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One skill every Safety Professional needs to know to be successful; Facilitation.

July 6, 2013

HSE Facilitator

Part 1 of 2: The Facilitator

At one point in their careers nearly every health, safety and environmental (HSE) professional is asked to facilitate at a major corporate event, especially when it comes to continual improvement teams, or strategic change management functions. Now quite often people fail to undertake the role of a facilitator efficiently due to their lack of understanding of the difference between participating in meetings, to facilitation. In complex discussions or those where people have different views and reluctance to make change, good facilitation can make the difference between success and total failure of acceptance of health and safety change management within an organisation.

What is Facilitation?

A simple definition of facilitation is “to make easy” or “assist a process”. It is typically used in business and organisational settings to ensure the establishment and running of successful leadership meetings, team building events, and safety and risk management workshops.

The HSE Facilitator:

What a HSE facilitator does is plan, gives guidance, and manages a group event to ensure that the overall objectives are met effectively. As a facilitator, you are often required to call on a wide range of skills from, logistics, problem solving and decision-making, to team management and communications.

To facilitate effectively, you cannot take sides with individuals or different teams, you must remain a neutral and objective participant. It is not always easy for a HSE professional to take a neutral position, as there are various aspects that may have to be taken into consideration, including legal health and safety requirements. More importantly you need to make sure that you step back from giving detailed content and voicing your own personal views, but remain focused purely on the group involved in the event. Facilitation is about creating an environment that will encourage the other participants within the group to share safety ideas, solutions, and come up with team decisions and conclusions.

You will only have one chance when it comes to facilitating a HSE event. You must first understand the group’s desired outcome, and the background and context of the meeting or event, as the main part of your responsibility is to ensure that the organisational dynamics of the event are met:

Design and Planning Stage:

From a design and planning stage you must ensure you conduct a consultation with the event requester. It is important you know what they want to achieve, plus the actual outcomes they expect both short and long-term. Do not be surprised if the requestor is unsure of what they want to accomplish at the event, which is why they have called you in as their HSE facilitator. Once the group’s objectives have been established your role is to choose and design the appropriate process to follow, and develop an effective agenda.

Planning to meet expectations:

It does not matter if you are planning a single one-off meeting, or a complex workshop involving several sessions or even multiple days. It is important to keep in mind the group’s eventual outcomes and how you are going to help them to reach it. Remember:

• If the facilitation process covers multiple sessions and topics, make sure that you are clear about both the desired outcome and process for each stage, and that it contributes to the outcome of the complete event.
• Two key aspects of the design and planning stage is choosing the right management tools and processes and combining them into a realistic agenda meeting the participant’s expectations.

Guide and Control the Group for Success:

There are as many ways to guide a group and choosing the right process is unique to the audience you will be dealing with. Selecting either one or several styles may be required, especially if the group consists of different employee levels within the group. This is especially relevant when it comes to occupational health and safety, or environmental practices and management; this is something that the HSE facilitator learns through experience and continual professional development. However basic principles do apply and a facilitator should ensure:

• A realistic agenda has been developed and agreed between the facilitator and the requestor of the event.
• That the personal values expected from everyone during the event are defined and communicated prior to the start of the event, and reiterated when and if required.
• All HSE contributions are considered and included in the ideas, solutions, and decisions
• Participants know that they take shared responsibility for the outcome of the event.
• That outcomes, actions and questions are properly recorded, and communicated.
• That there is effective and shared participation by everyone.
• The event keeps to its objectives and does not stray into other business subjects or personal agendas.

Open or Structured Events:

The other key factors to consider in both the planning and designing stages are how people want the event to actually run. This may be a single open discussion, or a structured event controlled by defined processes.

The Open discussion:

An open discussion, may be the viable and simplest option when the events are related to one or two specific objectives and involving technical professionals within the same field of expertise; such as construction engineers; but you need to ask yourself whether you will be able to manage the discussion and achieve the objectives with this process. Remember a team of specialists are more likely to ponder on debate and technical questioning, more so than a mixed group of professions.

The Structured Control Process:

By adopting a structured process approach you are more likely to cover the variety of topics needed and appropriate for large groups or events that may be spread over several sessions, or even days. This allows you to use a combination of processes from break out groups, to safety incident case studies, guest speakers and brain storming sessions. The skill is to establish the right processes that you can use to generate enough ideas and solutions.

Consider the Participants of the Event:

When it comes to the event participants, it is vital that you gain as much information as possible and review and discuss with the event initiator especially if you have any concerns that could affect the HSE outcomes. Unfortunately you may have constraints placed on you as a facilitator in regards to participants and may not be able to make changes. However, you may be able to change the structure of the event to optimize the processes and agenda. In regards to the participants consider:

• The number of participants that are going to attend the event.
• The nature and number of health and safety topics to be raised within the discussions.
• The type of involvement people need to have, i.e. Breakout team leaders, white board writers.
• The background and skills levels of the participants.
• How well individuals know the subject matter of HSE.
• The relationship levels between individuals or departments. For example, has there been conflict in the past over safety or environmental compliance or enforcement.
• The time frame you have available to help the participants to achieve their outcomes.

Remember, whatever group you end up working with, it’s a question of keeping your focus on the eventual outcomes. As a facilitator you need to find the best way to achieve the occupational health and safety objectives of the overall event, and support the group from start to finish. As I have stated already neutrality is important. If you have a direct interest in the outcome of the group, or have the experience, or authority that requires you to be included as a participant, then you need to consider bringing in an external facilitator.

In the second part of my article (Part 2 – “Event Delivery” ), I will be delving into the subject of facilitation in more detail, setting up the event agenda, and how to establish and programme the processes you will be using. I will also be sharing several useful tips which will hopefully assist you in becoming a proficient health and safety facilitator.

Note: Part 2 of this article will be published on the 13th July 2013

About the Author; Wayne J Harris

Wayne is a highly regarded international specialist in developing corporate risk and HSE management systems with over 30 years experience within high-risk environments. He has advised major organisations both private and governmental, on key issues of strategy and organisational risk and safety management. Wayne’s experience in dealing within the international arena and multiple cultures from Europe, Asia-Pacific, to the Middle East has given him a comprehensive understanding of the global risk issues facing an organisation in today’s business economy. He has held various senior corporate roles, and has sat on the Board of Directors of several companies including a Chamber of Commerce.

Contact Email:

  1. John permalink

    When will you send part 2. Part 1 very interesting

  2. Mr. Wayne, I´m Safety Officer and I have been work multiple cultures and with different background and skills levels of people in my role professional life, 22 years. So for sure your comment help me a lot and catched my attention. It´s really very interest Subject. Please I´ll appreciate a lot if you help me how to improve my furure HSE presentations, keeping me informed about the others comments about this so important subject. By the way, well done! Congratulations!
    Adiel P. Azevedo
    Safety Officer

  3. when967gap162 permalink

    Mr. Wayne, good day! I believe that your idea will helping me lot to improve my HSE presentation & I do exited to read and learn more how to be good Facilitation. Keep it up & more power…I’m Cythe Brinas – HSE Head

  4. Chris Ebrahim permalink

    Wayne, thank you for the enlightening and and very informative information.

  5. Wonderful article. However, I know it is really difficult to be HSE facilitator but this article is really helpful.
    Thanks Mr. Wayne.
    Good day!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Facilitation.- Safety Professional skill. » SESS USA
  2. Tips for Performance Management « Online Safety Courses

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