The first key: more engaged safety leadership at all levels

“Willie, I need to talk to you for a minute. I want to share some things that came out of our senior safety steering committee meeting this morning.”

“Yeah, I got some time, Joe — are you buyin’ the coffee?”

“Ahhh, here we go — I guess you think the boss should always buy, huh?”

“You got it,” chimed Willie.

“Well, we covered some of the safety climate survey work and the interviews that were done over the last month. Most of it was pretty interesting. There’s a bunch of material that we discussed. All important — but it seems like we want to focus on three critical areas over the next six months. We think they’ll give us the biggest bang for our buck. Especially if we want to take our safety culture to the next level.”

“Whatcha got, Joe?”

The three keys
“Like I said, everything is important, but we want to focus on getting more engagement in these three areas, right now.”

Joe pulled out some of his notes.

“Here’s what I have. First, we’ve got to get moreengaged safety leadershipat all levels. Secondly, we need to improve onregular safety communications. And thirdly, we have to do a better job atrelationship building or developing a sense of communitythrough safety. There’s been some discussion on just what we want to call this last one. Not everyone likes the word ‘community,’ but I do.”

“Sounds pretty straightforward — but we already know what we have to do, don’t we?”

“Well, yes and no,” replied Joe.

“We have a much more mature and refined way of looking at things — and how to discuss and deliver on it. And it’s more about execution now.”

Engaged safety leadership
“Take our need to get more improved safety leadership. We’re going to clearly define what we want our senior leaders to do. What we want managers and supervisors to do. And also our hourly folks like you, Willie. We’re going to help you all become better safety leaders.”

“Our senior leaders need to be more involved speaking about our vision for safety, but they also want to know how they can become more visible and active. And how they can help us with providing more of the right kinds of resources for our organization. You and your folks can help us with that.”

“We probably can, Joe.”

“Managers and supervisors need to be more engaged too — they need to be better listeners, better coaches, and better at getting people involved in everyday safety issues. You know, in ways that will make a real difference! And they’re going to be held accountable for doing these kinds of things, too.”

“Now, at your level, Willie — your people need to do much of the same that managers and supervisors will be doing. But you all will be doing it with a bit more of a team-orientation.”

“I thought everything was just peachy with us, Joe — ahhh, you know I’m just kiddin’.”

“We’ll start to hash out the details soon, but this is where we’re going. What do you think?”

“Sounds alright so far, Joe!”

Communications and community
“What can we do about regular communications, Joey? I mean Joe!”

“Well, we need to make sure that safety is being discussed every day. And the communications need to be good quality communications with room for open discussion. Safety-related talks between departments also need to be improved. And our supervisors need to have better planned communications with their crews. Sometimes the message gets stuck from the top down, here in the middle, and never gets to people like you, Willie!”

“You know that, Joe! And that ain’t good!”

“And when it comes to building relationships and community, our leaders need to do a better job of helping everyone to look out for each others’ safety. This isn’t always easy but we’ve made some good strides. Our people have to take more time to coach each other, every day. And we need to do a better job at developing more teamwork — this is where we also need a bit more training for you all. All of this will help to build more cohesiveness and community. And I think this is one of the biggest keys to getting to zero — where everyone knows and really feels like it’s attainable.”

“All this sounds really good, Joe, but how are you guys gonna keep score?”

“I’m glad you asked, Willie. We have a dashboard figured out that everyone will be able to read even as we’re moving down this path and things get busy, fast and crazy. And if we find out that it’s too cluttered, we’ll just get rid of some stuff. We only want to measure what really helps us get to our vision. Sound good, Willie?”

“Sounds alright to me — can’t wait to see some of this start to roll out!”

SIDEBAR: Concrete steps to help improve your safety culture:

Safety orientation. Orientations for some groups are simply a way to “dump” all their compliance training on workers in one or two days, leaving their heads swimming in rules and regulations. Rethink your safety orientations with outcomes and expectations clearly defined.

Reward systems. Supervisors and managers must be held accountable to perform the necessary work that upholds safety as a valued part of the organization. Performance reviews should qualify and quantify safety-related support in ways that affect promotions and pay.

Behavioral expectations. Workers need to know that it’s important to follow company procedures. Cues that safety leaders give to other workers can and will shape the way they think, feel and act. Expectations have to be expressed with words and actions that show a real commitment to safety.

Collaborative-based activities. Create and nurture opportunities for people to understand the importance of working together. There are countless ways to get people to work together to build pride in their safety-related efforts, and to improve overall performance.

Ongoing communications. The more ways you communicate safety the better. This includes visual and verbal forms that paint a vivid picture in the minds of everyone, up, down and throughout your organization. Keep in mind, you need a clear message from senior managers supporting safety.