What Leaders Do to Develop People for a Stronger Safety Culture

Opportunity is Always Knocking (But Sometimes You Have to Move the Door!)One of the keys to growing a safety culture is to build levels of employee engagement. The reason for that is that the more engaged front-line employees are, the more ownership they assume for their work domain. And the more ownership they assume, the more they begin to lead safety as “owners” instead of following safety as “employees.”

One of the key drivers for building employee engagement is to provide your employees with opportunities for development and growth. Just to clarify, I’m not talking here about the normal HR-driven learning path that takes a level-I Operator to a level-II Operator. While that kind of development is necessary for promotions and pay increases it’s not the kind of development that builds levels of engagement. Another New e-Book by safetyBUILT-IN!

The type of development that builds engagement answers the question: “Do I as a front-line employee have an opportunity to develop in ways I want to develop?” This has to be about how they want to develop, not how organizational processes force them to develop. That means we have to discover what drives them. The only way to do that is to get to know them and build relationships of trust with them.

Incidentally, that introduces a second driver of engagement; namely, holding regularly scheduled, quality one-on-ones with your employees to provide opportunities for two-way feedback. If we as leaders are doing our due diligence in getting to know our employees, and we focus our discussions on where they see themselves in the company in, say, three years, it’ll soon become clear what drives them, what their natural talents are, and what skills they would like to develop.

Keep in mind during these discussions that they may be resistant to thinking in unconventional ways. Many employees feel stuck in their current position because they are thinking of their development in terms of vertical advancement: Operator I to Operator II to Senior Operator. Once they hit the ceiling of their classification, the next step up is supervisor. And since you (or someone else) already occupies that position, they perceive they’ve reached a dead-end in their development.

We need to help them think about development and advancement in a different way. Sometimes the way up entails a lateral move to a different (perhaps related) job classification. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Opportunity knocks but once.” But the truth is, opportunity is always knocking but sometimes you have to move the door. For instance, there may be more opportunities available as a Technician than as an Operator. If that’s the case, their individual development would include a learning path that qualifies them as a Technician.

FCTC OnlineIt’s up to us to figure that out (or, help them figure it out), and then to help them develop a path for attaining those skills. That might mean cross-training, it might mean job rotation, it might mean taking a training class (or a series of related classes), or it may entail a combination of these. If your company has a tuition-reimbursement program, that’s a good place to start.

The point is, go with whatever works and whatever best develops those skills. Then help them map out a path for that development, complete with milestones. The result will be more highly-engaged employees; ones who begin to think of themselves as owners rather than employees, and ones who will naturally begin leading safety in their area instead of merely complying with safety.

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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