ALERT Learn More | NASP Certification Program: The Path to Success Has Many Routes. Choose Yours

5 Reasons You Struggle with Safety Buy-In (And What to Do About It)

By Kevin Burns
Published: January 31, 2019 | Last updated: November 25, 2023 05:16:55
Key Takeaways

If you're struggling with safety buy-in, chances are you're not making safety interesting enough.

Safety should be an easy sell.

After all, nobody wants to get hurt or be exposed to materials that could harm their health. Employees prefer a workplace with low risk of injury and plenty of people will pass up on jobs because of the hazards involved.

Not only that, but you even took the difficulty out of working safely. You carefully outlined safe working procedures each employee can follow. You posted safety signs to around the worksite to highlight hazards. And you gave them all the PPE they need to do the job safely - entirely free of charge!


And yet, no matter how hard you try to sell workers on safety, some of them just aren't buying it.

Buying into something means believe it has value and is worth doing. And that gets to the core of the problem: safety professionals are skilled at making safety look easy, but they're not so great at making it seem worthwhile.

Instead of a worthwhile endeavor, what are employees presented with? Checklists, paperwork, rules, processes, meetings, penalties, blame, and warnings of impending doom.

It's no wonder they resist it. Instead of feeling empowered by the safety program, employees feel controlled by it.

There is hope, however. If you can get to the bottom of why you're not able to get the buy-in your safety program needs, you'll know exactly what to do to win your employees over.

The reasons you're struggling with buy-in probably aren't obvious - they almost never are. So, here are five common things that make safety seem unappealing to workers.

1. You’re Making Safety Boring

I know, that feels like it's out of your hands.

There are forms to fill out, paperwork to file, inspections to perform, rules to adhere to, and mandatory training sessions no one really wants to sit through. None of those are optional, however. It's just part of running a safety department and ensuring that the business remains compliant.

But no subjects are inherently boring. It's all about presentation. If some highschool math teachers can make quadratic equations fun, then you can make safety engaging.


That might not be something that comes naturally to you. That's okay, because it happens to be a skill you can learn.

And once you do, it won't matter how boring the topic you're covering is, because it won't be boring when you're the one presenting it.

The Takeaway

A lot of safety professionals study the art of using PowerPoint. It's not the best use of your time, however. A great slideshow can't make up for a boring presentation.

Instead, buy a book on presentation skills. Read it from cover to cover. Mark the pages, dog-ear the corners, immerse yourself in it. When you've learned everything you can from it, buy another one and repeat the process all over again.

Get good at presenting and you'll never lose your employees' attention or make your subject seem dull.

2. You’re Talking at Them

Think back to your last safety meeting. Chances are, quite a few of the employees in attendance couldn't wait to leave. They kept looking at the clock, zoning out, could barely feign interest, and you're not even sure how much they retained.

There's a simple reason for that. You were talking at them, not with them.

It's what telemarketers do. You wait for a break in their spiel so you can politely excuse yourself and get off the phone. But that break never comes - they just keep talking at you, barely letting you get a word in edgewise. They're not having a conversation, they're reading off a script and giving you a pitch.

You're probably doing the same thing in safety meetings, and that's why you're losing your employees' attention.

The Takeaway

Have more one-on-one conversations about safety. That way, you're less likely to slip into presentation mode. In other words, you're more likely to talk with them, not at them.

You should also put the focus on them. Approach each conversation with the intent of helping them succeed. Help them see how safety is something that will benefit them, not you.

Taking a more conversational approach puts more focus on the employee and less on following rules.

(Lean more in Face-to-Face Safety: The Right Way to Build a Safety Culture)

3. You’re Waiting for Senior Management to Go First

Safety managers don't just struggle to get buy-in from employees. Upper management can be hard to win over as well.

If you don't have the backing of those above you, it's easy to place them blame for poor safety engagement at their feet. After all, how is the safety culture supposed to improve if those at the top haven't even bought in?

Well, that's just wrong.

Oh sure, its easier to get employees engaged with safety if management buys into it. But it's not a requirement.

Not having senior management fully in your corner doesn't mean your hands are tied. You can still help people stay safe. You have to promote safety in spite of those perceived barriers, not let them drag you down.

The Takeaway

Stop waiting for someone else to do something. Instead, be proactive and do something to help frontline employees be better and safer at their jobs.

Do it one employee at a time if you have to. Without help from upper management, you might have to do less than you wish you could or do it more slowly, but you still need to do it.

And of course, don't just throw your hands up in frustration when senior management won't listen. Getting them to buy into safety is part of your job, too. So work on your communication skills and find a way to present safety in a way that resonates with their concerns.

(Learn more in Get Your CEO to Support Safety with the Curve Approach)

4. Balance Your Position Between Manager and Leader

The difference between a manager and a leader is that one manages and one leads.

Okay, that's an oversimplification. But it's also true.

If all you're doing is managing safety, that means you're maintaining the status quo. You're making sure the paperwork is filed, updating the safety program when the regulations change, and keeping tabs on lost time injuries and other such metrics. But you're not really doing much to change the workplace culture.

You need to be more than a manager. You need to be a leader as well. That means continuously working to improve safety and build worker engagement. It means building momentum. It means making buy-in feel natural instead of trying to force employees to care about safety.

The Takeaway

Jot down five things you want to improve about the safety program. Not five results you’d like to have, but five things you can take action on.

Then, get to work. Start getting them done.

When you move safety forward, you'll give the perception that there's momentum. This will make safety feel more dynamic, less like a set of rigid rules and more like an ongoing activity.

Asking employees to help with your new initiatives can also give them a sense of ownership over the safety program, which will encourage them to buy into it.

5. You're Leaning Too Hard on Your Certifications

You may need to have certification to manage a safety program. The letters you've added after your name represent sweat, effort, and proud accomplishments.

They're important. But they're not going to matter much to your employees.

Workers aren't going to listen to what you have to say about safety because of the certifications you hold. They're going to listen because you know how to inspire them, speak in a way that resonates with them, and make a strong case that safety is worth their while.

The Takeaway

Your title and your certifications aren't what make you a safety professional. It's how much you care about your employees and how valued you make them feel.

If you can convey that to them, you can get them to buy into safety - no matter what courses you did or didn't take.

Ready to learn more? Check out our Safety Culture knowledge center!


Share This Article

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

Written by Kevin Burns

Profile Picture of Kevin Burns
Kevin Burns is a management consultant, safety speaker and author of "The Perfect Safety Meeting" and "Running With Scissors - 10 Reasons To Invest in Safety In Slow Times."
  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on LinkedIn

Related Articles

Go back to top