A recent study* by the award-winning Sentis research team establishes that several factors inherent to a positive safety culture are driven by ‘great’ safety leadership. So, in companies that enjoy a positive safety culture, what are leaders doing differently?
Download our ebook ‘Driving A Positive Safety Culture’ to discover the results of the study and recommendations for leaders.
1. Great safety leaders demonstrate a visible safety commitment
A visible and genuine commitment to safety is critical to driving a positive safety culture and subsequently, helpful safety behaviours and results. The genuine nature of this commitment should be cemented in demonstrated behaviour and must be shown by leaders at all levels.
Safety should be viewed as an investment that generates its return through a healthy, productive and safe workforce. Great safety leaders make sure it’s transparent that safety is prioritised—particularly when it comes to financial decision-making. Setting a healthy budget, establishing a clear process for requesting safety expenditures and investing in safety initiatives, generates a shared perception that management genuinely care and are ‘taking action’ on safety.
A further step management can take to secure their commitment is simply stepping out into the field and maintaining a visible presence. Spending time talking to employees at all levels about health and safety, and particularly to those on the shop floor, is a sure-fire way to encourage a positive perception of safety commitment.
2. Great safety leaders consult, communicate and collaborate
The importance of meaningful relationships with team members should not be underestimated. Our research showed that positive safety cultures are created when leaders are trusted and respected by their teams. Positive safety cultures also tend to be propped up by empowering and participative safety leadership styles—safety leaders establish the ‘ground rules’, yet grant their team the autonomy to discover the best process to achieve safe and productive outcomes.
Within organisations that possess a positive safety culture, opportunities to talk about safety within teams are fully utilised. Formal communication events like pre-start meetings and Toolbox Talks offer a platform to engage team members in high quality safety discussions. Great safety leaders encourage the involvement and direct participation of attendees, rather than a one-way transfer of information.
Great safety leaders also ensure communication opportunities are made job relevant by being responsive to team happenings such as changing work conditions or events. Most importantly, great safety leaders ensure team safety communication flows through from formal meetings and briefings out onto the job site.
3. Great safety leaders remove barriers to reporting
Leaders can promote a positive safety culture by removing barriers to reporting. This includes clarifying the conditions that trigger reporting, and formalising reports for the benefit of learning and improvement.
Great safety leaders provide timely feedback and action on reported incidents, demonstrating the importance of employees’ reporting contributions. They ensure there are no negative repercussions for reporting and that feedback loops exist and function effectively. Gaps in feedback result in cynicism around the value of safety systems and tools, undermining their implementation and negatively affecting incident reporting.
4. Great safety leaders proactively manage organisational change
Great safety leaders manage organisational change well, using frequent communication to articulate the reasons for the change and providing opportunities for employees to contribute to how the change is implemented, wherever possible.
This bottom-up, consultative approach ensures open dialogue between the workforce and senior management. It reduces the relational distance between different levels of the organisation and contributes to a positive safety culture by promoting trust. Great safety leaders aren’t afraid to show that they genuinely care about workers’ welfare during the change process.
Finally, leaders should ensure that change is implemented consistently, with uniform standards across the organisation. This helps to limit change cynicism and employees’ perception that the change is a simply ‘knee jerk’ reaction.
This year, what strategies will you implement to ensure your actions as a leader are helping, not hindering, your safety efforts?
*Research study of 30 separate sites from 17 companies across mining, utilities, oil and gas, construction, manufacturing and agriculture.