Successful companies strive to utilize every tool possible to ensure their projects are safe, on schedule and within budget. New methods are developed and “piloted” each year in an effort to constantly improve project execution and satisfy customer expectations. However, all too often the safety program has not been updated for years and safety performance is often more the result of luck than reproducible results.

Many companies understand the need for OSHA compliance and work to enforce regulatory requirements as their safety program. Industry-leading companies don’t accept compliance to government regulations as their success criteria and continuously seek out new and proven safety management methodologies. One proven tool for preventing injuries and incidents that is often overlooked and under-utilized is effective safety leadership by both project executives and their management team. Effective safety leadership can be the major differentiator between average and industry-leading safety performance.

The 5 critical components of  effective safety leadership are:

1 Field presence – From the CEO down to the newest project engineer, there is no better way to measure your safety culture and its effectiveness than shaking the hands of the workforce and asking them for feedback.

By committing a minimum of one hour each week to walk the field, you not only show your project team and workforce that you care, but you set the standard for the entire project team, and establish the importance of demonstrating safety leadership.

Far too many project leaders stay holed up in the site trailer or office attending endless hours of meetings, failing to realize the importance of interaction with the workforce.

Focus should be on role modeling safety expectations and sharing your vision on providing and maintaining an injury- and incident-free jobsite.

2 Effective communication– Far too many projects unknowingly support an underground rumor mill of false and misleading information, often to the detriment of the safety culture. Typically caused by the failure of management to effectively communicate after an injury, incident or unexplainable event occurs, this lack of accurate information allows the rumor mill to become the accepted source of information.

Effective safety leadership requires excellent communication skills, implementing proven safety processes and aligning all personnel with your vision of what success looks like.

The ability to effectively communicate to the project team, your subs and the workforce is paramount to achieving safety excellence.

The most opportune time to effectively communicate safety expectations and gain the trust and respect of the workforce is in the project safety orientation. Project executives can teach orientation or just drop in and share their personal commitment to safety.

In addition, utilize newsletters and tool box meetings to get the word out on progress, injuries, incidents and the public recognition of safety role models on the project.

3 Feedback mechanism– Understanding the true safety culture on your projects is accomplished by developing a direct avenue of communication between the workforce and management.

This can be accomplished by establishing an effective safety committee that is attended by workforce representatives, a “Lunch with the Boss” forum that is scheduled routinely with a cross representation of workers attending a small, private lunch with the project manager, and weekly field walks that are designed solely to solicit direct feedback on conditions, perceptions and issues.

4 Accountability– If there is one common theme present in most failed safety cultures, it is the “do as I say and not as I do” phenomenon.

Watching executives or project leadership walk projects in street shoes, sans safety glasses, vests, hardhats, etc., is the most prominent culture killer there is. The workforce will recognize the lack of role modeling and accountability for the safety program and they will outwardly and silently rebel against the double standards.

Take the time to ensure all project personnel, regardless of title, follow all safety rules… at all times.

Also, it is paramount that discipline is fair, just and consistent across all job classifications.

5 Benchmarking– Great leaders understand that in order to be the best, they must routinely seek out new processes and try new ideas, in their quest to eliminate injuries and incidents.

Benchmarking with your competitors or joining industry groups that openly share best known methods is the best way to assess the contents of your safety program and overall performance.

Establishing a continuous improvement roadmap will help ensure your safety programs and systems are keeping pace with your project management systems.

While there are many key attributes that differentiate between a good and great leader, the main difference is most often the level of personal commitment a leader exhibits to those who look up to them
for guidance and direction.