In every job, regardless of position or title, there are people who are effective at the job. And there are people who may be qualified for the job, but not terribly effective.
Being qualified for the job doesn’t automatically guarantee that you’re going to be effective at it. You may have seniority, or your certification, or a love of safety. These don't guarantee that you'll be effective at the job.
The job of a safety person isn’t to be a hero or to save people’s lives. The biggest part of the job really is communication. Safety people and supervisors are supposed to influence, coach and mentor employees to make good decisions.
To become much more effective and make a bigger difference, understand that your people don’t need your protection. They need your guidance.
Safety has historically been kept at arm’s length from the rest of the organization. More often than not a department is organized and then they try to add safety rules to it. Safety is an afterthought. Safety needs to be the foundation on which all departments are built. Safety needs to be at the centre of the decisions we make.
What we’re doing now, enforcing rules and compliance isn’t working. People are still getting hurt. Because we’re talking AT people about work safety at work. We’re not talking WITH our people and their families about safety as a mindset and a way of life.
The good news is that a supervisor and crew can choose to set their bar higher and exceed the minimum safety standards. There is no law against exceeding the OH&S Code.
The first step is to stop viewing employees as replaceable cogs in a machine. Every crew member should be valued as a person first. People know when they aren’t being valued, and it reflects in their work and especially their attitudes.
When people feel appreciated and valued, they have reason to feel proud of their work. When they know that their employer stands by them and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure their safety, they’ll go the extra mile on the job.
People who feel appreciated have the tendency to want to stick around. Turnover and attrition drops. Loyalty to the employer rises. When people have loyalty, they have ownership – especially of the safety program.
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.
Safety Leader? What is that?
Let's start with what a safety leader is not. It's not a position, it's not a title. It's not a management position. It's not bestowed upon you because you passed a few safety courses or because you are a certified safety professional. And it's not something that you will ever be called.
Safety Leader is made up of two parts: safety and leader. Safety is an attitude. It's a way of life, a mindset, a philosophy and a set of personal values combined with how much you believe that you are of value. People who believe that they are worth something, that they make a valuable contribution or they have a purpose for living, want to protect that which they do and who they are. They will adopt a safety mindset to protect themselves against anything that would harm them or the people they care about. Oversimplified, but that is safety - the attitude.
Leader is the second part. It comes from leadership which is also an attitude. Management is a position. Leadership is an attitude. You don't have to be in management or in a position of authority in order to be a leader. Leadership isn't about you, it's about them. Everyone else outside of you. Good leaders are focused on building other leaders; people who can make a difference in the lives of others. So when you combine this outward focus with safety to form the phrase safety leader, you are speaking about people who believe in safety, believe they and others are worth protecting and caring for and will work alongside to offer mentorship and coaching to build best performances in safety.
Alright, so what are we going to do with this podcast and what can you expect to get out of each episode. First, I make a solemn promise to you to keep each of these episodes short. I vow to not take 10 minutes of solid information and cram it into a 60-minute podcast and then fill the rest with fluff and filler. No, I know you're busy and so I promise to not take up a ton of your time.
How did the Safety Leader Podcast come about? In talking with quite a few of my clients and connections on social media, I came to realize that many of my Blog readers worked on the road, in remote locations sometimes, from their mobile offices a lot and didn't have ten minutes to sit down and watch a video or read a few blog posts in succession. But you drive to work and you drive home from work. And sometimes you drive FOR work. It's those miles that can be made useful, where you can improve your skills as a supervisor or safety person to get better at helping others to be better at safety.
As a safety communications and management consultant, I’ve seen that when frontline supervisors buy into safety as one of their personal values, they better understand their role in keeping the workplace safe. The Safety Leader Podcast introduces the next level in safety. Workplace safety lies in the relationship between the frontline employee, the employee’s immediate supervisor, and the bond among the entire crew. Supervisors are uniquely positioned to bring workplace safety past compliance and across the threshold to where safety is personal. When trust and respect are the tools of frontline supervisors, their ability to personally influence frontline employees is deeply improved.
I believe that the battle in safety is at the front line, not the head office. All the certified safety officers, VPs, and safety managers in the world can’t have the impact on safety of a single supervisor or front-line safety person and a solid crew. A rules-based approach to management doesn’t have the reach of smart coaching and mentoring for ensuring safety. Quoting the rule book, finding fault, and barking orders isn’t leadership. It isn’t even good management.
Over the past few years, I began to see clearly was that the relationship between a frontline supervisor and a frontline employee is critical to the health and safety of an organization. It’s where the culture of an organization is made and reinforced. Organizations thrive at the level of teamwork, camaraderie, solid work ethic and values. A good supervisor will keep a team together, while a poor supervisor will turn over staff. We all know people who’ve left jobs because of a lousy boss, even at good companies.
Sadly, most frontline supervisors ascend to their positions by virtue of being the most senior guy on the job. A lot of these supervisors don’t have any particular management or supervisory skills, yet they’re the ones in charge on site. They’re the ones who are supposed to keep the team together, keep them motivated and focused, make the right decisions, keep their crews safe.
To get safety right, they need to be armed with more than just a rule book of procedures. No one wants a safety cop looking over their shoulder while they work. Supervisors need the personal skills to become centers of influence.
I commit to you to give you my best ideas, tips and strategies to help make your job easier and more effective. That's what the Safety Leader Podcast is all about. I look forward to spending time with you.