From My Bookshelf to Yours: ‘The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture’
Not long ago, Utility Business Media Inc. published my book, “Frontline Leadership: The Hurdle.” Researching and writing the book helped me learn to appreciate and apply knowledge and wisdom from other writers. In this article, I want to share some highlights from “The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture,” a book recently written by Rod Courtney, CUSP, who also serves as a board member for the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network. I’ve heard him speak on this topic many times and highly recommend you read his book.
Now, let’s take a look at the eight habits the book title refers to:
- Stop Making Safety a Priority
- Make it Safe to Raise Concerns
- Make Safety a Responsibility of Operations
- Focus Left of Zero
- Stop Managing People
- Stop Trying to Fix the Worker and Fix the Work
- Find the STCKY and Stop the SIF
- Stop Trying to Influence Everyone
Each habit – summarized below – is a standalone principle that promotes safety and the well-being of your workforce. Collectively, the habits provide a comprehensive picture of what a successful safety and health management system looks like as well as a powerful lesson about how to lead safety.
1. Stop Making Safety a Priority
Priorities are adjustable. Values do not change. Therefore, safety must be a value, and Courtney explains what value-driven safety looks like. It occurs, he writes in his book, “when it’s so ingrained into every activity that it becomes impossible to ignore. There is little talk of doing things the safe way and more talk of doing things the right way. When safety is truly a value above all else, you will be able to focus on the leading indicators and stop an accident before it happens.”
2. Make it Safe to Raise Concerns
This habit is psychological safety at its finest. Courtney provides seven practices you must engage in to establish trust: be honest and support your team; respond constructively to problems; make it personal; model the behavior you want to see; protect your employees; keep your word; and overcommunicate.
3. Make Safety a Responsibility of Operations
I love this habit and think many of us miss the mark on the delineation of and relationship between safety and operations. Courtney tells us safety should monitor, audit, review and advise. The safety department should develop and maintain programs that are implemented and owned by operations. Safety can’t always be someone else’s job.
4. Focus Left of Zero
To the right of zero are lagging indicators and occurrences such as accidents, incidents and safety violations over which we have no control because they have already happened. To the left of zero are human performance training and tools, safety meetings, pre-accident investigations and job safety analyses. We can control these, and it’s amazing what happens when we focus on what we can control.
5. Stop Managing People
Courtney arrives at the conclusion that you cannot manage people. You manage situations, but you must lead people. He then uses leadership principles from the U.S. Army Ranger School to explain what constitutes leading others. I don’t have enough room in this article to list them all, so I will highlight my personal favorite: Leadership is not about rank or title; it is about inspiring the people beside you. As the saying goes, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
6. Stop Trying to Fix the Worker and Fix the Work
How you respond to failure matters – a lot. Too often we get caught in the blame cycle. Courtney eloquently uses the culpability matrix from human performance to help us understand how to respond to failure, especially when it comes to incident investigations. We need to understand the difference between accountability and culpability, that error is normal and that blame fixes nothing.
7. Find the STCKY and Stop the SIF
If you’ve been in the utility industry for a while, you’ve probably been exposed to tracking and preventing serious injuries and fatalities (SIF). This habit uses the energy wheel as a tool to focus on the stuff that can kill you (STCKY).
8. Stop Trying to Influence Everyone
Simply put, if you try to influence everyone, you’re likely to come across as a pushy used car salesperson. I couldn’t help but think about Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence as I read about this habit. Courtney uses Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle of why, how and what to demonstrate how to communicate important safety-related messages.
“The 8 Habits of a Highly Effective Safety Culture” is one of the most practical books I have ever read. It teaches readers how to value safety and get culture right with tremendous insight into what a successful safety program looks like.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and that it inspires you to read and apply both Courtney’s book and mine. Join me for a complimentary webinar September 14 at 1 p.m. Eastern during which we will discuss this article. Schedule permitting, Courtney will be there to discuss his book and answer our questions. I look forward to seeing you there.
About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com) and the author of “Frontline Leadership: The Hurdle.” He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.
About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.