Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Bring your safety vision to life

Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. Throughout 2014, 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 safety excellence.

There’s some interesting work being done in areas around the world that are known for long histories of conflict. Several organizations are taking a fresh look at how to overcome poverty, factional violence and the legacy of repression that have dominated these environments for so long – and create a different future.

At a fundamental level, they’re tackling issues similar (granted, on a much bigger and more complex scale) to what business leaders face every day: How to advance culture, help individuals embrace change and jettison the past, and motivate people to invest energy and commitment toward a different future.

The difference is that rather than using traditionally broad vision statements that define an ideal (but often hard-to-imagine) future, leaders in these organizations are using what we would call behavioral visions: vivid, actionable pictures of what the future would look and feel like.

As a safety leader, your ability to share a personal and compelling vision is critical to moving your organization out of the problems of the past and into a better future. It takes work to bring safety vision to life, but you can start with three basic questions:

  1. What legacy do I want to leave? It’s tempting to take the official vision of your organization and “tweak” it to make it personal. Resist this approach, and start with a blank page. Think about what you’d like to personally contribute to safety performance. Do you want to be remembered for helping eliminate serious injuries and fatalities, developing future safety leaders or something else? This is an ideal opportunity to “think outside of the box” … and maybe even throw the box out. Try not to worry that your vision will run counter to the larger organizational culture – it’s not likely to. If it does, it will provide an opportunity for rich organizational dialogue. Once you have defined what you want, think about how you can engage the hearts and minds of people to make steady progress in the desired direction. What things would you specifically do and say to convey that vision? Write it down.

  2. What would the future look, sound and feel like if my goals for the organization were accomplished? A behaviorally descriptive vision enables people to see the future and how they “fit in” to this new way of doing things. It can also inspire people to consider different possibilities and be open to a different organizational experience. For example, if your goal is to create a “zero injury” culture, you might describe a place in which people stop work when they see exposure increase and leaders talk regularly with people at all levels about safety. The more vivid the picture, the easier it will be for others to see the pathway and, most importantly, their role in achieving success.

  3. What organizational structure do we need to support and sustain our vision? A great vision does no good if people don’t have the resources or support to act on it. Getting the “structure” right improves the likelihood of success, with the side benefit of improving overall organization functioning. Ensure you have well-defined roles and responsibilities for everyone to flourish. Ask for input on your vision from a diverse group of people and be open to refining it. Identify current and potential barriers to success and find ways to address them, and make sure you and your people have the skills and capabilities needed to realize the vision.

Whether you are improving safety, repairing a fractured culture or tackling some other organizational change effort, leaders need to develop a strong personal vision that resonates with the very people required to achieve success.

Rebecca Timmins is an expert in leadership development. As vice president of global safety consulting firm BST, Timmins designs and delivers individualized coaching focused on behavioral pinpointing and behavioral analysis, recognizing that the relationships leaders cultivate form the context within which influence is leveraged.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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