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Stereotypes Get a Bad Rap

High functioning safety environments that save lives, reduce costs and boost efficiency are built from strong teams of different personalities with styles that are more persuasive, easier and more pleasant to work with, and generally more effective in all areas.

Posted: June 28, 2013


Safety, as a profession, attracts it’s own rogue’s gallery of personalities: from the disciplined engineers of ergonomics to the scientists of Industrial Hygiene, to the rules and discipline lovers of the Human Resources representative turned safety cop, to the business pragmatists who manage safety like a business, to academics who are long on theory and short on application, to the lean thinkers and so on.

There is certainly room at the table for this wide variety of approaches, but is there a single personality style that best suits the safety function? Certainly not, but there are definitely some personalities who will find various aspects of the job more difficult and less fun while other personalities live for those exact same tasks.

Every job has its aggravations. As much as you might love one aspect of the job, you are likely to despise another. As I tell my nieces and nephews, “If it were fun they wouldn’t pay you to be there, they’d charge admission.” To some extent that’s true, but behavioral researchers have identified personality profiles that describe our likes and dislikes, what comes naturally to us and with what we struggle to complete.

There are four basic personality types — depending on the researcher or tool used to determine the style, the label will vary a bit — and while each personality style has its strengths and weaknesses, it is important to note that these are not some take-off on horoscopes.

Just because someone is most comfortable with one particular style, that person is still capable of successfully overcoming his own weaknesses through energy and discipline.

I find it useful to think of personality styles as fluid and indicative of how we are most comfortable dealing with the various situations and circumstances in which life thrusts us. Because these are merely manifestations of our preferences, they may change over time or become different as we assume different roles.

These people take charge and are comfortable making split-second decisions. This style thinks fast, act fast and are successful getting things done by riding herd over people, compelling them by shear force of will to complete their tasks and fulfill their obligations. Subtly and tact aren’t traits that this style values.

Directors are plain spoken and say exactly what’s on their mind, focusing on facts and logic, typically with little patience for people’s feelings. They value getting results over following the rules. For many, the only rules that matter are their rules.

Their weakness is a lack of sensitivity and a highly reactive nature.Directors may be so absorbed in the facts that they lose site of how people’s emotions can make them behave unpredictably. The compelling need to be the alpha dog (or at very least preserve his or her position in the pack) can interfere with the success of a director.

The safety professional that is most comfortable working in this style will be most successful in fast-paced workplaces in crisis mode. The Director won’t waste a lot of time in analysis, but will take charge and quickly spring into action.

Unfortunately, they tend to be a bit myopic and the quick fixes may have long-term unexpected consequences.

Also, the Director’s insistence that his or her solution is the only acceptable solution may turn off employees at all levels of manufacturing operations, who then ignore the orders that the Director so tactlessly barked and become either passively or actively aggressive in subverting the Director’s grandiose Machiavellian schemes.

The Director’s love of terse written communication will often rub people the wrong way and, often, his attempt to succinctly communicate a point may actually result in a lengthy email chain that, owing to misinterpretation and angry response, may actually subvert his credibility and effectiveness.

Ever met the person in an organization that doesn’t seem to do any actual work? Walking around talking to people, telling jokes, and swapping stories? You probably met a Persuader.

This style loves to talk because that’s how many of these people process information. They are all about relationships and rapidly developing good business contacts, strong friendships, and deep relationships. Persuaders believe that the rules were meant to be broken and are quickly bored with details.

  • Good job, Phil! An excellent summary of personality styles that any safety professional can use. I would add one more style: Combo. While most people may tend to be more of one style than another, when we can use the best of all styles I think our effectiveness can only be increased. You are right on target to suggest that the better we understand ourselves, the more effective we can be to those we serve. Keep up the good work, Phil!

  • Phil La Duke wrote:


    Most people have a combination of two styles usually along the same access, for example a directive persuasive, or an analytic sociable but rarely diametric opposites. Personality styles are also highly dependent on one’s role, so one might be a primarily a directive person at work, but an analytic as a spouse, and a persuasive as a parent. But it’s important to remember that we are all capable of doing all the things all of the styles can do, and we all act like each of the styles at some point. It’s all about preferences and what activities expend more of our energy than others.
    There is, as you point out, rare instances where people will have three dominate styles, or fall squarely in the middle, but these cases are fairly rare.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.


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