I’d like to introduce this piece by thanking my peers. My peers are fellow EL’s, industry professionals. The reason I thank them is because (unknowingly) they assist me with difficult decision-making and safety management actions. They are my ‘judgement review team’. They are the people I respect. Most importantly, they might be the people who will measure me in an incident review or coronial inquiry if something goes wrong. They will be the people who decide if I acted in a professional manner, that due process was followed, that all reasonable steps to manage the situation were covered before, during and after and that I was accountable for my actions and decisions.
These are important people to know. I use the strategy of an imaginary peer review often. It helps me think more broadly than my own personal value-set and narrower ‘in the moment’ desires. It helps clear the fog surrounding some decisions and keeps me honest and professional. In a sense it is a ‘pre-mortem’ and lets me ‘preview’ a difficult decision or situation, the actions I will take BEFORE the guano hits the katabatic. It decision or situation, the actions I will take BEFORE the guano hits the katabatic. It aids professional growth in an industry where time and money are short and the real chances of trading stories, experiences and opinions with my ‘actual’ peer group are almost non-existent. I use this technique anytime I am faced with a situation that contains ambiguity: a tricky landing at Brown Bluff with fast moving shore ice, a decision to go on an excursion with winds exceeding the company recommendations, taking a ‘new’ route into a place I haven’t been before knowing crevasses are there, driving my zodiac into an area of tight or big ice (I have no doubt if you are reading this you have been there).
When other people’s safety is your job, but it is tied directly to ambiguity, you cannot be making decisions as a gamble. You have to be able to pre-answer questions and mitigate against what ‘might’ be asked by your peers in an incident review. If you are operating with simple gambles you are playing an odds game and you will lose eventually if you stay in the business. Get out while you are ahead.
Consider any recent close call or an historic incident you might have been involved with and ask yourself, “how would my decision making have been different had I seriously considered how my actions or reactions would have been viewed by my peer group in an open and honest discussion free of blaming culture and focused on growth?” It is remarkable how much clarity it lends and how it picks up the ‘little’ things.
For instance, I catch myself regularly for not wanting to load myself down in the field with sat phone, EPIRB, GPS and all the other technological aids that are ‘supposed’ to make us safer [see column II] – it’s my nature; I back myself to operate safely in the field managing things situationally. However, IF something were to go wrong, I was reviewed by my peers and I didn’t have that technology, I would most likely be considered remiss. My aim is to be as professional as possible so a remission, or judgement, from my peer review therefore trumps my own self-sufficiency value set. I suck it up and carry the stuff. Consider, especially, the times when you have made a call and in hindsight you realized it was luck and you got away with it (we all do it). Rather than reinforce the gambling strategy, you have a way to rationally review your decisions and actions and make change.
Or, consider when you backed out of something, a tricky landing with moving ice. for example. Some of your staff might be wondering why you backed out. Besides your own personal reasons, you can lend weight and education to a teaching moment of why you didn’t do something via a deeper review with your peers every time. You just need to find the room in your head to put them and use the vast experience that exists out there.
Enjoy the voices in your head. After 35 years of managing risk and teaching leadership, I have plenty!