Some General Axioms About Safety-Culture Change

Some General Axioms About Safety-Culture ChangeLast issue we looked at the five-stage cycle of response during any safety culture change initiative.  There we saw that much of the challenge in culture change is the resistance you’ll invariably encounter at the start of that process. We’re going to look at ways to reduce the impact of that resistance and accelerate acceptance as we work through this series. But let’s start with some axioms about safety-culture change — things that are generally required and that you should plan to accommodate. [content_protector password=”axioms” identifier=”axioims”]

Active Safety Leadership at All Levels

I want to emphasize two points here. First, anyone in a titled position in the organization must be actively engaged in driving the safety culture — no exceptions. Driving a safety culture cannot be accomplished through passive leadership support. And you can’t have one-offs who arbitrarily decide they just don’t want to participate. That’s the quickest way to derail your effort.

The second point is this: it’s not a culture until and unless it is led from the grass roots. Front-line employees must be actively engaged in stepping up and leading that culture in ways they may not have before.

We can’t impose a culture on someone (that’s something that is “caught” rather than “taught”).  But we can impose performance measures. There’s an old adage in business that says, “What gets measured gets done.” If there are no performance expectations around leading a safety culture, it’s not likely to become a self-sustaining system.  But the minute we incorporate the principles of safety leadership into official organizational goals and annual performance reviews, suddenly people will start doing them because it’s something that’s expected of them as an employee.

At the same time, we need to work to persuade people internally on just why leading safety culture matters. People who know the reason behind new performance goals will more readily embrace them for themselves.

Consistent Application Over Several Years

10 Things You Absolutely MUST KNOW About Reinforcing Your Safety Culture By Building EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENTA few years ago I was hired by a manufacturing company to train all their leaders on safety-leadership principles, and afterwards to develop those leaders through field coaching.  Part of that process was to mentor the safety managers at each plant on how to continue the program after my departure.

The first plant I started with had a safety manager who was fully on board and eager to get started.  I told him what I always tell my clients; that although my time with his plant would be relatively short (just a few months), his efforts after my departure could take up to a few years before he saw sustainable results.

After my monthly visits with him over a six-month period were coming to a close, he confessed that he initially didn’t believe me that the change would take so long.  After all, all his leaders who went through the initial training gave it such rave reviews and made commitments to implement the principles they’d learned.

fctc-online-bannerBut once the field-coaching process started and he saw first-hand the level of resistance and the myriad of excuses he was getting from the same manufacturing managers who seemed to be fully on board at the beginning of the process, he began to understand that culture change is nothing if not an exercise in persistence and tenacity.

Lesson learned: Safety-culture development doesn’t happen overnight.  It can take anywhere from two to five years to get the culture to a normalized state.

We’ll look at a few more of these axioms for sustainable safety-culture change in our next issue.  But that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS.  Until next time.



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.