Thought Leadership

Senior Leadership – Getting meaningful safety engagement from those at the top

February 28, 2013

Senior leadership is an easy target for most any complaint. Politicians, hourly workers, organized labor, front-line supervision and middle management all seem to blame ‘rich, uncaring upper management.’

As a safety person who regularly works at the VP and C-levels of organizations I see a very different story than that portrayed by those using this blame game. For the most part upper-level managers possess good talent and ability. More money in their pockets (greed) is not much of a motivator, though they, just like the rest of us, enjoy receiving the money we earn. They do live a comfortable lifestyle and they have worked hard to get to this point in life. Their motivation comes more from doing a good job (making a difference) and receiving recognition for doing so. In their part of the world recognition is usually more money and regular bonuses.

Posted on the Safety Culture World blog on January 14, 2013

Most of these upper-level managers live in a world that reads something like ‘what gets measured is what gets done;’ and ‘what gets rewarded is what gets done first.’

So, if the barrier to a visibly engaged leadership isn’t selfish intent, what is it? Typically, it comes down to some key troubles with the safety focus by most upper-level management:

  • They really don’t know what it takes to deliver good safety performance. The government regulations don’t do this, nor do all the canned safety programs that pervade the market. In general I have found these upper-level managers would like to make a difference in safety, but they just don’t know what they don’t know. Our solution here is to train them in a one-day roundtableon what it takes to deliver safety culture performance excellence. Once they understand what it takes to deliver a sustainable, high-performance safety culture the overwhelming majority of upper-level managers are willing to engage in a journey that will deliver this value added missing link to their organization
  • The metrics for safety that get measured really don’t make a difference in safety performance. We measure what we don’t want, injury rates (failures). These numbers don’t give upper managers a hint as to what to do. Accountability-based leading metrics for safety resolve this stumbling block
  • Incentive programs for safety are insignificant when compared to those for things like quality, productivity and cost. However, the metrics that drive the dollars must go beyond downstream luck injury rates and the dollar amounts must be on a par with the usual big three: cost, quality and customer service. That means the safety incentive becomes 25-30 percent of the payout. This amount gets their attention; the two items listed above deliver knowledge, vision and a believable approach.

Upper-level mangers want to make a difference; it turns their crank. When we can successfully remove the above barriers, we can achieve meaningful engagement. None of this comes through the traditional approaches to safety. When dealing with execs safety resources need to go beyond doing the same old things that deliver the same old, flat-line injury metrics.

NOTE: Safety Culture World brings the thoughts and inspiration of Mike Williamsen, Ph.D., CSP, a Senior Consultant with Caterpillar Safety Services. This blog is intended to be a place where people can share their thoughts, ideas, stories and experiences about the culture of safety.

Caterpillar Safety Services wants to make you think outside of the box. Safety is real, tangible, and so much more than lists of numbers.
Let’s talk about it.

Caterpillar Safety Services provides safety related products and training that leverage cultural assessment tools, continuous improvement processes and a proven formula for delivering a sustainable culture of safety excellence: the Zero-Incident Performance (ZIP™) Process.

Caterpillar Safety Services


Reprinted on with permission.



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