As a safety leader, you have a strong commitment to safety. Scolding your bosses on social media for a lack of commitment to safety accomplishes nothing. It displays a lack of respect for your co-workers.
Safety folks are convinced that safety can’t improve without senior management’s support and commitment. They believe that the safety department isn’t able to bring the safety numbers down until senior management gets on board and increases their commitment to safety. That’s not true. A perceived lack of commitment to safety from senior management doesn’t make your job impossible. It’s just going to be a little harder but not impossible.
Senior management is responsible for ensuring the health of the forest. Front-line supervisors and safety personnel are responsible for ensuring the health of each tree. And if the trees are healthy, the forest is healthy. Your job at the front line is to ensure the health of each tree.
People who have strong values in safety don’t give up their values when there’s a push on for increased production. If they have strong values in safety, they won’t give them up and risk their lives. Those people are worthy of your respect as a supervisor or safety person. And it’s your job to make sure they adopt those strong safety values.
Supervisors and safety people, your job isn’t to criticize your senior managers for their lack of commitment. Your job is to develop your team and win in spite of senior management’s commitment to safety.
Another area where safety people lose the respect of employees when they utter “my job is to protect employees from harm.” That’s not the job at all. Your job is to put employees in a position to win more often. To be able to do that, you have to first gain the respect of the employees who are working with you. You have to accept that they are essentially good people wanting to do the right thing to ensure their own safety. They don’t need your protection. They need your guidance.
As a safety leader, you’re working with adults who have the ability to reason for themselves and to make their own decisions. Give them the tools they need to make great decisions in the field or on the shop floor. Give them the motivation to want to perform better. Help them engage in the choices they make. But don’t ever tell them that you’re there to protect them. That will make them feel inferior and that you feel they are better than they are. You will lose their respect by attaching a bunch of self-importance to the job.
In order for you as a supervisor or safety person to influence an employee, the employee must first buy-in to you. It's difficult to get buy-in to your advice and ideas if you haven’t first established mutual respect between you and the employee. It is hard for anyone to respect someone who talks down to them or hovers over them like a mother protecting her children. Employees don’t respect your title. They respect you, the person with the title. But only if you are worthy of respect.
People gladly take advice and guidance from people they respect. But, they dismiss the suggestions of people they don’t respect. So, if you want to be in a position to be able to influence and mentor the good people you work with, you have to get their respect first.
When one of the partners in a relationship talks down to the other, the relationship is doomed to fail. People need to feel valued. They need to feel that they matter. They need to feel important to the relationship, whether it’s a marriage or a work relationship.
You have to build trust between yourself and crew members. Where there is trust, there is respect. When there is respect, there is communication. Where there is communication, there is coaching and mentorship. And that’s when you can impart the good information that helps your people win more often.
It starts with your level of respect for the people you work with. Without respect, building a strong safety culture falls apart.