About nine years ago, I attended a workshop on safety leadership presented by a company called Stars International. After 25-plus years of working in the semiconductor, chemical and oil and gas industries, the workshop helped me understand what real safety leaders believe and do. It also changed my perspective on – and commitment to – process and personal safety at home and in the workplace.
Since then, I’ve developed a personal safety leadership model, based on the safety leadership principles taught by the Stars International team. I’ve used it to guide me through my personal and professional life, and I’ve encouraged others to believe in it and practice it too.
The thought recently occurred to me that coupling my personal safety leadership model with a mnemonic tool might be a worthwhile exercise. The impetus to create the mnemonic tool came from observing my wife – a university nursing professor – who is researching the use of mnemonic tools to improve patient “handoff” between caregiver teams.
The Model and the Mnemonic
Safety leaders are the instigators, perpetrators and catalysts who forge a “nobody-gets-hurt-today” culture and who relentlessly champion a “zero-incident” workplace. Without active safety leaders, organizational safety culture might improve, but at an unacceptably slow pace.
Safety leaders accelerate the development and perpetuation of an organization’s safety culture and, as the “ACCELERATOR,” they are the ones in the organization who:
- A – Are personally accountable for doing the right thing(s), even if no one else is watching and even if no one would know if they didn’t.
- C – Have courage to do the right things no matter who or how many are watching.
- C - Possess good communication skills, are clear and concise in their safety conversations and understand the importance of non-verbal (e.g., body language) communication.
- E – Set clear, laser-focused safety expectations, realizing that co-workers will perform up to or down at the level expected of them, and who mentor and coach co-workers who need help meeting those expectations.
- L – Listen empathically and understand that a “check valve” (backflow preventers in hydraulics and, by analogy, a tendency to “preach” coupled with an unwillingness to listen) in a safety conversation is a recipe for disaster.
- E – Are relentless in the engagement of co-workers in safety conversations, expending the energy and making the time to use their safety leadership skills to “connect” early and often and at every level of the organization in meaningful safety engagements.
- R – Reward employees for doing the right things (e.g., “good catches” in the workplace) and understand that personal (by-name) recognition in a common forum (e.g., team or safety meetings) for a job well done is worth more to many co-workers than a gift card.
- A – Adapt the way that they communicate to the style and personality of others, recognizing that, for example, a hard-wired “get ‘er done” controller using his or her native style and attempting to have a safety conversation with a “need-to-know-the-details” thinker sets both of them up for frustration and failure.
- T – Build trust with those who work with them and for them, facilitating the high-quality safety conversations that characterize a healthy safety culture.
- O - Seize ownership of safety in the workplace, taking responsibility – without being asked or told to do so – for their own safety behaviors and decisions and those of others, and who are willing to intervene when the actions of others pose unacceptable safety risks.
- R – Resolve conflict, understanding that conflict is not a bad thing, realizing that conflict allowed to fester is unhealthy and knowing that conflict addressed and resolved head-on typically results in outcomes as good as or better than the original perspectives of the conflicted parties.
Ground Rules for Safety Leadership
An organization’s model for safety leadership behaviors should be designed to reflect its unique culture and values. Ideally, it should be developed by a representative cross section of the organization. It doesn’t have to resemble the model presented above, of course. But having a common model establishes the organization’s safety leadership “ground rules” and facilitates coaching, mentoring and reinforcement of model behaviors and attributes.
There’s no magic bullet to get to zero accidents and injuries, and the model and mnemonic aren’t magic either. As my friends and I used to say when faced with a difficult lab or problem set in graduate school: “If it was easy, the undergraduates could do it.” I believe the “ACCELERATOR” team is the graduate student body of safety leadership.