What About Your C Players? The ABCs of Safety Leadership

You’ve probably seen them.  In fact, how could you miss them?  They litter virtually every leadership seminar, website, boardroom and book you come across these days.  I’m referring to motivation posters with beautiful pictures intended to inspire, but with otherwise trite or cliche messages about some aspect of what’s required to achieve success. 

If you’ve never visited despair.com, then you’re way past due.  It lightheartedly pokes fun at the motivation posters and messages typically associated with leadership and workforce management.  It’s a great stress reliever to peruse some of the posters and other products available there.

The “Potential” poster in the article image (see above) humorously illustrates the dilemma of the C player–not everyone gets to be an A or B player in a high performance culture.  Humor aside, while the presence of a C player in an office environment is never a good thing, the presence of a C player in an industrial environment could have devastating consequences.  We’ve looked at ways to manage, engage, and enlist the help of A and B players in a safety-leadership culture; but what do we do with the C players?

from compliance to culture safety leadership workshops

Remember, your C players are not only unengaged, but disengaged.  They are low performers who barely scrape by and place everyone around them at risk, either through their behaviors as a front-line employee, or through their message as someone who is supposed to be leading (or helping to lead) a safety culture in their area.  Let me quickly reiterate a few important preliminary points that I’ve made in the past before getting into the details of what to do with C players:

  1. A “C” player can be a front-line employee, a supervisor, a manager, a director, a VP, or the CEO of the company.  No position or level has a lock on C players; nor is there a position or level that is immune to harboring them.  It’s just that in most cases C players–or even B players for that matter–are not likely to be found at the upper levels of leadership–at least not for very long.  Company boards, executive committees,  and shareholders typically have processes in place to identify them and weed them out in fairly short order.

  2. Limit your application of the principles for managing C players to your own sphere of influence.  Even if you have a C player occupying the CEO position in the company, there is only so much you can realistically do about that if your title is “Operations Supervisor.”  But if that is your title then there are many who would fall in your sphere of influence,  and not just your direct reports. Your sphere of influence  could include your manager, your director, and even your Operations VP.

Now I mention all this because of the confusion that sometime arises when the issue is how to lead a safety culture if you occupy a low position on the organization chart.  But this is precisely the difference between managing and leading.   Influence does not imply a need to have a position or title of authority.  Influence is strictly about leadership.  You influence in both directions by earning the right to be heard, by building relationships of trust and mutual respect, and by exercising your safety leadership presence.  Do that, and you’ll be amazed by the levels and positions that are willing to give you an audience.

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