How to Build and Lead a Sustainable Safety Culture (Part 6)

Developing Your “Leadership Presence”: Imagine someone addressing a group of people in a safety meeting, and the goal of that meeting is to persuade that group to change a way of thinking about safety culture and a way of behaving in safety situations. Now imagine the person who is speaking is obviously uncomfortable in front of people, constantly looking down at his notes, not making eye contact with anyone, his voice is weak and dispassionate, he rushes through the message, and he’s visibly relieved when it’s over. You may even have someone specific in mind as I describe this scenario. [content_protector password=”lead01″ identifier=”lead01″]

What’s the likelihood you’re going to be inspired by that message? That you’re going to take action based on that message? That you’re going to be persuaded to think differently based on that message? That anything at all will change based on that message? Obviously having a strong “leadership presence” is pretty important to the goal of spreading a safety culture. Here are some ways to develop a leadership presence:

Carry yourself with confidence. This is true of any situation you are in, but especially when speaking in front of people.

Project your voice. Voice projection is not a matter of making your voice louder—it’s a matter of making your voice stronger. Most people who are not used to speaking to a crowd make the mistake of targeting and making eye contact with those in the front of the crowd, and their voice strength tends to modulate to favor that first row of people. Target instead the back row. If you’re targeting the back row the strength of your voice will adjust almost automatically. If the back row can hear you, then everyone can hear you.

Make eye contact. Use your eyes to establish trust with your audience. If your eyes are gazing off into the distance, or fixated on your notes, it’ll be difficult to make that connection with your audience.

Use open, inviting body language. By using your hands and your arms to communicate you will look more confident.

Own the room. If there’s space to walk around, use it. Don’t allow yourself to be glued to one spot on the floor, or feel constrained to stand in one place. Moving around has the added benefit of allowing you to release some nervous energy when speaking to a group or a crowd.

Listen actively. Make it a two-way conversation. Ask them the kinds of questions that invite discussion; and when they respond, maintain eye contact and use affirming facial expressions, such as a smile and a nodding head.

Even outside the context of a meeting, there are several things you can do to enhance your leadership presence.

Build relationships of trust with people. That’s what this kind of culture change is all about.

Actively engage people in safety situations. Spend some time with them in their work environment, engage them in discussions about safety, and be sure you’re tying it back to what they value most in life.

Lead safety with confidence and passion. Don’t allow yourself to speak about safety in a complacent or cavalier way. Always let them see that safety is your core value and something you’re passionate about. If they see it in you, you’ll get your message across and they’ll begin adopting it for themselves.

That’s all for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. But be sure to view the corresponding video below.


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.