By Ian Sampson
“People are our most important asset and Safety is our number one priority.”
”Yata yata, yata!” as George would say in the Seinfeld series. You can almost see people’s eyes glaze over as the visitors read it on the laminated policy statement in the foyer or the faithful employees sit in the training session at HQ. But you really mean it. You mention it every time you are reminded by your Communications expert. You put it in the company newsletter from time to time. You even start off your management reports with safety as the first item. Just like Frieda…
Frieda was MD of a manufacturing business where all these things above were faithfully followed. And yet safety performance was not improving. Then their worst nightmare occurred and a visitor was seriously hurt in one of their factories. Investigations were conducted. Someone was found who could be made to fall on their sword. Systems were modified. More speeches were made. A training course was even required from HR. Then a fatality occurred.
What went wrong? Well, people often saw Frieda jaywalking in front of the factory. She regarded stair banisters as a decoration rather than a safety aid. They noticed a complete lack of sincerity in her safety briefing at the company awards night. They saw her cut corners as she pushed for early completion on the major capital project. And they wondered. And they kept their heads down. And they looked after themselves. And they waited for the axe to fall on Frieda, for her to really get what safety leadership is about. Or they left.
In using the term flaky my intention is to show that, if leaders are not wholehearted on safety, when the going gets tough their stated commitment will peel off like a piece of flaky paint does when the temperature rises.
One of the great litmus tests of leadership is how you lead safety. Leaders will know they are a great leader when all their people are safe day in and day out. If that is not the case right now, consider what would have to be done to accomplish this. After all, as a leader, you tell your people (and you know it deep inside) if you can’t manage safety you can’t manage.
About Ian: Ian Sampson (B.Comm., LLB., FAICD, FAIM) is a Cause & Effective Associate. He is a Strategic Advisor to Boards, an Executive Coach and a Facilitator of our Powerful Leadership in Action Program. He can be contacted here.