Just last year, I had the privilege of spending several hours inside the Pittsburgh Steelers’ front offices on the Southside of Pittsburgh. My good friend, former college teammate, and longtime NFL standout, Jerry Holmes, wanted to meet with some of his coaching friends and colleagues to catch-up and talk football. Jerry’s been coaching in the NFL and on the college level for more than a decade.
During our visit, I listened to more football talk, terminology, and language than I ever thought existed. And since I’ve been removed from the game for so long, it was a dizzying experience. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the day and got to meet many key people within the Steelers’ organization. I even had lunch with linebackers coach Keith Butler and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. After lunch, we were given a tour of the facilities by my friend and high school teammate, Mark Gorscak, Steelers’ college scout. Finally, near the end of our day, I met head coach, Mike Tomlin who once interned under Jerry with the Cleveland Browns. Now I understand why Coach Tomlin’s been so successful! It was a day that I won’t forget anytime soon.
But I don’t want to write about football in the NFL as much as I want to draw corollaries with a six-time Super Bowl winning organization and what I see in many world-class safety organizations.
The vision - clear and out in front
When you enter the upstairs main hallway to the Steelers’ offices, immediately to your right you see a huge walk-in case with six Lombardi Trophies. It’s a beautiful sight. Photographs, bright lights, and of course the Super Bowl trophies, gleaming so proudly.
This presentation of success immediately created a mental image for me and flashbacks of my childhood days - watching Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert and so many of the Steeler greats who went on to win four Super Bowls. Wow - it’s all there right in front of you, so clear, so bright, and so impactful!
I think about many of the companies I’ve worked with that continue to create a clear and compelling vision that becomes the workers’ vision for zero accidents and zero incidents. The vision is made clear in different ways than the Steelers’ vision, but still becomes part of a consistent message that “extreme success” is possible and ZERO can be achieved. Every opportunity is taken to speak about the vision, the plan, and the goals that will get the entire organization on the same page, and to that special place.
Great leadership at the top
It took some time for the Rooney family patriarch, Art Sr., to find the winning formula, but it’s been discovered, embraced, and replicated. Since the league merger in 1970, the Pittsburgh Steelers are considered the most successful organization in modern day NFL history. They flat-out know how to run a professional football team.
My observations over the years have been that the Rooney family wants to stay out of the limelight. They take care of the contracts, player personnel issues, financial concerns, and the day-today organizational challenges.
For the most part, they lead and don’t get in the way of what has to take place in football meetings, practices, and on the field. They support their scouts so they can do what they do best. They also make some of the really tough hire and fire decisions. And they’re big on character - from the coaching staff to the players. They know the importance of character and how it relates to their personal and professional value, which in turn brings ongoing success.
I see much of the same in world-class organizations that have embraced safety as a critical component of their operations. Leaders at the top worry about contracts and business relationships that keep operations going and allow their managers and supervisors to do what they do best. They support these managers and supervisors with the time and resources to make it a world-class organization - not just in terms of quality, customer service, or production, but in terms of safety as well.
In other words, the pressure for all these other aspects of business is often taken care of at the top so that safety can be taken care of where it counts the most - nearest the workers.
Great front-line support
It’s no secret that the Steelers hire great people. They’ve had only three head coaches in the last 40 years! They also hire great assistants who’ve moved on to extraordinary success within other organizations. The Steelers’ coaching tree extends far and wide in the NFL. Their head coaches know how to assemble a staff, put a game plan together, gain trust, and obtain buy-in. This in turn helps to get everyone engaged and to believe in the strategies and tactics that will move them towards their vision.
With the Steelers’ assistants, these coaches get the most out of their players. The Steelers see talent in places and in people that other teams haven’t. And they coach people up. Their coordinators and position coaches are known to be excellent teachers with a high degree of credibility. These traits help to maximize a player’s potential and make them on-the-field leaders.
I see the same things in world-class safety organizations. They have VPs, managers, and directors who value safety and hire the right people. They provide resources, help to formulate a safety plan, and create a sustainable vision for world-class safety. They develop the skills and credibility of their managers and supervisors through “technical programs” and “soft skill” training that will help move their “industrial players” in the right direction - to work as safely as possible. They get the most out of their people because they have the right leadership at the top and the right front-line managers and supervisors who know what’s most necessary at the worker level. Managers and supervisors are the modern day coaches who need to be freed-up to do what they do best - coach.
Do you see the parallel?
Important final thoughts
I don’t believe in a direct relationship with everything that’s done within sports and companies like yours, but I do believe that successful organizations leave imprints and shadows of their own blueprints for success. So, I ask, what imprint have you attempted to find and follow? And where is your blueprint for super success?
I leave you with one final thought since I can’t keep it out of my mind. I’m still envisioning the moment I first saw the Steelers’ trophy case. Two workers were inside of it polishing the Lombardi Trophies and cleaning the glass so very carefully. You could almost feel the pride they were taking in their work. I viewed these actions as more than some regular chore, and I viewed the trophies as more than just symbols embraced by the Steelers’ organization. For me, this was really about every worker doing their part to keep the vision alive, clear, gleaming, and out in front for all to see!
Read between the lines - there’s much more for all of us to learn.