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Coaching as a Leadership Role:

Improve Safety, Job Performance, and Career Growth for a Thriving Workplace.

By Carl Potter, CSP,CMC,CFII

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps. – Confucius

When someone is injured in an industrial setting the question many times is, “How could that have happened?”  We experience a fatality in the workplace and we say, “Don’t let that happen again!”  If you are a leader who has had to face the family of an employee and deliver grim news you say, “Not on my watch again!”  These scenarios don’t have to happen, we can prevent workplace injuries.  Frontline leaders can use coaching to prevent many injuries and fatalities.

Supervisors, foremen, crew leaders, and team leads are considered frontline leaders and are expected to make sure everyone goes home uninjured at the end of the day.  In contrast, organizations often don’t do a good job of developing the skills necessary to carrying out the task of leadership. One of the most overlooked skills for supervisors is coaching.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a development process where a guide (supervisor) works with an individual (employee) to help them achieve maximum results.  Coaching includes three basic components:

  1. Building awareness and recognition of areas of strengths that promote progress and the behaviors and actions that impede success.
  2. Creating a plan for success and taking steps forward.
  3. Holding one’s self accountable by working with the guidance of another person.

Coaching can be used to develop poor performers into good performers and develop the good into great for future leadership in the organization.  Many frontline leaders are selected for their positions because of their abilities to handle technical aspects of a job without consideration of their leadership abilities.  Organizations that want sustainable success need to know that good leaders are not born, they are developed.  Development is usually the result of working under another person who is respected. Good leaders can usually look in their past and name individuals from whom they have learned.  Often that person was an excellent coach without anyone knowing.  Organizations cannot rely on hiring supervisors who already possess coaching skills.

Learning to Be a Good Coach

Learning to be a good coach is important.  Taking the steps to develop the leadership role of coaching can pay off incrementally for a long time.  The basis for coaching is an understanding between the coach and the one being coached. Coaching is not a onetime training session that will get results automatically; rather it is an ongoing relationship.  Understanding that coaching is a commitment that takes time and patience is the first step.  Recognizing the roles of the coach and the coached is something that is vital to success.

In addition to being a safety speaker, trainer, and consultant to many industries I am also a Certified Flight Instructor who teaches instrument flying.  In this role I am an instructor who coaches.  I have found that my relationship with the student and understanding our individual communication styles plays a vital role in the student’s success as a safe pilot.  Our relationship must be based on a mutual understanding and respect much like the supervisor and employee.

Before coaching an employee the supervisor must be able to articulate why the employee needs to be coached.   Does the employee often seem to work distracted, breaking the safety rules, have interpersonal issues with the team, or other personal behaviors that can be improved?   The supervisor should then work with the employee to co-create goals that if achieved will result in improved awareness, recognition, and improvement of behaviors that can lead to a safer workplace.  Work with the employee so that he or she understands the roles and responsibilities required for success in a coaching relationship and schedule frequent times to discuss, work on, and monitor the outcomes.

The role the supervisor plays in the coaching model is one of a guide who walks alongside the employee to help him or her discover the areas of strengths and potential areas of growth and improvement.  Employees must understand that their role is one of an active, willing learner.  Once the context for the relationship is established, mutual respect can grow between the two creating a team-like environment.

Respect between a supervisor and employee develops out of an authentic, trusting relationship that is focused on developing the employee to help him or her meet performance expectations. When respect is organic in nature it fosters an energetic environment of trust which is of high value to any organization.  If respect in the organizational environment is one based on title or position it has the ability to erode trust.  A successful coaching relationship requires the supervisor to be committed to the employee and willingness to sacrifice the time and energy required.

Every employee just like every student pilot has a personal level of commitment.   Like an electric battery, each employee has a certain level of ability, capability, and absorbability.  A wise supervisor will recognize that not every employee has the same characteristics.  Not every employee is aware of his or her own traits and behaviors.  During a coaching workshop one of my participants admitted that he was, “a legend in his own mind.”  Recognizing and helping employees recognize the reality, positive or negative, of their skills and performance is an important part of coaching.

Sustainable success in safety depends on the coaching ability of your frontline leadership.  Supervisors should be trained to communicate the roles and responsibilities of both supervisor and employee.  When more supervisors are developing their personal coaching skills the leader will emerge and it will come natural.  The pay off to the organization will be a workforce dedicated to creating a safety culture where everyone takes responsibility for safety, so that everyone can go home every day without injury.


Carl Potter, CSP, CMC, CFII who is an internationally known safety speaker, author, and consultant.  Several years ago he designed his Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop which is taught by himself and trainers that he coaches in developing a safety philosophy for preventing every workplace injury.  To learn more about this popular workshop and other work, visit:

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