What is coaching and why does it work for safety?

The Impact of Coaching on Safety, Health & Wellbeing

Over the past 30 years there has been an uptick in coaching programs as leaders see the benefits from sports coaching apply to their unique performance needs. Why has coaching grown so much in business? Well, it is easy to connect that growth to shifting business needs, where retention of millennials becomes a key challenge – as the workforce desires a more engaging and purpose driven workplace, leaders have needed to adapt.


What is coaching? Coaching is a transformational relationship designed to unlock the potential of the coachee by raising awareness and responsibility. Coaching can be a practice based on a 1-to-1 relationship with a lot of structure or coaching can be a leadership style, where a leader uses different techniques to unlock potential in a team

Coaching is quite the opposite of micromanaging or transactional leadership. Coaching is not therapy or mentoring.

Coaching can be structured, broken down into specific goals for each session or topics to cover or it can be free flowing and bespoke.


Performance Coaching with Zach Murphy

Zach is our Performance Coaching Lead and the author of this article.

He has developed Our tailored Safety Leadership coaching program that helps people become better leaders, managers and health and safety professionals. 

Why does coaching work?

The effectiveness of coaching comes from the way it targets the coachee’s awareness and responsibility. Which directly correlates to an impact on engagement and empowerment.

Coaching targets awareness through powerful questions and a focus on the reflection-feedback relationship. For example, a coach might ask a coachee how they might solve a problem at work that has been bothering them, shifting awareness from the sensation of discomfort or dissatisfaction to an awareness to their ability to solve the challenge. Feedback can come in the form of questions from the coach or, even better, when the coachee offers them their own feedback (i.e., “I could have handled that situation better”).

Responsibility often comes naturally in the form of “I” statements, where the coachee recognizes their own role in changing circumstance or problem solving. Problem solving is not one dimensional, in the sense that it applies for internal and external challenges. Incorporating space for the coachee to work through both is the role of a good coach.

Why does coaching work for safety, health, and wellbeing?

Imagine an engaged workforce that takes responsibility for their own actions – this is a much safer culture. 

In its simplest form, coaching helps people learn how to think for themselves, which is often something missing in the moments leading up to an accident.

In terms of accident prevention, phrases such as “that isn’t my job” or “I didn’t think I could fix it” can be flipped around to empowerment.

Coaching impact:

  1. Decrease in learned helplessness
  2. Creates a compulsive sense of problem solving
  3. Safety becomes “everyone’s job”

Often mindless automatic behaviour leads to accidents. Shifting from automatic to aware is a key part of coaching. Learned helplessness, the sense of being unable to change an unpleasant sensation, is a leading cause of a disengaged team – in other words, if your team doesn’t think they can fix something, they will shut down and bear the suffering. A team already prone to not try to fix problems, will miss the triggers and holes in the cheese, leading up to an accident. Often ignoring unsafe behaviour along the way.

Coaching can target disregard for warning signs of unsafe behaviour. How does coaching do this? Well, when in a structured coaching program coachee’s have been seen to have an almost compulsive increase in responsibility – since all the solutions come from within, it becomes more and more challenging to resist. Even for the “rebels” if they are solving their own problems, they are much less resistant. In comparison to micromanaging, rebels have a much easier time adapting to change when it is their own choice.

So, coaching may solve two problems at once: reduce resistance from rebels in your organization and trigger an automatic response to flag unsafe behaviour. 

Where is coaching most effective for organizational safety? Although, we think coaching is effective for any role or level, we see coaching most effective in management roles and leadership. When leaders and managers act as coaching, these practices and the overall impact of coaching is spread far and wide. Imagine the pebble in the pond analogy. Good leaders will also be able to operationalize coaching to any level, as we know that even flat organization leadership structures still have some level of top-down information distribution.

Curious about coaching? Check out our PDF.

Some Thoughts from Zach

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Behavioural Science for Leadership in Safety

Behavioural Science for Leadership in Safety

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