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Overcoming the 10 Top Leadership Mistakes

Even the best-intentioned leadership efforts can falter, says a\r\nspeaker at the ASSE conference.

EHS professionals who want to be leaders in their companies may have read articles or attended seminars on how to be good leaders. They have learned all of the things to do, but may not have been told what not to do.

Robert Mater, MA, managing director of Strategic Safety Associates in Portland, Ore., told attendees Tuesday at the American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conference in Anaheim, Calif., that they need to overcome the top 10 leadership mistakes.

1. Weaker leaders have tunnel vision and do not see that safety, productivity and morale are interdependent and mutually important to organizational strength. Safety is never No. 1, Mater claimed. People are paid to do a high-quality, productive job as safely as possible. Proclaiming safety as No. 1 can result in lost credibility and others looking for opportunities to catch you in a mixed message. Better to let people know that safety is critical to your organization and on par with productivity, quality and morale.

2. Ineffective leaders allow "false pride" to get in the way of their work. They have a problem letting go of tasks and delegating to others. They may have difficulty allowing others to buy in and to get rightful credit for work done, or they may find it impossible to admit they were incorrect or do not know all. They might believe that respect is due to them because of their education, position or experience.

3. Weaker leaders forget to treat themselves as a leadership resource. You are your ultimate resource as a leader. It''s essential to control your own attitude, level of commitment, stress management and personal motivation. If you are sleep-deprived or engaging in other negative habits, it''s difficult to draw on your potential resources, especially in stumping for others to live a safe and healthy lifestyle. "We can''t nourish other people if we''re not nourishing ourselves," Pater said.

4. Poor leaders create resistance to the changes they are attempting to institute. Pressing too hard for change can backfire, resulting in push-back to improvements, even those originally requested by the "resisters." Backing off or using a different approach often works better than blindly pressing on or attempting to overpower objections. The strongest leaders enhance their power by working through others. They know that everyone is a potential change-agent, and they work toward developing high-level leadership skills in line staff as well as in senior managers.

5. Ineffective leaders unyieldingly stick to pre-set plans. In a world of swirling change, objectives set even months ago may no longer be relevant, as other issues become more important. Strategic leaders continually monitor the shifting of significant forces that affect performance and adapt their plans and actions to maximize success.

6. Weaker leaders lose contact with a full range of the people they serve. All safety leaders have multiple "clients" -- line staff, supervisors, mid-managers, senior managers, union representatives and the professional staff of other departments. It''s essential to stay in close touch with the concerns, fears and interests of all those you serve.

7. Nonstrategic leaders forget that everything they do, as well as everything they do not do, sends messages. People watch what is ignored and what gets attention, who gets disciplined and who does not. Wise leaders know that they are always setting precedent by what they do as well as do not do. Promoting someone to a supervisory position who has a rotten safety record sends out all kinds of messages. ("Safety''s not really important," "We say one thing and do another," "So that''s what you have to do to get promoted here.")

8. Weaker leaders allow fear to control their actions. Unmanaged fear often results in failure to consider new paths or take critical risks (fear of uncontrolled consequences). Fear is also a significant obstacle to delegating work. Unfortunately, many leaders are often hampered by fear of conflict. "Without a conflict of ideas," Pater said, "there is no improvement."

9. Nonstrategic leaders engage in "either-or" thinking. Safety and leadership is beset with nonstrategic "either-or" thinking. Too often, some safety professionals have an unrealistic "either-or" approach to injuries. Workers are seen to either be injured/disabled or to be OK. "In my experience," Pater said, "most workers past the bloom of youth, especially those who have done physical jobs, are not working 100 percent. They may be nursing ongoing pain or minor injuries, doing the best job they can while favoring parts of their body. The wise safety professional will make use of this to help promote, not demote, safety. These leaders design programs that acknowledge the real state of their workers, motivate them accordingly and monitor success based upon measures that go beyond OSHA log changes.

10. Ineffective leaders fight, rather than employ, human nature. Human nature is powerful. The strongest leaders accept and utilize natural forces of motivation, competition, skepticism, limits of attention, habit formation, desire for control and self-protection. For example, everyone is motivated; they just might not be motivated in the direction and way you would like. Effective leaders motivate others by helping them be more effective in what''s important to the group, not what is dear to the leader. Focusing on saving the company workers'' compensation dollars may motivate managers but is unlikely to positively affect most line staff (unless they realize a direct and tangible benefit from heightened profits).

by Todd Nighswonger

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