Are Your Top Leaders Engaged in Driving Safety Performance?

Jan. 11, 2017
Savvy corporations recognize the importance of having top leadership teams engaged in driving safety performance. So how can you engage your corporate leaders?

In a perfect world, everybody does the right thing, the right way, all the time, for the right reasons, on the road to zero injuries and incidents. But unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world and injuries often do happen. And when they do, while the financial impact can be crippling, the human costs are much greater.

As leadership teams continue seeking ways to improve their safety performance and reduce their compliance costs, many delegate responsibility to middle managers to evaluate the elements of their safety performance programs and make adjustments. With these managers more focused on daily operations, they seem to be the obvious choice to drive safety performance, right? 

While this may seem to be the case, savvy corporations recognize the importance of having top leadership teams engaged in driving safety performance. The reason? With their middle management teams focused on maintaining daily operations, leadership teams have both the knowledge and corporate clout to efficiently champion larger corporate changes. As a result, they can drive strategic safety initiatives, while relying on management teams to effectively deploy and implement these initiatives in a way that is inclusive of all employees.

Yet the question remains, how do you get leadership engaged in safety performance?

Flip Leadership's Priorities

Engaging leaders to drive safety performance comes down to flipping their priorities. Traditionally, the primary focus of corporate leaders is on lowering costs, increasing revenue and customer satisfaction, etc., not increasing their employees' engagement in safety.

The irony of this approach is that leaders can flip their funnel of priorities to put their employees first while still achieving their other goals. How is this accomplished?

It's as "simple" as getting leadership on board to motivate and engage with their employees on the importance of safety performance. While this can be done in a variety of ways, two distinct ways that top leaders can propel and promote your corporate safety program are accountability and continuous learning.

Creating a Culture of Accountability

One way to create accountability for safety performance is two-way communication practiced by both employees and top leaders. From an employee perspective, accountability requires the proper reporting and documentation of all incidents and other concerns, including injuries and near misses. This information ensures that leadership has insights into day-to-day operations.

For leadership, accountability requires taking action on the information provided by employees and using it to enact larger corporate change. This includes both reactive changes to alter processes and procedures to prevent future incidents, as well as proactive changes to address near misses and employee concerns before they cause injuries.

By operating within this two-way accountability model, both leadership and employees can benefit from more open lines of communication surrounding workplace safety. This communication ultimately will lead to improved trust between employees and leadership. As a result, employees will be more confident that their comments and reports will be seen and acted upon by leadership, while leadership teams will have the information they need to help their companies grow and evolve while embracing safety as a value.

Such practices can go a long way in getting both employees and leadership actively engaged in driving safety performance, resulting in a reduction of workplace injuries and a reduction in compensation costs.

Creating a Culture of Continuous Learning

Building on the need for leadership to create a two-way accountability model, leaders also should use employee information to develop a culture of two-way continuous learning.

Today's work environment constantly is changing, due to emerging technologies. And while these assets can improve our efficiencies, they also can lead to a bevy of incidents that previously may not have been present in the workplace. With employees facing growing threats, leadership has a prime opportunity (and responsibility) to engage employees through continuous learning.

The key to an effective continuous learning program is that it be just that: continuous. Leadership should engage employees with skill building that goes beyond formal training on new processes and procedures. Instead, teams should focus on a blended mixture of formal training, informal coaching, professional development and even non-work-related life skill building. Such programs will ensure that employees have the necessary formal workplace training, while also improving employee morale by encouraging their professional development.

With improved morale, employees likely will be more focused on workplace efforts, eventually leading to a reduction in incidents and injuries.

Using Technology to Drive Performance

Creating a culture of continuous learning and accountability is not something that happens overnight. In fact, it often is suggested that leaders explore technology options as yet another tool to drive these elements of their safety performance programs.

If you are considering a technology solution, it is imperative to find something that can help build accountability while also helping to foster continuous learning. As there are a variety of platforms to choose from, consider a solution that can handle key data elements, such as KPIs, standards and procedures, skill building, observations and audits, communication and, lastly, root cause analysis.

Platforms that focus on these data areas will drive leadership engagement by ensuring that leaders have visibility into all reported injuries and near-misses while also providing key data on skill building programs.

Ask Yourself: Is Leadership Involved?

At the end of the day, your top leadership team should be fully engaged in your safety program. While it often is easier for management to take a top level, more hands-off approach, having your leaders fully integrated into the plan is key to reducing injuries, reducing costs and increasing overall employee morale.

As you look at your leadership team, the question you should ask yourself is whether it is fully vested in safety performance. If not, it may be time to see how you can get corporate leaders involved. EHS

Len Jannaman currently is acting as vice president of UL's EHS Sustainability Division's Advisory Services. Prior to his current role, Jannaman completed 33 years with DuPont in leadership roles in manufacturing, business management and safety consulting before retiring and forming several businesses. For the last 10 years with DuPont and then for seven years at his own firm, his specialty has been helping companies install a world-class safety management system to engage employees from the CEO to the factory floor.

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