2014 CEOs Who 'Get It'
The National Safety Council recognizes 10 leaders who demonstrate a personal commitment to worker safety and health
President and CEO
Why is safety a core value at your organization?
I believe each employee deserves a safe place to work. It’s also important to embrace a corporate safety culture that will extend to our employees’ friends and families. As a Native Alaska-owned company, safety is part of our heritage. Living and working safely has a direct positive impact on the more than 13,000 Iñupiat people of northwest Alaska who own our company, and those strong roots in safety translate directly to the livelihood of our employees.
Our core safety values put people first. This view is embraced by our leadership and drives our corporate culture. Leadership’s commitment to safety sets the expectations of performance throughout our company to every member of our team. Employees are empowered operationally each day to identify and mitigate workplace hazards. This helps shape safe work behaviors and attitudes. It changes our approach from compliance to commitment each and every day. These core safety values are essential to maintain the highest standards and exceed the expectations of our customers – it’s that simple, and that important.
Our employees are as diverse as the marketplaces we work, both federal and commercial, across 50 states and internationally. We operate as a high-performance team in site support services, construction, mission systems engineering and technology, and technology products and solutions. We recognize that performing work safely has a direct impact on profitability and survivability. It is essential that we constantly focus on safety as we expand into larger and more complex industries.
Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who understands the importance of worker safety.
For the past 30 years of my career, safety has been a key part of each position I have held. The importance of safety and especially safety preparation was never more apparent than when I was working in Saudi Arabia and Baghdad during the height of the Middle East conflict. Safety was the first thing that you thought of – from travel to engaging with locals to carrying out the work we were sent to do. Nothing was more important than the safety of you and your team.
In my role as CEO, I now look back at my varied experiences and lean on the teachings of my mentors to instill a safety-driven culture in my leadership team and all Akima employees. Ensuring proper training of employees and continual assessment of safety protocols and preparation are important elements of creating a dynamic safety culture. Being self aware, behaving as a team and watching out for your co-worker are the primary goals of our leadership at our more than 290 project sites. These are the most important things we can do each and every day.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?
Employee engagement. Through our 2013 Employee Safety Perception survey, the results showed that employee engagement is by far the biggest obstacle we face. My focus now is on creating fresh, new opportunities to engage employees. Active participation creates buy-in, increases mind-on-task, and reduces complacency and at-risk behavior. Even better are work teams actively participating and watching out for themselves as well as for co-workers.
We also took this opportunity to look at our family of companies to see what sister companies were successfully utilizing for their safety programs. We found a lot of great initiatives that led us to what we are now implementing today – a behavior-based system called “LIFE” (Looking, Intervening, Facilitating and Eliminating). LIFE changes authority to responsibility – empowering workers and management to observe and promote safe work practices. This happens through innovative approaches to job hazard analyses; essential behavior observations; and active, targeted job interactions.
LIFE embodies employee participation with direct involvement in task planning and helping co-workers get it right. It is likely the most significant, powerful step-change in safety for our organization and our employees – at work and at home. I am excited to see this process become an integral part of our daily routine.
How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?
I encourage all employees to think outside the box, be outward facing, look for innovative ways to promote safety in our business lines and reconsider traditional procedures. Obstacles have been thrown in our way, such as sequestration, government funding cuts, the federal government shutdown and delayed contract awards – all of which have challenged our efforts and can distract our daily focus on safe work performance. I am proud to say that this team has confronted these obstacles head-on with creative solutions resulting in improved safety performance.
We continue to educate and expand leadership focus, refine safe work practices and engage the ideas of our workforce. Safety is weaved into daily conversation. Every meeting starts with a safety moment that reminds and engages our employees in the safety conversation each day. Each year the company recognizes excellence in safety with our President’s Safety Award presentation. We have many great individuals and work teams, and I take great pride in honoring and acknowledging these award winners.
How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?
We employ a top-down business approach to managing safety risk and continue to assess and refine how safety is measured. Over the past year our Enterprise Health, Safety and Environment Council has worked diligently on a solution that answers, “How do we reduce occupational hazards through direct intervention?”
I am proud to say in FY 14 we begin a new journey. This future includes a partnership with the National Safety Council Navigator/ICertainty. Navigator embodies our vision to bring key performance indicators in one, easy-to-use, cloud based system. We now have a central system of recordkeeping that links all occupational HSE leading and lagging indicators. More importantly, the system measures safety’s contribution to productivity and profitability of our projects and ultimately the success of our employees and Akima.
Akima LLC is a holding company based in Herndon, VA, that supports a diverse portfolio of federal and commercial service providers. Its operating companies play leadership roles in information technology, data communications, systems engineering, software development, cyber security, space operations, aviation, construction, facility management, fabrication and logistics. The company employs more than 5,300 workers.