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What it takes to make work safer

Leaders shape their organization and its value for safety through their words, actions, and the decisions they make every day. Good safety performance depends on their consistent leadership. The difficulty is maintaining the focus to see all safety goals through to the end – especially when confronted with conflicting priorities and limited time. The points below highlight what it takes to be bellwethers of organizational safety improvement.

1. Having the Courage to Change will Inspire Others
People view their leaders as representatives of the company. What you do and say about safety directly impacts your team's performance. Modeling the right safety behaviors is essential, but you also need to show people what it takes to get better. Asking others about how you can improve your safety leadership is one way to show your commitment. Be open to feedback. Seek suggestions and support. Are the systems (formal and informal) you advocate, and the organizational or team culture you espouse, serving the needs of the members? Are you exhibiting an exposure focus and walking the talk that nothing trumps the importance of zero harm? Change doesn't happen overnight, but how you lead can inspire change in others.

2. Compassion is the Primary Motivator
In our experience what sets leaders good at safety apart from others is a deep sense of integrity and concern for the wellbeing of their employees. Conveying the importance of safety is more than just saying you want safety to improve or announcing a zero tolerance for injuries. Effective leaders reach inside and identify what safety really means to them. They are committed to safety because they believe it is the right thing to do. Developing the strength to lead safety in critical moments (and in all the other ones) comes from having a clear and unshakable personal commitment to protecting the people in your employ. In other words, to lead safety well, you first need to care about it.

3. Transformational Leadership Works Best
Leadership style has a profound impact on employee motivation around safety. We have seen time after time that leaders effective at influencing, engaging, inspiring, and challenging workers see the best results in the shortest amount of time. These four dimensions make up what is called transformational leadership – the management style ideally suited for bringing about lasting change in organizational behavior. How well the leader integrates these dimensions into his daily activities and practices has a direct bearing on the quality of the organization's safety culture.

4. It's the Little Things that Make the Difference
Every day leaders are given the opportunity to make a lasting impact on their team's safety performance. Written communications, budget meetings, and performance reviews are examples. But beyond these, there are key interactions that leaders need to get right because what you do (or don't do) sends a message about your personal value for safety. Engage employees and help them understand the why behind the expectations. Develop a clearer understanding of what they could have done differently and what's needed moving forward. Leaders who cease the moment compliment people wearing PPE, praise employees who raise safety concerns, and empower workers to improve their own safety.

5. Best Practices Provide a Framework for Success
We have all known, or know of, great leaders: those whose commitment, combined with excellence in leadership, has had an enormously positive influence on people and performance. If we understand what effective leaders do in concrete, behavioral terms, we can apply their successes to ourselves and hone the skills that deliver optimal results. Through our work with safety leaders across the world, we have found that the best safety leaders have vision, credibility with the employees, lead with action, are strong collaborators and communicators, are accountable, and routinely provide feedback and support.

6. Continuously Work to Improve
Taking on the mantle of safety leadership is about always seeking to improve. While leaders vary in their abilities and skills, capabilities can be learned and developed. But few can get there alone. A safety coach can be invaluable in guiding the individual leader's development. The goal of coaching is to help leaders understand how their behaviors affect employees, peers, and superiors and to influence their ability to meet personal and organizational goals. The coach's role is to support, suggest, and provide input. It is the leader's job to put that advice into action, to make the changes that will ensure success.

7. It takes Continuous Development
Many organizations provide training and require a host of certifications for people to advance to leadership positions. But is safety a valued part of the advancement process? Is the supervisor's safety record included in reviews and reward assessments? Making safety part of every leader's journey motivates them to be better at safety and signals the workforce your commitment to their wellbeing.

In Closing
Building an organization that sustains the highest level of safety performance starts with its leaders. By establishing a personal commitment to safety improvement and bringing a sense of urgency to the safety process, you tell workers that they matter and that the organization values them as human beings. Commitment to safety informs a leadership style that inspires and motivates people to get engaged and stay focused.


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