In my post about soft skills I talked about the fact that the so-called soft skills are often more important than the technical skills of a Safety Manager.
This is an area that is often missing completely from courses that pretend to improve SMS implementation which tend to focus on processes and procedures or “what” you need to implement.
The real impact on the safety performance of your organisation will not come from perfect design of safety manuals, reports or even investigations.
The success of the Safety Management System will depend on your skill level as a safety manager in using all this knowledge to get things done.

Recently I came across the work of Tony Wagner which sums up the skills as Seven Survival Skills or competencies for the future “innovation” economy we live in.


I find that these perfectly describe the various “non-technical” skills a Safety Manager must develop, not only to survive but thrive in the role.
Throughout my new course and my coaching package you will discuss and experience how you can improve the 7 skills you need to be effective as a safety manager.

Critical thinking and problem solving:

A.k.a : The ability to ask really good questions.
As a safety manager this is a game changer: questions allow you to unlock a lot of potential in your organisation.
Stepping away from ”advising” and creating consciousness through questions can change the dynamic completely !

Along the way you need to become aware of the many mental biases that stand in the way of critical thinking.
This becomes especially relevant in the investigation process, where our mental biases might lead us to superficial conclusions that do not address the true causes of safety issues.
The main reason this questioning is important, is to identify or formulate the problem, problem solving is rather straightforward, but are we trying to solve the right problem?

Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

As a safety manager you are expected to lead on safety. However you do not have formal decision-making powers.
This means you will have to learn how to foster collaboration and obtain influence in the organisation, crossing the various silos that exist.

How do you increase your influence and ability to lead on safety?
How can you foster collaboration across different silos in the organisation?

Agility and adaptability

In a constantly changing organisational landscape, adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.
How can you future-proof your Safety Management System and your own career?

Initiative and entrepreneurialism

To reach a pro-active SMS you will have to be able to initiate projects and actions to experiment with what works and what doesn’t to improve safety performance. You will need to be prepared also to fail, and learn how to recover from failure to achieve that elusive learning culture.

Effective oral and written communication

When you’re talking to an exec, the first thing you’ll get asked if you haven’t made it perfectly clear in the first 60 seconds of your presentation is, ‘What do you want me to take away from this meeting?’.
If you are unable to answer that concisely you are perceived to be wasting everyone’s time and you will not be able to obtain any action from your management.

Communication is your main instrument as a safety manager : if you are a technical person, this is not necessarily your strong suit.

Everything technical you do or recommend is perceived through your ability to communicate. Without it, the valuable Safety Information your SMS develops will not generate any impact!

Oral communication impacts on many levels, how you present safety information at Safety Action Groups and Safety Review Boards will impact a lot on how decisions will be make. But also your day to day interaction with managers and staff will impact how credible you and the SMS will be.

Written communication is one of the areas that one assumes is done all the time, we are not talking about getting the spelling right here… It is about achieving a desired impact with your written communication; to that end it has to be designed in a specific way. Other elements such as style, tone, etc will also impact on the “stickyness” of your safety message.

Accessing and analysing information

Almost goes without saying, but we rarely stop to think about information.
How to protect yourself and the management team from information overload? How to process it effectively? Which information do you really need in a socio-technical system? How to obtain the information you really need from staff and management? How to analyse information efficiently and effectively?


Curiosity and imagination

Again very important in safety investigations but also in formulating effective safety recommendations.
How cultivate yours and your team’s and use them as powerful problem solving tools ?





About the Author
Jan Peeters

Jan is an experienced Safety practitioner who is always on the lookout to improve SMS and the management of safety. He coaches organisations and individuals in Safety Management.

3 Responses to Seven Survival Skills for Safety Managers
  1. […] the post Seven Survival Skills for the Safety Manager you will find more detailed information on what exactly some of these “soft […]

  2. Excellent article Jan !! Go ahead…

  3. […] Non-technical skills for the safety professional […]


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