Leading safety by actions, not intentions

Do your leaders (from the Board Room to front-line supervisors) act in ways that encourage initiatives and actions, that support the pursuit of your safety ambitions?

Most organizations today invest time and effort in creating and then openly sharing their safety ambitions with colleagues, clients and the public. These are typically expressed in terms of vision, values, behaviors and goals, such as:

  • ‘our safety vision’ (example: “No job is worth getting hurt for.”)
  • ‘our values’ (example: “We are all accountable for our colleagues’ safety.”)
  • ‘our safety behaviors’ (example: “I approach others about working safely…. / I speak up about safety.”)
  • ‘our safety goals’ (example: “We will reduce our incident rate by 75% in the next 3 years.”)

With well-resourced HSE departments at the corporate center, in the regions and on site, it is encouraging to see that an injury and incident free work place, plus the reduction of risk, are at the top of many organizations’ agendas. So where does it go wrong? Why do injuries and incident continue to occur with such alarming and unacceptable frequency? Of course there are many parts to the safety jigsaw puzzle, but one of the most important factors, is safety leadership. How engaged are your senior team members, middle managers and front-line supervisors in their pursuit for safety excellence? Are they satisfied that exposure is under control thanks to an active HSE department and key safety processes, or do they continue to play their part, ensuring that colleagues in operations and maintenance take the lead when it comes to safety?

‘What is said’ and ‘what is done’
Everyone has the ability to influence and control the climate around them. By behaving in a fair, consistent and transparent way, leaders can set a positive climate, where engagement, collaboration and speaking up (about safety) are all valued. The opposite is also true. If colleagues do not hear their leaders speaking about safety in a positive and proactive way, then they will question their commitment. Similarly, if they witness their bosses act in ways that contradict the company’s stated safety ambitions, values and goals, then they will see the disconnect between ‘what is said’ and ‘what is done’. Simply put, leaders are measured by their actions, not their intent.

There is a direct link between these desirable characteristics of an organizational culture and improved performance in safety, production and quality.

  • We do not measure leaders by what they say. We measure them by what they do.
  • We judge leaders on their actions and behaviors (their observable acts).
  • Cultural change takes time, but it is easy to quickly change the “climate” in an organization, a shift, a team or indeed a meeting.

At iB&X we enable manufacturing organizations to have key HSE processes support them in reaching their goals in both safety and production performance. The starting point is always to work with a senior sponsorship team, to ensure alignment and connection to the company’s safety mission. Without this alignment and subsequent setting of expectations, it is impossible to help colleagues see how important changes to their approach to safety, will benefit them in the short, medium and long-term. The next important step is to ensure that managers and supervisors are part of the solution development, to ensure that they understand their role and how they can engage others. This approach is proven to be sustainable, leading to improved safety and quality outcomes, together with considerable cost savings through efficiencies and standardization.