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Sep 24, 2019

Hire a Safety Mindset

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When a company is looking to hire its next safety leader they must be sure to select the right person for the job. But hiring a safety leader goes well beyond their safety and health credentials and experience. You want to have someone with the right safety mindset, not just safety background and experience. The same thing goes for hiring production or other team leaders.

Everyone knows the importance that teams play in organizational success. However, let’s not forget that teams are made up of individual players, each with strengths and weaknesses. In his book, The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni reveals the three indispensable virtues that make some people better team players than others, and this speaks to their mindset (1).

According to Lencioni:

Ideal team players are humble. This is a person who lacks excessive ego or concerns about status. Humble people are quick to point out the contributions of others. They are slow to seek attention for their own, explains Lencioni. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. They also recognize and are well-aware of their own strengths, and they can easily share those strengths when asked (1).

Ideal team players are hungry. They are always looking for more. Hungry people rarely have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent; at the same time, they aren’t so hungry that they are entirely consumed by work. They are continually thinking about the next step and the next opportunity. They have just the right amount of drive you want to see (1).

Ideal team players are smart. By “smart,” Lencioni means they have common sense about people - or high EQ (emotional quotient). You may have heard of this referred to as emotional intelligence or being highly self-aware. Smart team members tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. You may think of them as tactful or good at “dealing with people.” They have good judgment, a great perception of what’s happening a group, and can apply intuition well on teams (1).

So, how can organizational leaders interview for these virtues?

Ask the right open-ended questions designed to get them sharing their thoughts and beliefs. Sure, you need to find out a little more about their professional background as it pertains to the technical aspects of safety. 

However, if the pre-screening process went as designed, hiring managers should only be interviewing technically qualified candidates at this point. So here is an opportunity to ask questions designed to determine if the candidate is going to be an asset to the team. 

Here are some examples of the right questions and what they are designed to uncover:

1. How did you get into safety? Or whatever line of work they happen to fall into.

This question helps to uncover someone’s back story and helps someone to share what drives them and motivates them. 

At this point, you can start to see if they are able to articulate the “why” about their career choice. This question can also encourage them to become more comfortable during the interview, too.

2. Has there ever been a situation or incident in your work that changed or shifted your approach to safety?

Are they able to learn from situations? How have they adapted in the past to improve their life and work for the better? This question, once again, starts to dig deeper and helps you know more about how humble someone is, and their degree of self-awareness, too.

3. What is something you would do to show senior leaders how safety can be a profit center?

This question helps to indicate more about their capacity for critical thinking. After all, you want a candidate to be able to make a connection between safety and other aspects of the business, and this can help you know more about how savvy they are in this arena. 

4. What would you do if you saw a hazard or if you saw someone doing something unsafe at work? Has this ever happened—if so, how did you handle it? Was there anything you wish you could have done differently? (2)

The answer helps you know more about how a candidate chooses to approach others, especially when that situation is uncomfortable or can involve conflict.

5. How do you approach incident investigations?

Once again, this helps us to frame someone’s motivation and mindset and helps us know more about how they deal with others (smart), their ability to be forward-thinking (hungry), and their degree of self-awareness as it relates to their own ego (humble). 

As you talk to the person, see: do they seek to put blame on people, or do they think in terms of fixing and improving processes? Do they start with “what someone did” or “what did we miss in this process”? Both responses are telling.

6. What are the most important accomplishments of your career?

This question, fundamentally, is another way of seeing what someone values. Look for more mentions of “we” rather than “I” to see how team-oriented they are. Of course, it isn’t about being so simplistic as to count the responses. In the event that someone refers to himself or herself individually more than as a member of a team, probe for whether he or she was working alone or with others.

7. What was the most embarrassing moment in your career? Or what was the biggest failure? 

Look for whether the candidate celebrates that embarrassment or is mortified by it. Humble people generally aren’t afraid to tell their unflattering stories because they’re comfortable with being imperfect. And, they know their strengths and are confident in those strengths so failure isn’t seen as taking away from their self-worth, necessarily. Also, look for specifics and real references to the candidate’s own culpability.

Look for specifics about how the candidate accepted responsibility for that failure, what they learned from it, and if they actually acted on what was learned. The ideal time player isn’t arrogant when looking back, but they aren’t lacking confidence, either. They were motivated to grow and learn from the event, and are happy to share that fact, too.

8. How do you define success in safety? How would you measure it? (2) 

This is another example of a critical thinking question. Can the candidate define what success looks like, how to tell, and more importantly, how to achieve that success?

9. What is the hardest you’ve ever worked on something in your life?

Look for specific examples of real, but joyful sacrifice. In other words, the candidate isn’t complaining but is grateful for the experience. Once again, this helps you to know more about what they really value, too.

10. Have you ever worked with a difficult colleague or boss? How did you handle the situation?

By asking the candidate about a difficult work relationship, you will learn if he or she can read situations and people and handle them skillfully.

This question gives you another chance to see if they have people smarts (not the same as intellectual smarts) and how much hunger they have. It’s one more chance to get insight into their overall ability to fit into your existing culture.  

Let me know what you think - email me at Also, let’s connect on LinkedIn so we can continue to collaborate on workplace safety. You can post a comment on LinkedIn about this episode as well - be sure to @ mention Blaine J. Hoffmann or The SafetyPro Podcast LinkedIn page. You can also find the podcast on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter!

Questions in this blog post were taken directly from Terra Carbert’s post, “Interview Questions for Safety” which can be found here and The Ideal Team Player interview guide by Patrick Lencioni.

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