How to Build and Lead a Sustainable Safety Culture (Part 3)


Developing and Delivering Safety-Leadership Training

Rolling out a new safety program—especially when it entails a safety culture change—should never be done lightly or halfheartedly, because you always risk the danger of having it become the newest flavor of the month. And nothing puts an end to a culture change faster than a disorganized, non-committed, or haphazard approach. But, it also requires a sequence of steps (since we can’t roll the whole thing out at once), and we saw an overview of those steps in an earlier video blog in this series. The first of those steps is to develop and deliver safety-leadership training. The basic objectives for this training include:

* to impart a new way of thinking about safety as a values-based culture we lead rather than a compliance regulation we follow

* to establish and teach a new language around safety as a culture

* to impart some basic skills around leading that culture, communicating in that culture and coaching that culture.

The target audience should include all levels of leadership from operations, production and maintenance to EHS and safety committees to corporate leadership. As a general rule of thumb you’ll want to include a ratio of 80% field or asset leadership to 20% corporate leadership in each safety-leadership session you conduct. The reason for this is that it’s not a true culture initiative if only half of the organization is involved, if only half of the organization understands the concepts, and if only half of the organization speaks the new language. Field and asset leadership should certainly be the focus at the start of the program since that’s where most of the at-risk activities are done; but as the program progresses you’ll want to include the corporate side in this more and more.

What’s the best way of getting this off the ground? Start by holding a pilot or two of the safety-leadership workshop. You’ll want to work primarily with the executive leadership in the assets (operations, production, maintenance, engineering, etc.) to get their recommendations on who should be included in these pilots. But be sure to make it clear to them that your ideal target audience includes a mixture of all levels and forms of leadership—from asset directors to area managers to line supervisors to even leads and shift class leads for crafts and skills (lead operators, lead mechanics, lead techs, etc.). The executive leadership will likely want you to work with their direct reports to get the participants you need for the pilots, so collaborate and work with whomever you get.

The goal here is to get roughly 25-30 participants per session. Any more than that will prove to be too much to handle on your own and will impede your ability to build and coach skills during those sessions. But also keep in mind the 80/20 target ratio we already talked about. At least a handful of the participants—even in the pilots—should come from the corporate side so that you can begin creating a “buzz” about the program on both sides of the organization early in the process.

You’ll need to cover five major areas in the workshops:

1. Safety as a culture and a way of life
2. Communicating safety as a culture
3. Leading safety as a culture
4. Coaching safety engagements
5. Developing best practices for leading a safety culture

Address first and foremost Safety as a Culture: Everything we’ve discussed before about viewing safety as a core value comes into play here. Here you’ll want to create a vicarious experience for the participants to draw them in and to get them to reflect on what they really think and believe about safety, how they communicate safety, and how they currently lead safety in their areas. Remember the story I told in a previous video of the maintenance worker who was tragically killed on an offshore drilling platform. As I was relating that story, you were probably drawn in to it, and you may even have found yourself vicariously living through what you heard, feeling the pain, and envisioning the horror of what happened that day. And as I related the impact to the family members, to the parents who had to bury their son, to the young widow who is now without a husband to help her raise their sons, and to the two young boys who are now without a father to take care of them and provide for their needs, you may even have begun to think of your own family and what they would do in a similar situation if that had happened to you. In short, you may have begun making the application to yourself; and as a result, you probably didn’t need much convincing to view safety in a different way.

Well, that’s just what a vicarious experience does and is intended to do. To try to argue someone over to my point of view using facts, figures and statistics is ineffective because it’s mechanical and impersonal, and it never quite appeals to my inner being. I may now have the knowledge in my head, but it doesn’t reach my heart.

But if I relate a story or a personal experience, and I communicate it effectively, it draws the listener in and allows an opportunity for that person to begin making the application to his or her own life, to his or her own situation, to his or her own family and consequently to the things they value most in life. And once that happens, the dots are connected for them between safety and the core values they already hold, and they begin to think about safety in a different way; the light bulb comes on for them, and they have their aha! moment that safety is not a compliance regulation to follow, but as a culture to lead.

We’ll continue our thoughts on delivering the safety-leadership training in our next Vlog. In the meantime, please enjoy the associated video blog below; and be sure all your safety initiatives are built-in, not bolted on.

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About the Author

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.