successfully managed….they might end up hiring you and you could let them down’
  • ‘careful setting those KPIs for your team too high…what if you don’t achieve them?’
  • ‘best if you don’t tell your colleague she let you down in that stakeholder meeting…you might look like a trouble-maker for raising it’

Our safety manager serves an important purpose, keeping a look out for perceived threats and imminent dangers. Not only physical dangers, but psychological risks such as rejection, exclusion, exposure, failure, criticism, shame, embarrassment, and humiliation amongst others. His ultimate purpose is self-preservation.

But there can also be high costs of playing it safe, including:

  • Dissatisfaction – we may not pursue a dream, a passion or a goal because of the risk of harm, so we stay unhappy in the status quo
  • Mediocrity – we might limit our horizons, settling for what’s known and certain in case discovery is uncomfortable
  • Paralysis – we end up doing nothing because the risk of taking action seems too great
  • Perfectionism or excessive planning – obsessively over compensating to avoid or minimise risk
  • Failure – we can unwittingly sabotage our own chances of success because of a fear of failing or a fear of not being worthy of our success.

Safety managers can seem very authoritative and can be profoundly influential in the way we perceive and engage with the world. They may have been with us for a really long time, probably serving a legitimate purpose at one point, but chances are they’ve outstayed their welcome!! We don’t want to eliminate them completely (otherwise we’d all be jumping out of planes without parachutes to establish our capacity for flight). But to lead a satisfying, successful and meaningful life, we may need to do some work on keeping our safety manager in check.

If you think you’re under the excessive influence of your own personal safety manager, plan to get better acquainted. For the next 24 hours see if you can notice even small examples of:

  • When does he show up?
  • What are the triggers?
  • Does he have a voice – what kinds of things does he say?
  • Does he conjure up uncomfortable sensations – where and how do you experience these?

Once you’ve noticed the presence of your safety manager, spend some time digging a little deeper:

  • What is the potential harm you’re being warned about?
  • How does this influence your behaviour – what do you do more of or less of to prevent or minimise the risk?
  • What is the cost of doing this?

For example, my safety manager shows up every time I go to write these articles! Right now, he’s saying ‘if you write an article about safety managers people will think the article is lame…they’ll criticise you and you might lose your credibility’. And how do I respond to minimise the risk of this perceived harm? ‘I’d better choose another topic that’s more interesting, more relevant and more valuable to everyone who reads my articles…oh wait, that might not be good enough either…(repeat by 10, feel frustrated and overwhelmed then postpone until another day!).

At this point it’s pretty easy for me to acknowledge that my thinking, influenced by the habitual warnings from my safety manager, is keeping me safe by avoiding the possibility of criticism and judgement. But I can also recognise the cost – in this case, paralysis, procrastination and an inability to complete something I know is important. So now I can weigh up the costs and benefits, and make a mindful choice about whether to heed my safety manager’s warnings about the selection of article topic.

Be prepared for the difficult sensations that might arise when you choose to ignore warnings from your safety manager. Noticing and allowing feelings of uncertainty, anxiety or even fear is an important element of keeping your safety manager in check. Yes, there’s a cost to rejecting safety warnings – it might be butterflies, cold sweats, sleepless nights, feelings of vulnerability or self-doubt. But playing it safe can come at a bigger cost:

  • it’s hard to be the effective and influential leader that you’d like to be;
  • it’s hard to stay positive, productive and high performing in the face of challenge and uncertainty;
  • it’s hard to be truly authentic in the way you show up with others;
  • and it’s harder to achieve the personal and professional goals and successes that you’re truly capable of.


Ultimately, it’s harder to be your personal best.

Pay attention to the safety messages, but challenge their validity and choose to proceed with the actions that are aligned with your values, goals and purpose. You might be surprised at how this opens up opportunities for success and satisfaction you didn’t think possible.


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