Pay it ForwardA conversation with E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., Alumni Distinguished Professor, Center for Applied Behavior Systems, Virginia Tech, on Actively Caring For People – AC4P – the subject of a new book Scott will introduce at the National Safety Congress in Orlando, Oct. 22-24. It is also available at

What is the most important thing for ISHN’s readership of 71,000 safety professional to know and understand about your movement, Actively Caring For People - AC4P?

AC4P reflects the theme of each safety-related book I have written, and most of the ISHN articles I contributed each month for 19 consecutive years in a “Psychology of Safety” column.

Safety is all about AC4P or Actively Caring for People. The AC4P principles reflect the human dynamics needed to improve behavior and attitude in the workplace and beyond, for safety and beyond. More specifically, these AC4P principles cover: 1) How to deliver and receive behavior-based feedback, 2) How to design and administer a cost-effective behavior-based incentive/reward program, 3) How to enhance the five person states that determine one’s propensity to actively care. These person states are self-esteem, self-efficacy, choice, optimism, and belonging, and they relate to more than actively caring, including emotional intelligence and self-motivation, 4) How to increase self-motivation and the perception of empowerment for safety and beyond, and 5) How to increase the level of interpersonal trust needed in a culture so people are always willing to give and receive behavior-based feedback.

In a nutshell, people need the courage to offer behavior-based feedback, the humility to accept that feedback, and the integrity to adjust their behavior and their attitudes with regard to feedback relevant to improvement.

You have a book coming out on AC4P. This is very different from your past books. How so?

I have written a number of textbooks, but have been concerned these books are not read by the general public – the people who need the information to make a difference in their lives. Then, I teamed up with Bob Veazie to write two story books – realistic narratives that taught psychological science for safety and leadership. This was my attempt to reach the public with critical information about human dynamics for interpersonal improvement.

This book is different than my textbooks and recent narratives, but the mission is the same – reaching the public with principles and practical applications of psychology to improve safety, health, and well-being. The first four chapters present the basic principles and applications of psychological science to address the human dynamics of safety and well-being. The rest of the book includes applications of the AC4P principles as used by professionals in the field. 39 different individuals contributed to this book, showing how the AC4P principles have improved safety, security, or well-being in various situations. These authors also detail the positive consequences of their efforts, which in some cases impacted their entire lives.  

The most common critique I have received following a keynote address is that I did not provide real-world and practical applications of the principles I taught. In other words, the principles are appreciated but some individuals want to know exactly what to do with those principles. This new book handles that corrective feedback better than any book I have seen. Why? Because the chapters are written by people who have applied the AC4P principles, explaining exactly what they did and the beneficial consequences they experienced as a result.

Is AC4P a “culture” with its own values, beliefs, practices and systems or processes? Is it like a safety culture that safety professionals can implement in their workplaces?

The AC4P principles and applications are relevant to establishing a culture of people showing more empathy, trust, and compassion for each other. The result: People are more likely to help others, less likely to engage in interpersonal conflict, and more likely to offer supportive and corrective feedback with regard to other individuals’ behavior.

In other words, if the AC4P principles are followed as described in the first four chapters in this new book, safety professionals can initiate and sustain a culture of people demonstrating actively caring, which means they are more likely to lookout for the safety of others, and intervene appropriately on a daily basis.

What would you anticipate as major obstacles safety pros might have to overcome to instill an AC4P culture in their workplace?

Safety still comes across as a top-down, command-and-control process. And, the prevailing paradigms are avoidance rather than achievement, reactive rather than proactive, common-sense opinions rather than evidence-based intervention, fault-finding enforcement rather than fact-finding empowerment, accident investigation rather than injury analysis, searching for a root cause rather than contributing factors, a focus on extrinsic punishment rather than extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement, outcome focused rather than process focused attention and action, other-directed strategies rather than self-direction and self-motivation, and safety as a priority rather than a core value. All of the current paradigms in traditional safety can hold back the achievement of an AC4P culture.

In other words, traditional safety with the three “E-words” (Engineering, Education, and Enforcement) can be barriers to developing a self-motivated AC4P culture. Additional E-words will facilitate the achievement of an AC4P culture, including Emotion, Empowerment, Empathy, and Employee Engagement. The AC4P principles detailed in this new book can help the safety professional address each of these new E-words and thus progress to an AC4P culture.

What is the biggest benefit of doing so?

In an AC4P culture people look out for the safety, health, and well-being of each other every day. They know how to deliver behavior-based feedback so it is accepted and appreciated, and leads to improvements in behavior and attitude. An AC4P culture of compassion worldwide would lead to less conflict, interpersonal bullying and abuse. This is positive psychology in the best sense of the word, and if practiced will increase self-motivation and actively caring in order to bring the best out of people.