Involving the Back Office in the Safety Culture: What About Staff Managers?

Involving the Back Office in the Safety Culture: What About Staff Managers?In the previous articles of this series we looked at how to get back-office individual contributors better involved in the safety culture. There we saw the rational for doing so, as well as some suggested ways for doing it. But what about staff managers and other leaders in the back office of a plant or other type of production facility? How do we get them involved?

One way to do this (and I think the best way) is to include them in regularly scheduled plant walk-throughs and safety observations with the express goal of engaging floor employees. When staff managers and directors are expected to walk the floor once a week (or more frequently!) to engage floor employees in the safety culture, many benefits flow from that.  10-things-safety-culture-change-plan

First, staff managers who may not be very familiar with the daily operations of the plant will obtain a much more profound understanding of what the company actually does to make money. It’s one thing to have a conceptual knowledge of what that entails from the vantage point of the back-office. It’s quite another to see it in action. A better understanding of manufacturing or production processes leads to a greater “line of sight” of the end game for the company, which in turn leads to better decision making on the job.

Second, and more importantly for a safety culture, staff managers will get a much better sense about the risks of the job as they watch floor employees actually do their jobs, and as they engage employees and ask questions – especially of floor employees who have been on the job for a while and are none too shy about sharing those risks with those who don’t work in that environment!

Another New e-Book by safetyBUILT-IN!Third, managers who are on the floor on a regular basis have a prime opportunity to engage employees specifically about the safety culture itself. Where are we in terms of our safety culture? In your view where should we be? How are we as managers doing to promote safety at our plant? What could we be doing better? What are your greatest concerns about our safety culture? What are we doing well as leaders? Where do we need to improve as leaders?

Asking questions such as these is a great way to create a conversation about the safety culture with those who are most at risk. They are open-ended questions that invite elaboration. Many staff managers I’ve worked with in the past on this kind of initiative have expressed surprise over what they learned about employee perception when they did this. Not only did it allow them to act on those expressed concerns, but it also went a long way toward building relationships of trust that did not exist prior to the initiative. FCTC Online

That leads me to my fourth and final benefit: Namely, improved employee perception about the company and its leadership. Employees whom we surveyed after implementing this kind of effort expressed a noticeable difference in their perception of facility leadership. They went out of their way to tell us that they now felt management truly cared about them and seemed to want to be involved in their world.  Prior to that, their perception was that management was “distant,” “uninvolved” and “disconnected” to frontline employees. They perceived management wanted them to do things with the safety culture that they themselves were unwilling to be involved in. Simply getting staff managers actively involved and present on the floor seemed to change that thinking.

Where do we start and how do we best implement something like this? Stay tuned. That’ll be the topic of our next article. But that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES

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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