Most elementary schools select a group of upper-grade students to participate as part of the Safety Patrol. These kids get to wear special vests and are charged with making sure the smaller kids get safely across the street near the school. They can quote all the traffic regulations verbatim and are shocked when some hooligan tries to violate the rules. Even as fifth-graders, they take their jobs quite seriously.
Most companies also have a grown-up version of the safety patrol officer. Sometimes it is actually an auditor or risk manager whose job it is to know all the rules and identify any potential problems. Sometimes it’s a self-appointed position. This is the person who is knowledgeable about every regulation and feels compelled to share his or her insight about the perils of straying from the beaten path. Sure, every office needs someone to help them avoid pitfalls and legal liability. But if the rules become the primary focus and innovation is constantly stifled, the perception among colleagues is quite different. People who take this route suffer from a professional blind spot I call Safety Patrol syndrome.
People with Safety Patrol syndrome are hyper-focused on the rules and the potential problems, which keeps them from seeing the big picture and envisioning the possible advantages of a fresh approach. Whatever the topic or venture, these folks warn about the dangers of breached protocol, unfiled documents, missed deadlines and bent rules. They think in terms of worst-case scenarios and feel it's their duty to share that perspective. Unless they are thoughtful about how they present their perspectives, they may develop a reputation as a big wet blanket, a giant dark cloud, raining down on every effort to be innovative or make progress.
You’ve probably already thought of the Safety Patrol volunteer in your company. Or perhaps you're the one sporting the vest.
If so, keep in mind that most new ventures involve creativity and some level of risk. Your career can't thrive if you are always seen as the person standing in the way of the company's next great opportunity. Here are a few things you can do to change your reputation as the Safety Patrol officer:
• Try couching your comments as “What if” statements instead of declaring doom on ideas or projects.
• Look for solutions to potential problems instead of focusing solely on the obstacles.
• Do a cost/benefit analysis related to complying with a specific rule. What's the benefit of ignoring the rule? What is the cost of mitigating the consequences? You might be surprised.
To learn more about Safety Patrol syndrome and many other professional hazards, I hope you'll read my new book: You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career. (www.amazon.com)