Improving Safety Culture: What Safety Leaders Must BE, KNOW and DO

Improving Safety Culture: What Safety Leaders Must BE, KNOW and DO | Call to Action!Last issue we looked at the ARE-KNOW-DO model of leadership (a.k.a. BE-KNOW-DO), which focuses on who you ARE as a leader, what you KNOW as a leader, and what you DO as a leader.

How does all this apply to improving safety culture?  What’s required of safety leaders to build and drive the culture in more effective ways?  What are they required to BE; what’s important for them to KNOW; and what should they DO? [password=”be-know-do”]

The ARE-KNOW-DOs of Improving Safety Culture

There a many more things than we can reasonably cover in a single article that safety leaders must do to ensure they are improving safety culture, so we’ll focus on those things that are both essential and oft neglected.

First and foremost, safety leaders must build relationships of trust with those who look to them for direction and guidance in safety.  This is absolutely foundational to getting others on board a safety culture.  If I’m not actively building trust with those whose safety I oversee, they won’t buy into my safety message, they won’t feel comfortable discussing their safety concerns with me, and I won’t be able to appeal to their core values to provide internal incentive for them to be safe on the job when I’m not around.

Second, to build that trust I have to ensure I express genuine care and concern about them and their safety.  This has to be genuine–it’s not something I can fake and be convincing about it.  Genuineness strikes at the core of who we ARE as safety leaders.

Third, I must actively engage people in safety situations and safety conversations.  Some examples of this include how I communicate in my safety meetings, my toolbox talks, my one-on-ones, and my safety walkabouts.  Are these conversations focused on meaningful dialogue around improving safety culture, or do they look more like check-box items to those I engage?

Fourth, I have to communicate and drive a safety culture.  That means I can’t just passively sit on the sidelines and support it using a hands-off approach.  Also, I have to watch how I am communicating it.  For instance, we’ve all heard this message before:

“Guys, I don’t like this any more than you do, but this is what they want us to do, so let’s just git ‘er done.”

If our message about safety culture sounds like this, we’ll undercut the very thing we’re trying to accomplish–improving safety culture.  Their level of commitment to safety will rise no higher than the commitment and passion they perceive in your message.  This speaks to the importance of our next point …

fctc-online-bannerFifth, we have to lead safety with confidence and passion.  Our safety communication cannot come across as a dispassionate check-box item.  That kind of communication sends the message that we are simply going through the motions and are not really interested in improving safety culture.

Finally, sixth, we must develop a strong leadership presence.  A “leadership presence” is the collection of leadership traits and behaviors that attract people to our safety message–things like confidence, passion, and sincerity.

In our next issue, we’ll look at some facets of leadership presence that are especially important when we are communicating safety to a group of people.  But that’s all for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS.  Be sure to view the associated video below to learn more about improving safety culture.  Until next time.


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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.