Excerpted from their book, “Strategic Safety Culture Roadmap.” Available to be downloaded at www.behavioral-safety.com

Improving a safety culture requires a set of change management processes to be employed to ensure that any significant change initiatives are rolled-out in a controlled and systematic manner. This means a comprehensive strategy should be designed to lead to the desired changes so the new arrangements are understood and enacted by all concerned. Table 1 shows the typical strategic features involved in rolling-out any change initiative based on research which indicates the most effective approach is to structure the changes using the following sequence: [1] Exploration; [2] Planning; [3] Action; and [4] Integration[i],[ii].

Table 1: Strategic Change Management Processes





Recognize there may be a safety problem (e.g. from increased Incident rates, safety culture assessments and/or data-mining exercises).

Craft an implementation plan to [a] separate from the past and [b] create a sense of urgency


Communicate, involve people, and be honest. 


Reinforce and institutionalize change by embedding the new approaches in day-to-day practice.

Gain executive level sponsorship by building a business case for change.

Build capability (organizational, process and human) and develop enabling structures that empower broad-based action through formal policies, systems, and structures.

Roll-out the changes.

Develop and monitor KPIs that focus on long-term strategic goals

Organize political sponsorship for the change(s) at the appropriate level; Identify the leadership: create a guiding coalition – Senior Executive, Senior Mgt Team, Safety Manager, Worker Representative

Develop milestones that focus on embedding the changes into the organization.


Monitor achievements of roll-out milestones.


Consolidate gains and produce more change by monitoring and adjusting strategies in response to problems in the change process.

Develop a shared vision of how to re-organize and manage safety to address the problem(s) identified.

Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that focus on ‘short-term’ wins.


Monitor (KP’s) that focus on ‘short-term’ wins.




Each of the above steps is explored below to provide further in-depth guidance.

1. Exploration

a. The Activity Topic: The aspect(s) of Safety Culture that require changes usually spin out of an assessment that identifies the most important areas of opportunity. To change a ‘broken’ Safety Culture, the activity topics would include developing: [1] a safety partnership; [2] a just and fair culture; [3] a culture of effective leadership; [4] a culture of safety communication; [5] a culture of competency; [6] a culture of compliance; [7] a culture of sharing lessons learned, and [8] a culture of Corrective and Preventative Action completion.

b. Gaining Executive Level Sponsorship: Without clear, strong sponsorship from executive leadership and other management teams, a change process is unlikely to [a] secure the necessary resources, [b] have the means to obtain and retain the support of others, and/or [c] overcome the tendency of many to resist change. Sponsors’ roles mean they accept overall responsibility for achieving the change process goal and benefits. This means sponsors must: [a] be people with the authority to make the change(s) happen; [b] have direct authority over those who will implement the action or change; [c] have access to and/or control over the resources (money, time and people) needed to implement the change(s); and [d] have a clear vision, identified goals and measurable outcomes for the change initiative. Planning who you want to be sponsors, and to do what is needed when necessary, is vital for success.

Inevitably, any changes to a company’s Safety Culture can have a profound impact on the way that company does business. Without the buy-in of the executive leadership team, any changes are unlikely to succeed. This means those promoting the change (i.e. change agents) have to build a compelling business case for the need for change and the benefits that can be realized, to obtain the buy-in of the executive leadership team. Usually, this means considering the [a] financial aspects (e.g. how much we can reduce our operating costs, avoid property damage and reduce workers’ compensation costs from injuries, versus the costs of doing so); [b] reputational aspects (e.g. how our Safety Culture and safety performance compare to others in the industry); and [c] internal process aspects (e.g. how safely and efficiently we currently perform our tasks, and how much better we can be). Ideally, consideration has also been given to who the owners and sponsors of the change(s) will be, and the scale and scope of the change(s) (e.g. organization-wide or only certain business units’).

Think about the best way to present a case to the executive leadership team in a compelling way, in the minimum time possible, to get the desired results. To help develop and present a sound business case and get the desired results, it is best to:

  • be clear about the reasons for the change
  • be clear about the outcome or result that you want
  • specify the different options there are for resolving the issues identified from the safety assessments / data-mining exercises
  • identify the pros and cons of each option
  • identify and justify the benefits of your preferred options
  • identify the risks of your preferred options and how you will minimize them
  • contrast the benefits and risks contained in your proposal against each other to understand possible objections
  • estimate the costs involved and include a ‘just in case’ contingency
  • estimate the timescales involved
  • address any key objections
  • try to identify key individuals who are highly committed to safety and likely to support your proposals
  • re-evaluate everything to make sure you have covered all your bases

Create a Guiding Coalition: Once the buy-in and go-ahead have been obtained from the executive leadership team, the changes have to be made in different business units or locations within the company.The best way to do this is to create a guiding coalition or steering committee to act as the project team, made up of people from each business unit / location that are powerful enough – in terms of titles, reputations, relationships, information, and expertise - to lead the change, overcome resistance, and monitor performance. Generally, a balance between senior operations personnel and safety professionals is desirable to initiate the desired Safety Culture changes. It may also prove useful to include a member of the executive leadership team, and a powerful union leader or worker representatives on the team.

2. Planning

Whether on the playing field or in the board room, the greatest achievers have always been meticulous about the importance of planning and preparation.  As the old adage states, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. The results of any change strategy will only be as good as the planning and preparation taken to achieve them. The implementation plan needs to ensure there is a clear separation from past initiatives, while also creating a sense of urgency. This will require the development of relevant strategies supported by formal policies, systems, and structures that empower and enable people to enact the changes:

a. Build Capability: In order to achieve your goals of Safety Culture change, there is a need to ensure the right tools, methods, and people with the right skills are available to make the desired changes. This will involve [a] knowing what the changes look like; [b] identifying what is needed to get the basic systems right to deliver the desired changes; [c] creating a belief and understanding among end-users that the changes are for their benefit; and [d] developing the necessary skills in the workforce.

b. Develop Milestones: To help ensure the desired changes are embedded into the organization, it is a good idea to develop realistic milestones for each stage of the change process. In other words, develop a series of short-term milestones or goals that build on each other, so that achievement of the first provides the springboard for the second, and so on.

c. Set Expected Short-Term Wins: The momentum for a change initiative is doomed without any evident and significant progress after a period of sustained effort. To sustain a change effort over the long term, senior leadership and the guiding coalition must generate short-term winswithin 6 to 18 months. Providing significant measureable improvements, an effective short-term win must meet three criteria: [1] its success must be unambiguous; [2] it must be visible throughout the organization; and [3] it must be clearly related to the change effort. This makes the point that Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) must focus on the process of change itself as well as the desired results. If the process is right, the results will naturally follow.

Develop Key Performance Indicators: Be warned that measuring a change process can be challenging. The following principles should be used to develop KPIs and an evaluation strategy: [a] capture both process (e.g. levels of safety leadership displayed) and outcome (e.g. reduced injuries) indicators; [b] establish baseline measures by using internal data at the onset of the roll-out to facilitate comparisons and identification of areas of strengths or areas of opportunity; [c] gather data  from employee surveys, administrative data (days lost, first-aid injuries, etc.); process data (participation rates, pre and post process safety improvements, etc.); focus groups, employee consultations, and return on investment analysis[iii]; and [d] ensure the measures are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound).

3. Action

The most difficult, but exciting, piece of the puzzle is to roll-out the changes. This is where “the rubber hits the road” with honest communications, deployment of the tools, methods, and activities to bring about the desired changes, and monitoring of progress and results.

a. Communications and Marketing: The purpose of communicating and marketing changes is to help create a belief and understanding among end-users that the changes are both for their benefit and the good of the company. A good communication and marketing strategywill be designed to create awareness, interest, and involvement, and build a dialogue that supports successful implementation. This is best achieved by addressing the Why (e.g. the key drivers and benefits), the What (e.g. scope, deliverables, new changes to the system, business changes required), the How (e.g. process structures, methods, and materials), the When (e.g. project plan, key stages and milestones) and the Who (e.g. who it will affect, and how). A good communication and marketing strategy will also proactively address issues as they arise, react to progress and setbacks, and provide timely feedback.

b. Deploying the Change Initiative(s): It is critical to view deployment as a change  process itself, as obstacles will inevitably be met. Thus, it is essential to conduct a risk analysis to identify threats and mitigate these prior to implementation. Typical threats[iv] could include [a] not having a defined roll-out plan with clear milestones;  [b] people compromising the deployment by, for example, reducing training; [c] mixing the change with other initiatives; [d] raising unrealistic expectations of an immediate payback; [e] not embedding the changes in daily routines; [f] people not “walking the walk” or “talking the talk”; [g] leadership not driving the process or reinforcing the desired behaviors; and [h] not applying adequate resources to enable the change(s).

c. Monitoring Progress: To know how successfully the change initiative is taking hold, there is a need to gather evaluation data to show strengths or areas of opportunity as well as to inform decisions and actions. To ensure the desired changes are taking place as planned, it is important to monitor goal-achievement of the roll-out milestones to assess whether these were achieved on time or not. This will enable an analysis of the factors involved so that any areas of opportunity can be identified and dealt with accordingly. Similarly, it is important to monitor the KPIs that focus on short-term wins to ascertain if the intended benefits are being realized.

4.  Integration

The final challenge is to reinforce and institutionalize the changes into people’s daily routines so they become the way business is done around here[v]. The purpose is to consolidate the gains achieved from the change strategy efforts and further strive to reach excellence by leveraging the successes. Ideally, [a] leadership is aligned, active and visible to employees in embedding the changes; [b] people know what they have to do and when; [c] performance is continually monitored to provide feedback; [d] the feedback is used to facilitate adjustments, and [e] significant wins are celebrated at the local and corporate levels.

5. Common Obstacles to Change

It is known 65-70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their desired outcomes[vi],[vii], primarily due to [a] employee resistance; [b] communication breakdowns; [c] insufficient time for training; [d] staff turnover; and [e] costs exceeding budgets. It is important these factors are considered during the change planning process.

Some suggestions to meet the challenges presented by these factors are outlined below.

a. Employee Resistance: Resistance to change is normal as people are being asked to do things in new ways that push them out of their comfort zone. The Project Team should expect to encounter it and plan ways to defeat it. To overcome any resistance, there needs to be a compelling case for change that people will buy into.  If everyone agrees that the change process has good intentions and necessary objectives, they are more likely to be supportive. It should be made clear to all that the desired changes will lead to better and safer ways of doing things - better for the workforce and for the company – even if the effort demanded of people is over and above their usual work load. Developing KPIs that focus on the processes involved in bringing about the changes which in turn can be used to provide feedback is an essential and useful element of overcoming employee resistance.

b.  Communication Breakdowns: To avoid any communication breakdowns, it is a good idea to plan your communication strategy (content, media, and timing) prior to the deployment of any changes. Frequent messages supporting the project's process change objectives should be carefully constructed to convey important information that people need to know (i.e. who, what, where, when, how, and why), which also promote the changes. Ideally, all communication should be assessed for any implicit and explicit messages, to ensure consistency. In order to convey the correct message to the appropriate people at the right time, the ideal media will need to be identified. For example, formal presentations, toolbox talks, kick-off events, etc., will all have a part to play.  During the actual change process, these messages and methods will likely need to be adapted based upon achievements, feedback, and any changing circumstances.

Insufficient Time for Training: A resource issue, time is one of the most precious commodities in any company, as it can never be recovered once elapsed. Even though it will always appear to people that they have less time than needed to take on any additional responsibilities brought about by change, training people in the skills required to adapt to the proposed changes is an absolute necessity. The project team should identify who (e.g. the leadership of the company, members of the workforce) will need to be trained in what (e.g. Safety Leadership, Risk Assessment, Behavior-Based Safety, Root Cause Analysis), and when. It should be made clear to potential trainees why the training is important, and what is in it for them so that it becomes a positive experience. Often, there are distracting activities that focus management attention away from training. Therefore, training should be conducted in a setting that is conducive and appropriate for learning whereby any distractions arising from ‘normal’ work activities are eliminated or minimized. There should also be opportunities for attendees to evaluate the experience so that any necessary adjustments can be, and are, made.

c. Staff Turnover: Staff turnover can impact organizational change, as key personnel can disrupt the process. Turnover can result from assignment, retirement, lay-offs, or people leaving the organization to work for other companies. It makes good sense, therefore, to identify key personnel who will be around for the long haul to implement the desired changes, and a back-up person who can fulfill that person’s duties during vacations, sickness, absence, etc. The project team should try to identify any likely staff changes that are on the horizon, and assess whether these involve potential key project personnel.

d.  Costs Exceeding Budgets: If the change process has been well-planned from the beginning, there should be sufficient budgets to comfortably implement the desired changes. Often, however, time limitationsand budget estimates are stretched by schedule delays, people not being available in the right place at the right time, and materials and/or equipment needed to implement the changes not being available. It makes good sense, therefore, to ensure there is a contingency budget available to cater for any unexpected circumstances that could arise during implementation.

[i]Todnem R.B (2005). Organizational Change Management: A Critical Review. Journal of Change Management. 5(4), 369–380.

[ii]Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading Change: Why transformations fail. Harvard Business Review. March – April. Reprint 95204.

[iii]Lowe, Graham S. (2004). Healthy Workplace Strategies: Creating Change and Achieving Results. Prepared for The Workplace Health Strategies Bureau, Health Canada

[iv]Cannon, L. (2012). Alcoa and the Human Performance Journey. Gulf Aluminium Council Safety Conference 2012, Gulf Hotel, Bahrain, 12-14th Nov.

[v]Deal, T.E. & Kennedy, A.A. (2000) Corporate Cultures, Perseus.

[vi]Ernst & Young and the American Quality Foundation (1992). International Quality Study: The definitive study of the best international quality management practices: Cleveland: Ernst & Young.

[vii]Beer, M & Nohria, N. (2000).  Cracking the code of change. Harvard Business Review, 78, 133 – 141

For assistance on Safety Culture issues do not hesitate to contact BSMS at +1 (317) 736 8980 or info@bsms-inc.com