What About Your C Players? The ABCs of Safety Leadership

what about your c players?How do C players land the job they have in the first place?  Some people talk a good game to get in the organization and don’t lay all their cards on the table until they settle in.  Others came in with an A or B player attitude, but then become disengaged and fell to the ranks of the C player.  Still others may have been hired by hiring managers who are C players themselves.

However they got in, once they are in, the goal is always the same: move them to a B-player performance level, move them to another position where they can become a B player, or manage them out of the organization.  But unless they have violated a zero-tolerance policy, it’s generally no easy task to take the third action, even though that might be the most desirable action.

Some of the more common barriers to removing a C player include:

Emotional attachment:  If the C player is a personal friend of yours (or the hiring manager) you may be hesitant to manage them out of the organization.

Empathy:  When you manage someone out of the organization it always represents a loss of income for that person, and almost no one wants to be responsible for creating a financial hardship for another person.

Sense of loyalty:  If the C player has been with the company for a long time, and has become an institution of sorts in their own world, it’s often difficult to be the bad guy and let them go.  For instance, if Jim if he has brought the donuts every morning for the past 20 years, even if he is a C player, that practice eventually becomes an institution that’s difficult to overcome due to a sense of loyalty.

Belief they can be developed:  This is usually based on a hope against hope that the C player can in fact be developed.  If the C player CAN be developed and raised to the level of a B player, then do it.  If you’ve already attempted this–and in many cases, attempted it several times–then you’ll need to come to the hard realization that not all C players can be developed into B players.

from compliance to culture safety leadership workshops

Now, all of these barriers are counter-productive to building a safety-leadership culture.  They result in procrastination, rationalization, and ultimately inaction–and inaction is always the enemy of a high-performance safety leadership culture.  Because to the extent that C players are allowed to stay in their positions (or in the organization as a whole) it impacts the rest of your workforce. We’ll look at just what that impact is in our next issue.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS.  Until next time, be sure all your safety initiatives are built-in, not bolted on.


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Eric Svendsen

Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.


  1. I fail to see the revelance this subject matter has inregards to safety and the support of the safety program of our company. To combine safety with personell catagorizing and management is at best an excuse and very short sided. Get in touch with todays reality and quit labeling people like managers of the 80’s. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. In todays world if you aren’t smart enough to accomplish a thing without utilizing C players then get out because that’s where we’re at gentlemen. I want all A-players but it isn’t sustainable and they almost never stay. I know from personal experience. Sucessful supervisors and managers know how to make a team work regardless of the level of people. The ones crying for A players are going to be very lonely and not engaged. That’s my two cents.

    Stick to Safety topics please.

    • Hi Todd – First, thanks for your comment. We address a number of safety-leadership topics in our Recordable Insights vlog that deal with improving the overall safety culture of an organization. Some of the topics we address are more applicable at the practitioner/specialist level, others are more applicable to front-line supervisors, and others are more applicable to the organization’s EHS and Operational leadership (director level and above). Workforce management is one of those topics that applies more to leadership than practitioner, but it is nonetheless critical to the safety-culture development of an organization.

      Safety performance is directly tied to effective leadership and culture. Hence, our tagline: “performance through culture through leadership.” I agree, it’s not realistic to think any organization will have nothing but A players (A players will be few and far between in any case). Most employees will be B players, and that is no bad thing since they are strong performers.

      Where we disagree is in the value of labeling performance and in the viability of using C players. The ABC labeling we’re using is about the performance, not the person. You indicate labels are a bad thing, but every organization that uses a performance-management system and conducts annual performance reviews uses labels (HAS to use labels) to differentiate workforce performance (“Meets Expectations,” “Does Not Meet Expectations,” “Exceeds Expectations”–sometimes “Partially Meets Expectations” and “Far Exceeds Expectations”). And when an employee falls in the category of “partially meets” or “does not meet,” s/he is usually placed on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP), given a concrete timeline to raise performance levels (usually six months), and then reevaluated–at which time they are either retained, moved to a different position, or asked to leave the organization.

      No organization that is interested in attaining high performance levels (and safety performance is the most critical kind of performance) can do so with an undifferentiated workforce. Retaining C players who cannot be brought up to the level of a B is a patently bad idea for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they ipso facto place the rest of the workforce at risk with their behaviors and performance.

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