Foundations for Leading a Safety Culture. Where to Begin? (Part 2)

Foundations for Leading a Safety Culture. Where to Begin? (Part 2)Building a sustainable safety culture requires more than just an organizational infrastructure that supports the culture. On a personal level it starts with how willing we are to lead that culture.

Last issue we suggest three ways to get started doing that.  They included things like accepting leadership responsibility for the safety of others, improving the quality of our safety talks, and building safety into every conversation. This issue we’ll take a look at three more ways to begin leading a safety culture.

Tie safety to their core values

I’ll go out on a limb here with a blanket statement: No one in the history of mankind has ever been inspired to be safe on the job because it was policy. There, I said it. And yet when we observe someone engaged in an unsafe behavior, our first instinct is to remind them of the policy: SBI-coach-article-ad

“John, I just saw you working over here without your safety glasses on. I just want to remind you that our policy is to wear safety glasses at all times.”

Or, if we’re not doing that, then we do something along the lines of appealing to what we want to see or don’t want to see:

“John, I just saw you working over here without your safety glasses on. I would really hate to see you get an eye injury out here, so please do me a favor and keep those on at all times.”

10-things-sl-stylesPeople respond best to the things that are personally important to them. And as important as things like safety policies and your own safety concern might be for enforcing compliance, they are usually not elevated to “motivator” status in the minds of your employees.  Providing internal motivation to be safe on the job is best accomplished by discovering what’s important to them personally (their core values), and then tying that to their own personal safety.

Usually, that core-value set includes their relationships with people — in particular, their families, their friends, their spouses, their kids, their grand-kids. What employees won’t do for the sake of policy; what they won’t do because you don’t want to see them get hurt; what they won’t even do for themselves — they’ll do for their core values.

Engage employees and build relationships of trust

The previous point should immediately reveal the importance of this second point. One thing leadership and culture have in common is that they are both about people. We can’t lead a safety culture effectively if we’re not building relationships with the people who either report to us directly, or with whom we have some degree of influence.  If they don’t trust us, they’re not likely to be transparent with us about their own safety concerns, nor about what drives them personally and what their core values are.

Join Us at OSC-16 in Columbus Ohio!Building relationships of trust requires that we be transparent and authentic with them. We can’t expect those behaviors from them unless they first see it in us.  It requires talking with them (not to them), engaging them in two-way conversation on a regular and frequent basis, soliciting their opinions on how we are doing as leaders, and taking action based on that input. Once we’ve establish that trust, they will begin to open up and reveal their core vales and what drives them to be safe on the job. That in turn provides a basis for us to appeal to those core values (instead of policy or what’s important to us) if and when we see them engaged in an unsafe behavior.

Coach safety behaviors based on trust and core values

If they’ve come to trust us as leaders and value the relationship we’ve built with them, then they’ll be more likely to take it to heart when we coach them on safety.  And if through that relationship-building we’ve discovered what their core values are (what drives them in life), that gives us an greater opportunity to appeal to those core values as an internal motivator to be safe on the job even when no one is watching:

“Guys, as you know there’s a significant potential for hazards on this job today. All of us have kids or grand-kids at home who count on us to get back home to them in one piece. Let’s keep them in mind and not let them down today.” 
fctc-online-bannerIf we’ve built a relationship of trust with them, and we’ve discovered what (or rather who) their cores values are, then it’s not out of line to appeal to those core values to drive their behaviors on the job. Even if we don’t know them that well (say, in the case of a contractor crew), you can still appeal to your own core values and let them make that connection to theirs: BLR

“Guys, as you know there’s a significant potential for hazards on this job today. Personally, I’ve got kids at home who are counting on me getting back to them at the end of the day, and I don’t plan on letting them down. I don’t know about your personal situations, but maybe you’ve got a family waiting at home for you, too. Let’s keep them in mind today as we’re making decisions that might put us at risk.”

Taking the opportunity to build trust with them and to discover what drives them personally allows us as leaders to help them connect the dots between their core values and their personal safety. That in turn gives them the greatest possible motivation to be safe on the job.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS Newsletter. Until next time.

~ES


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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.

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