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PT Notes

Leadership Skills for PHA Facilitators - Examples of Managing Conflict

PT Notes is a series of topical technical notes on process safety provided periodically by Primatech for your benefit. Please feel free to provide feedback.

Resolving conflicts is a skill needed by all PHA facilitators. Here are two conflict situations with suggested approaches to resolve them.

  • A PHA team member who is an operator and is emotionally upset at the suggestion by another team member that operators may not follow procedures?

Facilitators may be tempted to avoid the conflict by claiming the suggestion is not credible for the company’s operators. While the operator may be happy with this resolution, the person making the suggestion likely will not be happy as their suggestion has been discredited, A winner and a loser have been created, which should be avoided.

A better approach would be first to reassure the operator that no one is suggesting that they personally would not follow procedures. The suggestion could then be re-framed as, “Are there any circumstances in which operators may not be able to follow established procedures? and “Have there been any occasions on which operators were unable to follow procedures.” This re-framing of the suggestion removes the implication that operators have been malfeasant and enables the operator to face the prospect that deviations from procedures may indeed be possible. The underlying reasons for not following procedures can then be identified and recommendations made to address them.  The matter was resolved with a collaborative approach.

  • A PHA team member who is the design engineer and does not want a certain suggested design improvement included as a recommendation in the study?

Given the push back by the design engineer, the suggestion may be withdrawn by the team member for the sake of team harmony in an accommodation resolution. In this case, a valuable process improvement may have been lost. Alternatively, a confrontation may develop between the design engineer and the team member, which sours their relationship and ability to work together.

A better approach would be to ask the design engineer to elaborate on why the recommendation should not be included. Once the underlying reasons are exposed, it may be possible to address them collaboratively, perhaps with some measure of compromise. For example, if the suggested design improvement was considered during design but dismissed on cost grounds, the facilitator could propose that it be included as a recommendation in the PHA but with the qualifier that its cost-benefit be addressed. This resolution may satisfy the design engineer as their concern is recognized in the recommendation.

The ability to address conflicts that occur in PHA teams is an important skill for PHA facilitators.

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