Safety Leadership: Safety leadership in 2022: What’s new?
Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.
As 2022 begins, leaders and teams are looking ahead to what the new year may bring. Team wins, celebrations, challenges and safety improvements will come to mind. We should also be asking if we’ve been doing everything we can to position our teams for a successful year that’s free from significant unplanned events and allows employees to thrive.
At DEKRA, we believe seven domains drive safety performance: culture, working interface, human performance reliability, governance, exposure control systems, performance management and leadership. How leaders set the tone and how they own the results – and all things in between – affect exposure, because their messages and actions carry weight. When leaders communicate and live their values, they inspire and influence others.
When you evaluate your team’s safety leadership performance, remember to focus on leadership skills that, when kept strong through practice, add protective value by keeping exposure low. Here are a few questions for leadership teams to get a conversation started on what it takes to lead in safety in 2022.
Are we aligned on what we each will do daily, weekly and monthly to foster safe work and engaged teams?
Make a note on this, and then share your thoughts during the discussion to check for alignment. When leaders have clarity on what to do and a shared vision of the goal, exposure is kept low day to day and strong performance prevails.
Would most team members say we’re caring, honest and trustworthy? Do we make decisions that protect their safety? Do we actively foster well-being?
Taking action to keep people safe and well requires a coordinated effort and a clear line of sight to how that’s manifesting in reality. Field visits allow for real-time verification to ensure safe work is ongoing, exposure is low, and team members are engaged and well. It takes specific skills to contribute to team members’ well-being, and this area is often a skill gap across leadership teams. This is an area that world-class organizations are investing in to remain competitive during the “Great Resignation” – an economic trend that began last year in which employees are voluntarily resigning from their jobs en masse.
Do our employees feel we provide praise and recognition alongside feedback regarding safety activities?
Effective feedback requires formal mechanisms (review calls, walkthroughs, audits and monthly recognition), as well as informal moments, during which leaders provide feedback that motivates, shows respect and guides safe work. If safety issues continue, check with local leadership to see what skills need to be enhanced to ensure safety influence is felt and performance remains high. Coaching and mentoring others in a way that leaves them feeling strong, valued and engaged requires skill. Sometimes, corrective feedback can sting, which indicates a leadership skill gap. When leaders feel weak when supporting safety activities and performance, the default is to focus on words over actions. Safety leaders need to continue to develop and practice their leadership skills, including their ability to influence others toward a common goal.
How often do we experience moments that matter?
My vision for team safety includes open conversations in which beliefs are challenged or celebrated. These conversations create moments that really matter. It’s when someone really “gets it” and then changes how they engage in safety going forward. The safest organizations on the planet have leaders and teams that create these transformational moments. It’s what sets them apart from good organizations with mediocre safety performance.
Assessing how an organization is performing across the seven domains may predict how 2022’s safe work will occur, and it allows for adjustments to optimize team safety and well-being. Engaging leaders on what it takes to lead in safety is a practical way to spark planning for leadership actions and continued development that will keep everyone living safety as a core value and keep work safe – one day and one decision at a time.
This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.
Vice President David Musgrave leads the Brain-Centric Reliability practice area at DEKRA that focuses on human performance reliability. He’s a highly requested consultant and speaker who offers extensive experience in safety improvement.
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