John C. Maxwell said, “a good leader is one who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” When it comes to safety, our role as leaders is an incredibly important one. We are looked upon as an example, depended upon to build the balance between safety rules and realistic ways of working, and relied upon to facilitate a safe working environment for everyone. Ultimately, we need to be engaging in and maintaining behaviours that help others to achieve the safety goals of the organisation. We have the power to influence the attitudes and behaviours of others, and it is this ability that can help us to drive workplace safety.
Why does Safety Leadership Matter?
Safety Leadership should not be confused with safety management, as it is more than just managing one’s own safety responsibilities. A true safety leader also motivates his or her colleagues to strive for the highest safety outcomes at the lowest risk exposure.
Remember, leadership is a action by which an individual exerts influence over others, by setting an example of appropriate behaviour to realise shared goals and effect positive change.
As leadership is the key driver of company culture (the culmination of attitudes and behaviours in our workplace), it drives the success of health and safety initiatives. As leaders, our attitudes and beliefs about health and safety send a powerful message to those we work with.
So, what do ‘Great’ Safety Leaders Need to do to Influence Safety Culture?
It may seem obvious, but many leaders aren’t aware of their pivotal role in developing a safety culture. Understanding the relationship and between safety leadership and safety management is where a change in culture begins, however the following actions are vital:
- Demonstrate a visible safety commitment
A genuine commitment to safety is critical to driving a positive safety culture, followed in turn by the right safety behaviours and results. The genuine nature of this commitment should be demonstrated in behaviour and must be exemplified by leaders at all levels.
- Consult, communicate and collaborate
The importance of meaningful relationships with team members should not be underestimated. In my experience, positive safety cultures are created when leaders are trusted and respected by their teams. Positive safety cultures also tend to be propped up by empowering and participative safety leadership styles, where safety leaders establish the ‘rules’, but still grant their team the autonomy to discover the path to desired outcomes.
- Remove barriers to reporting
This includes clarifying the conditions that trigger reporting, and formalising reports for the benefit of learning and improvement. Great safety leaders will provide timely feedback and action on reported incidents, showing the importance of employees’ reporting inputs. They ensure there are no negative repercussions for reporting and that feedback loops exist and function effectively.
- Proactively manage organisational change
Effective communication to articulate the reasons for change while providing opportunities for employees to contribute to how the change is implemented, is important. This bottom-up, consultative approach ensures open dialogue between the workforce and senior leaders, while promoting trust as the same time.
What Actions Can We Take to Drive Change in the future?
Changing safety culture isn’t something that happens overnight. We need to continually work to drive change and make workplace safety a priority. It is the way we behave and the attitudes we project that will make a difference, as we can only influence safety culture by showing we believe in it.
In an ideal world, everyone would do the right thing all the time, and workplace accidents would simply not occur. Unfortunately, this is probably an unrealistic goal. However, by building a strong positive safety culture, we can continue to reduce the number of safety incidents that occur. Driving workplace safety needs to be a continual process, driven by strong safety leadership if we are to see effective change.