Every person who reads this Tailgate Topic might have a slightly different idea of what drives a strong safety culture. But there is one thing every reader can likely agree upon: that all of a company’s employees have value and make valuable contributions to the organization, helping to create and maintain its safety culture.
Valuable contributions come in an infinite number of forms. In the utility industry, they go well beyond employees simply getting the work done accurately and on time. One example of a valuable contribution is a new written work procedure that helps to keep crews safer, is easily understood by employees and isn’t overly cumbersome to adopt. This contribution also is tangible; it can be disseminated via email, printed, used in training sessions and brought to work sites for easy reference.
Other contributions are less concrete. For instance, a caring attitude is highly valuable. If employees do not have a caring attitude that’s authentic, safety and good health can falter or even cease to exist in some cases.
What about teamwork, passion for the job, eagerness to learn and willingness to teach others? Workers that enthusiastically engage in these acts add tremendous value to an organization. They lead by example, strive to become better at their craft and pass on their knowledge to new or less experienced employees, and create positive, contagious energy within the work environment. All of these actions and behaviors are necessary ingredients in the recipe for a strong safety culture.
A More Difficult Feat
The concept of valuable contributions is not hard to understand. The more difficult feat is fostering a work environment in which valuable contributions are encouraged and recognized. Without that encouragement and recognition, your organization might find itself with a weak safety culture, a situation that is obviously far from ideal.
A company that has excellent leadership is the most likely to foster a strong safety culture. Those of you who have worked in a variety of organizations have no doubt encountered both successful and unsuccessful leaders. What do all of the successful leaders have in common? For starters, they consistently deliver their own valuable contributions to individual employees, work crews and, ultimately, the organizational safety culture. They put a premium on safety, teamwork, open communication and quality work, and they’re willing to offer assistance whenever it’s needed, all of which leads to a culture of trust and mutual respect. In short, successful leaders model the way, displaying the behaviors they seek from others in order to achieve safety excellence.
True leaders also understand that every member of their organization has valuable contributions to make, and they aim to create a culture in which everyone is urged to get involved and share their strengths.
How exactly do they do this? One way is by giving workers the opportunity to assist in the decision-making process. For instance, when there are problems with a certain process or procedure, exemplary leaders talk to the employees who are responsible for executing that work. They ask for the employees’ perspective on what isn’t working properly and what can be done to fix the problems, and then they use that input in their efforts to improve the workflow. This type of interaction leads to employees feeling a sense of involvement and greater care for the work they are doing, and that inevitably leads to a sense of ownership. And when that sense of ownership exists, employees make even more valuable contributions to the organization. They are more likely to share a common purpose, striving to do the right things for the right reasons. Sharing a common purpose also has a great side effect of helping employees strengthen their working relationships with each other. They tend to have more group and one-on-one conversations with each other, and the information derived from those conversations can help to create a safer work environment.
So, with the understanding of what skillful leaders do to encourage employees’ valuable contributions and create a strong safety culture, how can you use that knowledge to inspire your employees and continue to strengthen your organization’s safety culture? Right now, there are undoubtedly many good managers, supervisors, foremen and other employees who work with you who are always positive, who are bright spots in the safety department and the company as a whole. They are accountable and adhere to the safety policies and rules that are in place. If you haven’t already, get them involved in the work you are doing and the decisions you are making. Encourage them to share their ideas and knowledge with you and their team. Keep the lines of communication open at all times, and ensure they understand that you support them and trust their judgment. Never forget that positive leadership will always result in far more valuable employee contributions than leadership through fear, negativity and intimidation ever will.
About the Author: Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP, is a corporate safety director for Blue Bell, Pa.-based Henkels & McCoy Inc. He has 37 years of experience, including work as a frontline mechanic, senior safety professional and safety manager providing risk solutions. Horan is past president of the Philadelphia Chapter of ASSE and a member of AIHA. He holds a master’s degree in safety sciences from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Great article. Totally agree with your comments about employee involvement, open communication, and positive leadership,...Felt Leadership, right?
PS - Welcome to the team!