All staff are responsible for safety. But lifeguards are, in many cases, the only staff whose sole responsibility it is to keep people safe. Creating a culture where lifeguards feel empowered is one of the most effective and direct ways to improve member safety.
Imagine a lifeguard observes a child who is bobbing up and down in the water. Nobody else nearby is responding—including the child’s parents—so the guard assumes that nothing is wrong. The guard’s insecurity and fear of a ‘false alarm’ becomes a barrier to action, and a child drowns as a result.
Unfortunately, at Redwoods, we hear too many scenarios like this one. Here are ways you can ensure that your guards are confident in their roles:
Create a Vision of Empowerment
A lifeguard who helps to define what empowerment means for an organization will take ownership in making that vision a reality. So include your lifeguards in the process of shaping your organization’s vision of empowerment.
In-service trainings and employee meetings are a great way to deliver your vision of empowerment—please take a look at this sample in-service training plan focused on empowerment. You can also send out periodic emails highlighting the contributions of your team, or give them access to training videos like The Power of One. Regardless of the method used, be sure to:
- Discuss empowerment and reinforce your team’s right to assert appropriate control over the pool area.
- Role-play difficult scenarios and practice communicating safety expectations to members.
- Foster connections and create an environment where guards encourage and empower one another.
Delegating additional responsibilities—beyond directly guarding the water—leads to strong engagement, and strong engagement can lead to a stronger sense of empowerment. Additional responsibilities could include:
- Having lifeguards lead portions of in-service trainings
- Asking guards to help facilitate emergency action plan drills
- Requiring guards to quick-check one another
Provide Leadership Support
Fully supporting your lifeguards requires more than leadership simply delivering occasional words of affirmation. Proper training, leadership participation in team-building activities and an open-door policy are all great ways to let your guards know that you are in their corner. And, because lifeguarding can require some difficult decision-making, it’s important for guards to understand that leadership will back up their decisions—including responding appropriately, and discretely, in the event they make a bad decision. (This includes providing any remedial training or corrective support for the future.)
Give Frequent Feedback
Empowerment builds over time. Consistent feedback is one of the best ways to make sure your lifeguards feel and remain empowered and valued. The purpose of feedback is to recognize empowered behavior and to pin point where further skill-development is needed. Hold group discussions, and ask questions like:
- Do you currently feel empowered to take action at our organization? Why or why not?
- What will encourage you to take action more often?
- What are factors at our organization that discourage you from taking action?
Lifeguards are important stakeholders, and they can give valuable insight into the mechanics of your organization. Be sure to take their responses seriously, and try to work with them to develop effective solutions.
Test Lifeguard Empowerment
Drop drills are a powerful tool for testing many aspects of lifeguard effectiveness, including empowerment. An empowered guard will be ready to respond at the first sign that something is potentially wrong—not wait until they have confirmed that it’s a genuine emergency. By implementing regular, well-designed drop drills, you’ll be able to identify guards who are hesitant to perform a rescue in case it’s a false alarm.
Ultimately, empowered lifeguards are not a commodity, they are a necessity. Be certain that you are doing your part to honor, support and further their contributions to your aquatic community.