Many of us have known great safety leaders whose commitment to safety, combined with excellence in leadership skills have had an enormous positive impact on their organizations. The hard part is pinning down exactly what it is they do that distinguishes them from other leaders. Our experience is that these unique people tend to use certain practices which define how they interact with others in the organization and how they go about their day-to-day work. Not surprisingly, the following behaviors have been shown to correlate positively with culture and climate attributes, and support excellent safety and prevention outcomes:
Vision – The effective leader is able to “see” what safety and prevention excellence would look like and conveys that vision in a compelling way throughout the organization. This leader acts in a way which communicates high personal standards in safety and prevention, helps others question and rethink their assumptions about safety and the prevention of injuries, and describes a compelling picture of what every employees future could easily evolve to.
Credibility – The effective leader fosters a high level of trust in his/her peers and reports. This leader is willing to freely admit his/her mistakes with others, advocate for direct reports and the interests of the group, and gives honest information about safety and preventing injuries, even it if is not well received or the “popular” thing to do.
Collaboration – The effective leader works well with others, promotes cooperation and collaboration regarding both safety and the prevention of injuries, actively seeks input from everyone regarding issues which affect them and encourages those in a position of authority to implement and support these solutions (whenever possible). The goal is always to explore all possibilities which will improve the overall improved health and safety for everyone in the organization.
Communication – The effective leader is a great communicator. He or she encourages people to give honest and complete information about safety and the prevention of injuries, even and especially if the information is unfavorable. This leader keeps employees informed about the “big picture” of prevention, and communicates frequently and effectively up, down, and across the entire organization. No one is left out!
Action-Orientated – The effective leader is proactive rather than reactive and addresses safety and prevention issues as soon as possible, and/or is able, to triage efficient resolve once a matter is disclosed. He/she is skilled at effectively delegating these tasks to the “right” person if unable to follow through themselves and always gives timely, well-considered responses when safety concerns are uncovered. This leader demonstrates a sense of personal urgency and energy to achieve positive results, and demonstrates a performance-driven focus by delivering timely results with excellence in mind. This leader always, “closes the communication” with the respective party as to the results, whether a solution was possible or not.
Feedback & Recognition – The effective leader is good at providing feedback and recognizing people for their accomplishments. This person publicly recognizes the contributions of others and uses praise and encouragement more often than criticism and discipline. The effective leader gives positive feedback and recognition for good performance and finds ways to celebrate accomplishments in safety and prevention whenever possible. Never is criticism made public, if at all necessary it is always done in private. Pride and respect for others is always the theme.
Accountability – Finally, the effective leader practices accountability. He/she gives people a fair appraisal of their efforts and personal results regarding safety and prevention, clearly communicates the roles of individuals in the collective effort, and fosters the sense that “every person” is responsible for positive results and the improvement of health and safety in their organizational unit. It is important to note that this practice is placed last; accountability, absent the implementation of the other practices, may be counterproductive. Employees know they will be held accountable, but often are not given the resources, information, leadership, support and/or encouragement they may need to accomplish the task at hand. When used as part of the other six practices, accountability complements the work in process.
Becoming a Great Safety & Injury Prevention Leader – The secret of excellence regarding Safety and Injury Prevention leadership is that it is no different from excellence in leadership in general. It requires caring, and optimally leaders who are motivated and even passionate to continuously improve safety and prevention. Regardless of where a leader is on the path, safety and MSD leadership behaviors may be learned and developed. Like all new behaviors this takes practice, self-knowledge, self confidence, and focused attention to the qualities and abilities of the individual leaders and employees. When presented in just the right way, leadership development supports a comprehensive approach to safety and prevention improvement as well as positions leaders (at any organizational level) to make a positive difference in the lives and livelihoods of their coworkers.