Terry Mathis

SLC 2017 :Who Owns Safety?

To create an effective safety culture, everyone must take personal ownership of safety.

Do we treat something differently if we own it? According to Terry Mathis, CEO of ProAct Safety, and keynote speaker at the SLC 2017 Conference currently underway in Atlanta, the answer is a resounding yes.

Mathias asked the audience if their workers feel a sense of pride in how they maintain safe working conditions or are they content to leave their section in less than ideal conditions as the end of the shift?

Digging further he posed the question that when you ask workers who is in charge of safety do they point to a leader or to they point to themselves?

Ownership of safety needs to reside in each associate and be an integral part of the culture, Mathis explained.  The principles of ownership are possession, stewardship, and control. Do employees feel they possess the tools and knowledge to be able to implement a safety strategy? Are they held accountable and can they work in an environment that is free of micromanagement?

“I don’t think we are teaching associates principles,” said Mathis. “We are teaching them rules and procedures to follow and this is very limiting.”

What management is missing is a leadership style that empowers associate. “You manage things, but you lead people,” Mathis says. He used the example of the shepherd who leads the flocks as opposed to the sheepdog that stays at the back of the flock and bites the heels of the sheep.

To attain the ideal leadership style, Matis says companies need to move from being COPS to COACHES. He defines cops as C (catching) O (opportunities to)  P (punish). Punishment is a stopping tool, not a tool to improve behavior, Mathia points out. Punishment signals to associates that you really don’t trust them.

While the C (create) O (ownership) A (and) C (change) H (happens.) methods allow managers to work with associates and asking them to help discover solutions.

A good coaching modeling is comprised of three basic actions – focus, facilitate and feedback.

Companies are trying to solve too many problems and in fact don’t move the  mountain forward this way, says Mathis. They instead need to focus on a few safety improvements. But the focus needs to be based on a clear understanding of where the problems are. He cited an example of a company focusing on getting associates steel-toes shoes, but that wasn’t directly tied to the safety problems they were having.

Facilitating is working with associates and asking the reason behind certain actions. Often associates find workarounds that are more complicated and inefficient than addressing the problem at its root cause.

And feedback should include both negative and positive comments. Mathias shared the case of an associate who had been with the company for 27 years and when asked what could be improved replied she would have liked to heard when she was right. In all of her years she only heard what she did wrong.

The key to improvement for safety managers is to view their role as a coach. “Many safety teams do not have a strategy, Mathias says. "hey throw programs out to the workforce that are confusing and often conflicting. But a roadmap, or game plan will tie all of the program together and give associates the knowledge the need to take ownership of the safety culture. “

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