Social Sensemaking

A Reflective Journal; how we make sense of risk

Author: Robert Sams

Human beings have long been fascinated with the question of ‘why we do what we do?’. For some, the desire to understand this becomes a lifelong quest. For us, it was a fascination with this question that lead me to commence a ‘learning adventure’ to better understand people and risk. It is our reflection of this adventure that is shared in this book. That is, how we make sense of risk through a means that that we’ve coined Social Sensemaking©.

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What is the Book About?

After a lifetime of working in Risk and Human Resources, the Contributors to this book take time out to reflect on these fields. They ponder why there is such a fixation on control and power; this ultimately restricts people’s thinking, autonomy and hence motivation and innovation. It seems that the seduction to want to reign in and control people, is difficult to resist in many organisations.

This book, and the idea itself of Social Sensemaking©, was born from a search for a more humanistic approach and methodology to supporting people to deal with risk. That is because in order to make sense of risk, we need to commune and converse with others; it is a social activity.

The book is written in the form of a ‘reflective journal’; it is not a text or a report on formal research. Instead, it is a collaboration of stories and experiences in how we make sense of decisions and judgments; particularly about risk. It questions the traditional controlling and dictating methods that can be too easily adopted by the Risk and HR fields, and offers ideas that are more ‘humanising’.

We invite you to join in the ‘learning adventure’ shared in the book.

What are People Saying About the Book?

“My unlearning safety journey has definitely been a highlight of my career and I thank Rob for guiding me, inspiring me and listening to me. I appreciate our friendship.

I am delighted to write this Forward to Rob’s first book, we have become great mates, and this is even more special as we rarely see each other, but instead share mutual admiration, thinking and reflections. I commend this book to you and wish you well in your own ‘Social Sensemaking’.”

“I love the idea of a reflective journal; this fits so well with both Rob’s style and the intention of the book in being one that inspires people on their own ‘adventure’ as Rob calls it.

I have learned that life and people can be challenging to understand; as Rob says, we are grey, messy and at times perplexing creatures, and our decisions and responses are layered and complex and nuanced.  It can be hard to make sense of things. That is where this book provides some great insights.

This is a book for anyone interested in learning more about people, about why we do what we do and how we make sense of things – or even whether we need to. I feel most privileged that much of what is written in this book I have experienced firsthand. I have gone on my own journey as a result of my many discussions with Rob, and I look forward to future travels.”

“Social Sensemaking fills a critical gap in the risk and safety professions in that it provides a different, more humanistic perspective on how to deal with people, our most precious resource. Rob does a great job balancing very technical, sometimes sensitive topics, but in a way that is approachable and practical. These ideas are powerful and have great potential to make positive change in any organization.”

Book Review by James E. Leemann Ph.D.

Robert (Rob) Sams’ recent book, Social Sensemaking – A Reflective Journal; how we make sense of risk, provides new safety and risk thinking when it comes to considering risk in the context of individuals’ behaviors. Sams characterizes his personal experience with safety as a learning adventure as opposed to a safety journey.  Adventure depicts the “messiness” of life’s ups and downs and the good times and bad, something that is full of risks, uncertainty, and fun. Journeys are often mapped out and programmed, which is far from our daily safety life. Adventure is an apt description for the world of safety, today.

Sams use of the term Social Sensemaking literally means making sense of things in a social context. Since so much of what we do comes from our non-conscious decision making mind, seeking ideas, feelings, and thoughts from others is critical in our discernment of risk. Making sense of others requires us to be aware of our own agendas in order to be open-minded to new ideas and thinking.

Anti-humanizing approaches

Sams draws upon social psychology and its methods to explore a more humanizing approach to understanding and dealing with risk. Too often we rely on what Sams calls obedience to rule focusing on correcting behavior and implementing more behavioral controls. This obedience to rule (i.e., non-thinking) seduction is typically manifested in such documents as Golden Rules, Company Rules, Cardinal Rules, Life-Saving Rules, etc.  According to Sams, humans are not motivated by these anti-humanizing approaches, rather, we are motivated by “truth, value and control” and autonomy support. Safety professionals have been fixated on answers and solutions (e.g., root cause and cause and effect) and not people.

Controversial as this may seem, Sams advocates “influencing others to better consider risk for themselves, rather than managing it on their behalf (through the strict application of process for example).” He suggests this can be accomplished by “creating greater space for thinking and reflecting, and resisting the urge to “dumb down” how people think in our organizations and in society.”

The key to Sams’ approach is to tap into the unconscious mind of workers to better understand how they make decisions regarding risks. Test yourself by wandering around your work site looking for things that might play on your unconscious mind. For example, ask yourself how the words used in signage, the color of walls, the location of work stations and offices impact your unconscious mind.

Read the full Review first published HERE

Explaining The Decision Tree Semiotic

Many of Contributors to this book have completed Post-Graduate studies in the Social Psychology of Risk, under the guidance of Dr. Rob Long. While others have come through our network of friends from across the world. A short outline of each of the Contributors is outlined below.

Graduation Day – 13 May 2016

The Wayside Chapel (Sydney, Australia)

In this photo (from left to right); Dave Whitefield, Max Geyer, Rob Sams, Gab Carlton, Dr. Rob Long, Rod Esdaile, Scott McArthur, Hayden Collins

Missing, but not forgotten on the day – James Ellis!

Rob Sams

Rob is Dad to Laura and husband to De (see below).

At work, Rob has 20+ years experience working with organisations in the fields of risk, safety, human resources and organisational culture. Rob has a particular interest in mental health, hence his long association with Lifeline in the Hunter & Central Coast (NSW) where he was a Director on the Board from 2012-2017 and at the time of writing is seconded into the operational role of Regional Manager.

Rob now holds formal qualifications in Occupational Health and Safety (B.OHS), Social Psychology and Risk (Grad Dip.) as well as Coaching, Training and Leadership. Rob is a certified Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) facilitator.

Max Geyer

Sadly Max passed away in early August 2017. A tribute to Max can be read here ( In addition to authoring a number of Chapters in the book, we are forever grateful for Max’s specialist skills in editing the book.

Max was married to Sylvia and a proud Dad to his inspiring daughters as well as a wonderful role model as ‘Grampy’ to his 5 gorgeous grandkids, who he affectionately refers to as his ‘vitamins’ of life’.

At work, Max specialised in supporting leaders and teams to become ‘Risk Savvy’.  Max had a Graduate Diploma in Social Psychology of Risk along with Post Graduate qualifications in Human Resource Management..

Gabrielle (Gab) Carlton

Gab is a super proud, and fantastic Mum, to two cheeky and clever boys, Toby and Archie, and a special partner to Mish. Our friendship with Gab and her special family mean a lot to us.

At work, Gab is the owner of Resilyence. A keen student of Social Psychology, (she has completed the Graduate Diploma in Social Psychology of Risk) and has under graduate qualifications in OHS. Gab has a curious nature, constantly searching for ideas and answers to life’s many challenging questions.

Gab has a wealth of experience working across corporations and businesses such as Electrical Generation and Distribution, Aged Care and Disability, Large Residential Facilities, Property Management, Manufacturing, Construction, Rail, as well as Commonwealth and State Government.

You can learn more about Gab’s work at and she can be contacted at

Dave Collins

Dave is the Partner of Sharyn and extremely proud Dad of Bryce who is a talented baseball player currently playing in the US and his youngest Ryan who is currently in his final year of High School.

Dave has been running the blog site since 2009. A turning point Dave’s life, and the blog, was when his dear friend, the late George Robotham, started writing as a guest author in 2011. George had a long career in safety and his work and writings were practical, to the point, with no ‘BS’; George told it the way he saw it. Sadly, George passed away suddenly in 2013; that was a sad day for Dave, however he is grateful that George’s legacy lives on. We dedicate this book in memory of George’s passion, energy and thoughts.

You can learn more about Dave at and he can be contacted at

Hayden Collins

Hayden is the husband of Liv and has been a close friend for a number of years now. Hayden and I regularly share deep and fascinating discussions, and he also progresses my thinking which I can’t thank him enough for.

Hayden has a passion and real talent for Social Psychology and Critical Theory; in particular, understanding how culture, objects, symbols and language affect how we feel, and how we make decisions and judgments. Hayden has formal University Qualifications in Occupational Health and Safety as well as a Post-Graduate Diploma in the Social Psychology of Risk.

Hayden has worked in a range of industries including recently in manufacturing and construction. Hayden is a deep thinker and keen student of philosophy. Hayden’s ability to tackle complex and challenging topics and translate them into understandable ideas, and practical undertakings is a key strength.

You can learn more about Hayden at and he can be contacted at

James Ellis

James is the proud Dad of Sam, Hayden and Jake, plus proud ‘house host’ to a small number of other people who James supports.

At work, James is the founder of Framework Group. He is a physiotherapist with 20+ years experience in helping organisations to understand injury prevention and management. Framework’s challenge is to help their clients to humanise injury management within a system that typically dis-empowers employers and injured workers.

James is studying Social Psychology (having completed the Graduate Certificate in the Social Psychology of Risk) and is enthusiastic about sharing and eliciting ideas with his clients, team and strategic partners.

You can learn more about James at and he can be contacted at

Dave Whitefield

Dave is the husband of Kathy and Dad to the very talented Emma and Luke. Dave is someone that I reckon most people would find hard not to like. He is engaging, intelligent and a bloke who cares immensely about others.

At work, Dave specialises in human focused safety, helping organisations understand and improve workplace culture, safety leadership, and employee engagement. His qualifications and experience in psychology, leadership, and safety are brought together to help clients understand and improve their approach to managing people and risk in the workplace. Dave has over 20 years’ experience within the safety field, supporting a wide variety of businesses as either an internal safety manager or external partner.

Dave’s qualifications include a Post-Graduate Diploma in the Social Psychology of Risk.

You can learn more about Dave at and he can be contacted at

Scott McArthur

Scott is the husband of Anita and great mate to his dogs, Barney and Cleo. While Scott is quietly spoken and a man of relatively few words, when he does speak he makes much sense and is such a considered bloke. His contribution in sharing his personal story in this book is greatly appreciated.

Scott McArthur has a story to tell; a story of a man from humble working class beginning who recently completed his first post-graduate studies.

At work, Scott has a special way of engaging and influencing ‘the lads’. His unique ability to take the theory of the Social Psychology of Risk and apply it in the field with the minimal of fuss is a real talent. It’s clear when you walk into Scott’s workplace that the people there respect his for his ‘realness’ and down to earth nature. His ability to connect with people is what stands him out from the rest.

Scott’s qualifications include a Post-Graduate Diploma in the Social Psychology of Risk.

Scott can be contacted at

Deanne (De) Sullivan

De and Rob have known each other since 2008. After working together and forming a strong friendship, on 28 September 2014, De and Rob married in the quiet NSW Coastal town of Corlette. They live and work in the Hunter Valley in NSW.

De is a lover of abstract art, geology and learning. In 2015 De completed a Diploma in Positive Psychology and at the time of writing, is completing her Diploma in Counselling. De also has a Diploma of Business and Diploma of Human Resources.

De is passionate in her support of others and community, volunteering her time as Mentor with women who have been victims of domestic violence. De has worked in various organisational development roles across many sectors including Retail and Distribution, Banking and Membership associations.

De’s work is currently in HR Management in the local government sector.

Ron Gantt

Ron lives in Alamo, California, in the United States, with his lovely wife Catherine and his four crazy dogs. He loves whiskey (which always tastes better when drinking with friends), music and good stories (whether they be in conversations with others, books, movies or television).

At work Ron is the Vice President at SCM (, a family business started by his father. Ron has worked there for about 15 years, conducting training and consulting with organizations regarding occupational safety and health. He looks for opportunities to change people’s perspectives on safety management, from seeing workers as merely a problem to control to being the solution to harness. This involves moving beyond a compliance, blame-centered focus to enhancing workers’ ability to be successful.

Ron can be contacted at

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