Apr 27, 2011
The A-list of safety leadership
In occupational health and safety management, it’s essential to have the “C” suite committed to making the corporation a safe place to work. Just saying that the senior management team (CEOs, CFOs, COOs and the rest of the C crowd) is committed to safety is much different than actually demonstrating that commitment.
If you want A-class safety performance and be a great leader in OH&S management you need to roll up your sleeves and go through safety’s A-list.
Tell everyone that you want safe production. Talk about it a lot. Every chance you get to talk about production and the expectation that you have, adds the expectation that your corporation’s work is done safely.
Ask for safety as a measured process result. When talking about process, add the word “safely” as a condition of the assignment. Asking, “What will it cost us to do this project safely?” is a great way to force the planning of a project to include safety as an outcome. “How long would this process take, done safely?” is another wonderful way to get your staff to think about safety when performing tasks. Then, when the project is complete, ensure that the details of how the job was done are part of your requirements for the final report — not just the injury stats, but how the job was actually done safely.
Demonstrate your interest in creating safety by doing things yourself. Poor leaders don’t do what they ask others to do. Great leaders use their own actions to demonstrate what is important to them. Attending a safety meeting or process review tells everyone loudly and clearly that it’s important to you. We’ve all been to group sessions where the “Grand Poobah” announces at the beginning of a meeting how important the meeting is — and then promptly leaves. You know how that feels when it’s done to you, so don’t do it to others. If safety is important to you as a leader then it has to be important enough to spend your time making it happen.
Providing the required resources also demonstrates your awareness of the fact that creating and maintaining a safety culture requires time and money. Allocating resources to meet safety tasks sends a very clear message.
Be available to provide answers and resources if required. Safety challenges require some expertise. Nothing is more frustrating than not having the right information to make good decisions. Good safety decisions often require engineering information or other sources of expertise (occupational hygienist, ergonomists, medical staff).
Measure the quantity and/or quality of safety-creating activities. Make it a formal part of what you measure as success. Ask how many meetings are being held, if they’re being measured for quality, or whether they feel they’re having productive meetings. What has happened as a result of the meetings that were held? How many safety problems have been resolved this week? These are all great questions and clearly communicate that the leader is interested in how well the OH&S management process is working. Don’t let the annual audit of the process be the only time that the OH&S management system is discussed. Keep safety as a regular discussion by constantly assessing the progress.
Celebrate the activity, not just the result. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. There is nothing worse than “trinket” safety. Adults don’t like this trickery; it looks and feels like a bribe. In fact, it will probably cause under-reporting.
Celebrate human effort: make it sincere, meaningful and, above all, make it THEIR celebration. Over-managing this will only cause you grief. Let the people who did the hard work tell you how they want to celebrate — then do that. Assess and see if it went as well as you would have liked it to go. If not, change it! Even better, have the people responsible change it. Passive OH&S management systems don’t work.
If you are a leader reading this article, I hope you take your desire to make your corporation a safe and healthy place to work beyond stated commitments. It’s going to take lots of efforts and actions to truly make your management staff and employees believe you’re serious about safe production.