Think SAFE, Act SAFE, Lead SAFE


By:  Kristi VanSoest, President

Can you lead an employee to safety and make them buy it?  How do you convince them to perform safely while you’re not watching them, the same way they perform safely when you’re present?  One important factor to affect this shift in an employee’s commitment to safety depends on the type of leader you are, not necessarily the message you’re sending.  Are your actions setting an example? Do your words translate to positive actions? Are you committed to leading employees as much as you expect them to commit to your policies?  All these questions are important because we, as Managers and Safety Directors, tend to enforce first and self-evaluate later (or never). One of the most difficult things a human can do is look at him/herself with a critical eye and take ownership for another’s actions.  When a safety incident occurs, we investigate to find root cause. How many times is the root cause of an incident directly proportionate to the outcome of our safety communication and leadership? If your answer is “never”, have you really gotten all the way to the root?

We can all agree that we cannot have a positive safety culture without top management support.  Employees at every level must exhibit reciprocity with those values for a truly positive safety culture.  We are increasingly motivated by data and statistics, and we expect to measure results while forgetting to communicate the importance and the impact.  A hard worker committed to the company will be advanced within the organization once they’ve proven their performance, but are they given all the necessary tools and education they need to lead others?  Do they earn the trust of their work crews? Are they focusing on positive affirmation with their employees, or do they provide a verbal beat down when mistakes are made? Frank Crane, an American minister and author, said, “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough”.  So you have an employee turned supervisor – can that new supervisor truly lead in an effort to gain trust, respect and positive employee morale? It doesn’t matter how capable or talented your supervisors are – they will never reach their full potential without guidance on how to earn trust to effectively lead in our results-driven world.  Perhaps focusing more towards the bottom and middle of the organizational chart first, rather than the top, might help give us the measurable results we are endlessly looking for.

Simply managing people is ensuring the work gets done.  Managing people by LEADING them ensures the work gets done by employees who take pride in their work, understand the expectations, are consistently motivated, are provided explanations as to the consequences of specific actions and the reasons behind them, and are provided all the tools and education they need to succeed.  Every individual in a supervisory role must understand that they cannot effectively lead without understanding who they’re leading, why they’re leading them, what motivates them individually and how they prefer interaction and affirmation among their peers. Front-line supervisors and managers play such an important role in the overall culture of the organization, and the actions they demonstrate are more important to a company’s overall safety culture than anything upper management could directly achieve without them.  Safety leaders at all levels must be able to teach, perform, foster relationships, and demonstrate that metrics and data are nothing without the safe performance of the entire workforce.

So, how do you know if your supervisors can lead?  Watch them. How do you know every level of employee believes in safety?  Ask them. Hear them. Take notes and watch their actions. How do you know if your workforce trusts the process and believes in the outcome?  Listen to them and understand them. We cannot focus on measuring results without focusing on the humans who create them. Find out what people are doing, how they’re doing it, what they’re doing it with, and whether they’re influenced negatively or positively by their peers and leaders.  Exhibit consistency, fairness, education and accountability to break down the barrier for effective cultural change. Earn the trust of the work groups you need to lead so that those groups can rely on you to do the right thing, while maintaining personal integrity. Without trust, there’s less innovation, collaboration, creative thinking, and productivity, and people end up spending the majority of their time protecting themselves and their interests rather than spending the time helping the group attain its goals.  So can you lead an employee to safety and make them buy it? Of course you can – but only if you’re committed to do it with them.