How often are you asked to reflect on your career? Only the other day, I was asked to reflect on mine. Over the years, I’ve delivered lots of safety culture programmes and someone was interested to know which had worked – and why. The ‘Why’ is always an interesting and easy question to answer – Senior Leaders.
What really aided the success of these programmes were the business leaders. I’m not talking about just the Health and Safety Directors here; I’m talking about Senior Leaders – the people at the very top of the tree. These leaders were the ones who genuinely believed in a safe work environment. They actively encouraged an open-door policy and acted upon every email or conversation they held with their workforce.
These were true leaders of health and safety and a key ingredient to developing successful safety cultures. They were visible. They visited different work locations. They followed the rules. But it was more than this. These leaders would talk to everyone. They knew people’s names. They remembered what sport they watched – which team they supported. They actively showed an interest and care in their employees. In fact, one Managing Director used to ‘just call in’ to a site on his way somewhere, put on his PPE, make everyone a cuppa and clean the kitchen.
Being an inspiring leader in health and safety is about motivating others and being seen to be doing the right things – not just paying lip service to it. It’s also about empowering others to get the best outcome and ensuring that the systems are in place to not only eliminate any barriers to success – but providing resources to enable success. Heaps of research has been carried out which proves the crucial role leaders play in promoting a progressive health and safety culture. Having a crystal-clear set of company values really does help the whole workforce to understand what’s important. Again, research indicates that leaders who consistently parade the company values through their own behaviours, encourage the desired behaviours of the workforce. Employees can see for themselves that these organisational values are important – it’s these behavioural norms that bring about a positive work environment.
Any business that is serious about cultivating a progressive safety culture, would be wise to take a close look at their organisational culture – and their senior leaders. We need leaders who are engaged. Leaders who listen and leaders who show an interest in helping to build this type of culture. Why? Because understanding employee perceptions of their workplace and their jobs is pivotal in explaining employee behaviours and thereby their safety culture.
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