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Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Aligning safety talent with safety strategy

April 1, 2013

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Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. Throughout 2013, experts from Ojai, CA-based consulting firm BST will share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to achieve world-class safety performance.

Do you have the right people in the right places to drive your safety strategy? Many leaders recognize that achieving world-class performance is requiring new competencies and skills for safety professionals and all leaders. The challenge is that few organizations currently give strategic attention to safety talent development or have the systems to accurately assess safety talent strength. Even fewer focus on safety leadership as critically as other leadership competencies for their senior executives, and addressing this gap is about to get a lot harder.

Experts predict a dramatic shortfall between the growing number of safety positions and the number of qualified professionals who will be available to fill them. Changing demographics have created greater competition for talent generally, and in safety we are now seeing “inverted bell curves” in which talent is weighted heavily at senior and primary positions, with insufficient qualified succession pools at mid-levels. Keeping up with the growing demand for safety talent and safety competence clearly requires solutions that extend beyond traditional staffing approaches. It will take a robust safety talent strategy.

Safety talent strategy

The goal of all talent management strategy is to build what is called a “talent-rich” organization: A place where there are enough of the right people in all the right places to support the company’s mission. Safety talent-rich organizations continuously think about where they are and where they want to be – and who they need to get there. Five critical disciplines support alignment between safety and talent:

  1. Understand the role of safety talent. When safety is a strategic activity, the safety professional’s position, function and contribution must necessarily be broader than that of a technician. Safety must be a pathway to higher roles in the organization, not just a specialist cul-de-sac. Safety also must be a “gate” through which future leaders must pass on their way to more senior positions. Understanding safety’s role helps you define work profiles and career paths that support both the organization’s need for expertise as well as the individual’s need for growth.
  2. Build a place for safety in talent management systems. Talent search, assessment and selection, and retention all support an organization’s strategic objectives – including safety. Make sure your systems do more than fill open positions. Consider how short- and long-term safety objectives must influence these activities, engage safety talent in the ongoing success of the organization, and provide sufficient professional opportunities to facilitate progression of the career track.
  3. Develop a cultural value for safety leadership. To foster great safety leaders, an organization’s executives must have a deep understanding of – and appreciation for – safety culture. Drive discussions around the value of safety leadership as a competence, expectations of what good safety leadership looks like and safety’s role in the wider business.
  4. Identify and address the safety risks that rise from an organization’s talent. Talent management plays an important role in aligning organizational priorities around safety. Look at how organizational structure, performance management, and rewards and recognition align with – or undermine – safety objectives.
  5. Foster a partnership between the talent and safety management groups. Collaboration between safety and talent management leaders is critical to supporting current and future safety objectives. Look for common ground (e.g., are the necessary training and development activities for safety professionals coordinated with the talent management team?) and for ways to partner on developing safety leaders through coaching and mentoring in safety principles and practices.

A promising partnership

An effective safety talent strategy draws on good talent management practice to support safety objectives. A good strategy also optimizes individual contribution and growth – and retention. In this way, talent strategy facilitates and strengthens the natural partnership between safety and the business.

Andrew Goodman is executive vice president, talent management, for BST. An expert in leadership,operations and organizational design, Goodman manages the worldwide development and execution of BST’s strategic human resource capital initiatives.

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