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How to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on July 10, 2020 at 3:33 PM

At its heart, safety isn’t about hard hats and equipment. It’s about solving organizational problems.

However, many safety professionals fall into the same trap. They think of problem-solving as a reactive process, solving problems that have already occurred. But truly effective safety programs are those that deal with problems proactively, addressing safety issues before they can pose a threat.

The first step to changing your approach is strengthening your problem-solving methods, applying critical thinking and creativity. Here’s how to rework your problem-solving methodology.

Identify the Problem

The first step in effective problem-solving seems obvious: identify the problem. Yet this is where many EHS professionals and their colleagues go astray.

Let’s say, for example, that your organization is having a lot of issues with head injuries in the last few months. At first blush, this seems like the problem.

In reality, it’s a symptom of the underlying issue.

For example, are your workers wearing protective helmets? Are they wearing the right type of PPE? Are they working safely around others to protect their heads? Are they careless with their safety gear and work methods?

As you can see, correct identification of the underlying issue demands analytical skills. You have to be willing to go deeper than the obvious in order to address the real problem.

Understand Everyone’s Interests

Identifying the problem also involves an analysis of everyone’s interests, which is usually missing in the problem-solving process.

Safety problems do not exist in a void. The factors that bring them about are based in your organization, and the best safety response for the situation depends on your organizational needs and interests.

For example, management may resist a certain approach due to budget constraints, while workers may resist a different approach due to efficiency concerns or time constraints. The best solutions are those that address everyone’s interests.

To identify conflicting interests, the best approach is to ask. Get all involved stakeholders in a meeting to get all concerns out in the open.

Creative Techniques to Generate Solutions

Once you know the underlying issues and competing interests, you can start using creative techniques to generate solutions and evaluate their efficacy.

The best approach is to keep your communication channels clear and focused. For example, you should separate the ideation and evaluation process. Otherwise, you may overlook critical issues in favor of the first appealing option.

You should also try to keep conversations open, encouraging discussion and non-judgment. The most basic tenet of improv comedy is, “Never say no,” as this shuts down the flow of the conversation. So do other negating words that halt a train of thought, like “but”. Instead, use “Yes, and…” to add on the previous idea.

Strengthening Your Skills as a Professional

The safety professional is a perennial student. If you are truly committed to solving safety problems in your organization, you have to be willing to think outside the box and always consider a new approach.

On the ground, that means dedicating yourself to an ongoing self-improvement process.

Fortunately, this process is easier if you have the right tools. That’s where we come in. Be sure to check out our blog for more great posts on bolstering your skills as a professional, like this post on improving your communication skills.

Topics: Safety Management, Professional Development

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