Safety Leadership: Workplace safety requires leaders invested in the long run
Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA Organizational Safety and Reliability share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.
Your safety journey never ends. It’s an improvement process that should focus on molding and, inevitably, sustaining a culture in which exposures are identified and tackled to properly develop a harmless workplace for your people.
In our industry, it’s generally agreed upon that culture, leadership, safety systems and other organizational factors influence safety performance. All of these are key to safety excellence. Therefore, for senior leaders, the safety journey requires a systemic approach addressed in their strategy to embark on a process that has focus and is ultimately effective.
Companies that fail in safety often are those that limit their strategy to “quick-fix” approaches with no long-term vision of what they’re aiming to achieve.
To ensure they don’t fall prey to only simplistic responses when disaster strikes, senior leaders need to ask themselves a series of questions:
- What are we aiming for? Is the ultimate goal to fix a problem related to a recent incident, or is it to identify and then mitigate the root source of problems overall?
- Do we have a systemic approach to safety? Here’s a chance to examine if their company needs a thorough assessment to identify actual gaps.
- What is the scope of our strategy? How comprehensively are we laying foundations for sustainable safety?
- What is our plan or approach to oversight safety strategy? A solid execution requires effective governance at the most senior level.
- Why does execution of safety strategy work the way it does? This is a time to make sure your safety strategy isn’t being implemented in a “business-as-usual” mode and, instead, is redesigned with appropriate key performance indicators for every stakeholder.
In addition to testing for biases, leaders can take a few key steps to improve the quality of their safety strategy, as well as their chances of success in executing it.
First, it’s crucial they deepen their understanding of safety functioning by educating themselves on it, and sharpen their transformational styles to demonstrate commitment. Doing so will help them define what “world-class safety” will mean for their organization and its implications for leading the journey ahead.
Second, they should ensure the use of a validated and proven process for safety strategy development. To avoid a tactical/single-minded safety strategy definition, follow a development process that allows leaders to challenge and clearly identify what the actual state of safety is, what the desired future state is, and what barriers might derail success.
The next step is the transition from strategy definition to execution. It’s common to find organizations struggling to structure proper governance and accountability when it comes to executing the safety strategy. Although it may be well defined, the lack of understanding, and even addressing, the magnitude of change involved in strategy implementation can leave the organization vulnerable to poor execution – or appearing that its approach to safety is facile.
Together, investing in strong governance and leading the change process with real commitment are the best insurance an organization can take to ensure the safety strategy will take deep root on all levels.
Embracing the journey to safety excellence starts with prepared and motivated executives who know what “world-class safety” means. It also involves understanding the factors influencing safety functioning and being skilled in convincing the organization to embrace safety.
With a strong safety strategy development process, senior leaders can avoid traps that can hinder their commitment to safety excellence and will show workers that they’re putting safety first for the long run.
This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.
Guillermo Díaz is vice president at DEKRA Organizational Safety and Reliability (dekra.us/osr) and a chemical engineer with experience in operations, continuous improvement and safety. He’s spent more than two decades collaborating with organizations to improve their processes, employee engagement, organizational culture and safety performance.
Direct to your inbox: Sign up to be notified in email about new "Safety Leadership" columns.