NSC: Mobilizing Supervisors as Safety Leaders

How do you mobilize supervisors and make them your company's biggest cheerleaders for safety? It's not as tough as you think, says Rob Russell of Strategic Safety Associates.

Russell offered this advice at the National Safety Congress in Chicago: To mobilize supervisors, you must:

  • Understand what you're dealing with (cultural resistance, "we've always done it this way," mentality, etc.) and who you're influencing.
  • Engage the supervisors in the safety process.
  • Provide leadership.

There are organizational reasons (productivity is given a higher priority), personal reasons ("Safety takes care of that") and safety professional-related reasons (image in the organization as a number cruncher and/or the "safety cop") why some supervisors don't champion safety.

"Sometimes there's this feeling among supervisors that safety is just common sense," said Russell. "They think, 'Any idiot can figure this out.' Not true, we all know idiots have unique ways of figuring things out." Russell said supervisors fall into several profiles: achievers who take the lead on issues; followers who do what they are told; observers who do only what they can get away with doing; and resisters who display both active and passive resistance. Not surprisingly, most supervisors (60 percent) are followers, 20 percent are observers, 15 percent are achievers and 5 percent are resisters.

The resisters, said Russell, "really get ticked off by this safety stuff. Sometimes we waste too much time on trying to bring resisters around," he admitted.

Instead, concentrate on the other 80 percent who are followers and observers and try to get them on board.

Russell suggests safety professionals hold regular coffee conferences with supervisors; offer safety orientation for new supervisors; use supervisors as sounding boards; hold problem-solving meetings; offer hints reminders and positive reinforcement via notes, newsletters, memos and copies of articles; offer congratulations and recognition; create safety campaigns with specific supervisory roles; drop in as a guest expert for meetings; and offer coaching in basic safety champion skills.

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