I was at a new client site two weeks ago in the upper Midwest, doing some training and coaching on Safety Leadership with a group of Supervisors and Managers. I was coaching a particular individual on his leadership behaviors related to safety, and we were just about to wrap up when he said something that really struck me. He said, “We’re still trying to change the culture around here. We had one bad plant manager here who set us back like 10 years in terms of safety in the short time he was here, and now we have to undo all the damage that he did.”
Wow. What a legacy to leave behind! This was not the first time I had heard about this particular (former) plant manager - it was clear that this individual had a low regard for safety and the facility’s safety performance declined sharply after he took over. Everyone there saw the clear effect that he had on safety.
This is a powerful testament to the impact that one leader can have on a company’s safety culture. And in our line of business, we see this happen all the time, in every industry. Leaders truly are the ones that set the tone for safety, define and perpetuate the culture, and reinforce what is acceptable in terms of exposure to risk. A great safety leader can make a big difference in safety, whether it’s a team lead or a CEO.
Sadly, many organizations have not realized this, or do not have the knowledge or the tools to identify and develop their safety leadership bench strength. Safety leadership is not just a fuzzy, feel-good concept. There is actually a science to it, and it is made up of specific, measureable components. While anyone can have the potential to lead safety well, it is very difficult to do so without knowing one’s own strengths, gaps, and tendencies as a leader and without knowing the specific traits, skills and behaviors that make a great safety leader. Research has now defined what these traits, skills, and behaviors are, and how they specifically drive key indicators like safety climate, safe work practices, and injury rates.
For the next few weeks, we will be doing a deep dive into this important topic in safety. We will share research, insights, theory, and stories about what it means to be a great Safety Leader, how it is best measured, how it impacts various aspects of safety and why it’s a critical factor to consider. So stay tuned to learn more!