In any organization, leadership is responsible to set the standards and values of that organization. Most organizations I get to work with hold safety as a corporate value. One challenge I have observed over the years is leaders who are truly committed to safety and have employees who do not know safety is one of their core values.

How is this possible and where is the disconnect?

Actions speak louder than words?

How often have you heard the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words”? It is very overused and misunderstood. Yes, a leader must be congruent with what they say. If a leader walks into a work area or on to a job site and fails to use hearing protection, safety glasses and wear a hard hat, if appropriate, they send a very strong message. When leaders go up or down the stairs and fail to use the handrail they send a message.
The part people forget is that a major portion of any leadership job is to communicate with others. Supervisors must follow-up on production items. They must make sure quality standards are met and they must also ensure safety standards are followed.
Words are actions!

Years ago, when I worked for the Boy Scouts as an executive, I quickly learned what tasks I needed to complete.

How did I discover this? By the words my boss used.

Every morning, we had a staff meeting at 9:00am and my boss would ask each and every executive in the room what they were going to do that day to recruit boys into the program and who were we going to meet in the community to raise money to support the program. My leader’s words told me what was important to him. Not just the words, but how often those words were spoken. That is where words become actions. I quickly became an expert at recruiting scouts and raising money.
There were some things I wasn’t good at; one of them was returning phone calls. It was before cellular phones so I couldn’t make calls in a parking lot waiting to meet with a community leader or while waiting to speak at a school auditorium. My calls had to be made at the office. When I was there I would call back anyone who needed help with recruiting scouts or raising money. All other calls went into a pile that just seemed to get bigger and bigger.
Once a month, my boss would catch me in the hallway and call me into his office. He shared he had been getting complaints I wasn’t returning phone calls. I apologized and said I would try to do better. I am sure I also mentioned I never missed a money or recruiting call.

 I never did get better at returning the other calls because I knew what was really important to my boss. He would talk about recruiting and money every day and phone calls once a month. His words were his actions. I knew what to do. By the way, he finally assigned someone else to return my calls so I could stay focused on recruiting and fundraising.
How often do your leaders talk and ask about safety?

Think about your corporate or local plant leadership. How often do they talk about safety?

Not just as the opening safety moment before every meeting but in the stories they tell and the items for which they hold people accountable. If employees only hear a supervisor talk about production or quality and not safety they get it. People, your employees, are very smart. They pick up on the emphasis leadership puts on values and they act accordingly.
Encourage your leaders to tell of safety stories from their own life. You can do this by interviewing them and asking them questions.

 I often ask leaders the question, “When did you become excited about safety?” You could ask them if anything has happened in their life recently reminding them of the importance of safety. When they tell you something you can encourage them to share it with the employees at your next meeting.