March 13, 2018
Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series on safety leadership.
Safety incidents are the result of organizational culture, and culture is heavily influenced by leadership behavior. So, to create a strong safety culture, we must address leadership behavior.
In 2012, Caterpillar Safety Services launched a comprehensive research effort to determine the most important characteristics of effective safety leadership. The team discerned four basic skills a leader must demonstrate with a high degree of competence that lead to safety excellence. The findings were statistically validated through rigorous data analysis.
To produce a safer workplace, leaders must drive accountability, create connectivity, demonstrate credible consciousness, and build trust. This article will address connectivity and credible consciousness.
Domain #2: Create Connectivity
Author John Maxwell states that “everyone communicates, but few actually connect.” Connectivity involves integrating safety into the business operation. When a leader creates connectivity, everyone on the team understands that an effective business operation requires safety. There is no separation between safety, operations, budgeting, quality, and customer service — they are all integrated into an effective business and must all be accomplished to a high degree of quality. Employees are involved in identifying and solving safety problems and in the creation and maintenance of a strong safety culture. Every team member is kept informed of all information needed to work safely and productively at all times.
Connectivity is important at all levels of the organization. Top management is visibly committed, middle management is actively involved, frontline leaders are performance focused, and employees are engaged and participate in the safety process.
There’s no question that people are much more apt to support what they help to create. Rather than dictating how safety should be managed, effective safety leaders involve their direct reports in setting goals, identifying problems, developing solutions, and in efforts to continuously improve the safety culture. The goal is full engagement by everyone in the safety process.
It may seem obvious, but accurate, up-to-date, and relevant information is critical for safety. Too often, leaders allow the business of the day to prevent them from being open and forthcoming with necessary information. Most often, it’s not an intentional omission, rather a result of managing multiple priorities simultaneously. The effective safety leader is diligent in keeping everyone informed, using whatever communication methods may be required. He realizes that sharing relevant safety information with others provides a strong foundation, enabling them to work safely every day.
The good thing about priorities is that they help you focus your attention on what’s most important at the moment. The bad thing about priorities is that they can change. If safety is only a priority, focus on it can change depending on the circumstances. Safety is always important, so making it a priority is not enough. Safety must become a value. A value, or principle, is something that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions. When safety is truly valued by the leader, it manifests itself in word and deed and is integrated into the way work gets done. It is at least an equal partner with production, quality, customer service, or finance. The effective safety leader explains the relevance of safety to the business operation, integrates safety into the business conversation, and explains the why behind the what.
Domain #3: Demonstrate Credible Consciousness
Credible safety consciousness is believable, reliable, and convincing awareness and understanding of what it takes to be safe. When a leader demonstrates credible safety consciousness, it is apparent to others that he understands the safety processes within the team, has the necessary information to make informed safety decisions, effectively appraises risks where they exist, internalizes safety concepts and applies them personally, and continually learns and grows in his ability to lead a culture of safety excellence.
Must every leader know everything there is to know about safety? Of course not, especially when it comes to technical safety knowledge. That expertise is provided by safety professionals. But every leader should have enough knowledge about the area(s) they oversee to be able to speak intelligently to direct reports about the safety issues relevant to them. And they must possess detailed knowledge and understanding about how to effectively manage safety so that everyone goes home safely every day.
Reasoning is the use of logical thought, and the principles of logic, in order to form a conclusion or judgment about something. It is the ability of the mind to think and understand things in a logical way, and uses the application of everyday knowledge, education, and thinking skills to analyze and evaluate information. The effective safety leader uses knowledge, education, and experience to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate information and situations to make decisions about safety that make logical sense to others. Strong reasoning ability is rooted in knowing oneself and the organization well and possessing the skill to gather information from all sides of an issue before making decisions. Some practical ways a leader demonstrates safety reasoning ability include insisting safety not be compromised when working under pressure, asking that procedures be updated when new risks are identified, adapting quickly to changes in safety policies and procedures, effectively addressing unsafe behaviors, and telling stories of how safety has become a personal value.
When a leader connects safety into the business operation and demonstrates credible safety consciousness, others begin to realize that safety is integral to business success and that their leader has emerged as one who makes business decisions with safety in mind.
The next article will explore the fourth domain of safety leadership — building trust.
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