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SLC 2017 Q&A: Who Owns Safety?

July 6, 2017
It is human nature to take better care of that which we own. Ownership is the main reason people will detail their own car but won’t even run a rental through a free car wash.

Long-time EHS Today columnist Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, and has served as a consultant and advisor for top organizations the world over. A respected strategist and thought leader in the industry, Terry has authored five books as well as numerous articles and blogs, and is known for his dynamic and engaging presentations. Business leaders and safety professionals seek Mathis’ practical insight and unique ability to introduce new perspectives that lead to real change.

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We recently asked Mathis about his keynote presentation for the 2017 Safety Leadership Conference, scheduled for Sept. 11-13 at the Hilton Atlanta and here’s what he had to say:

EHS Today: Can you offer us a description of your presentation and how it relates to safety leadership?

Terry L. Mathis: Employee engagement in safety is a goal of many organizations and ownership is the highest form of engagement. It is human nature to take better care of that which we own. Ownership is the main reason people will detail their own car but won’t even run a rental through a free car wash. Ownership is also the reason why some safety efforts are stellar and others are lackluster. Should we create ownership in our safety efforts? Who should own what? And how do we accomplish this?

EHS Today: Why is the topic of your presentation of interest to you and why is it important to Safety Leadership Conference attendees?

Mathis: Knowing how to create a sense of ownership in the workforce is one of the highest-level skills a leader can achieve. Ownership elicits discretionary effort and increases organizational effectiveness, not only in safety, but in almost every aspect of performance.

EHS Today: Please share an example of a personal or professional experience you’ve had related to safety leadership or the topic of your presentation.

Mathis: I had a consulting client who asked me to help improve employee engagement in safety. When I probed more deeply into what he thought of as engagement, I discovered he initially just wanted employees to buy in and agree with his safety efforts.

After we achieved a good level of buy-in, he realized the next level was to get workers actively participating in safety efforts. We had to create participation opportunities and market them to the workforce. After surpassing 90 percent participation, he asked what was next.

I explained the idea of ownership and gave him some examples of how to get it and what it could do for the organization. He bought in and we accomplished some truly excellent safety performance while creating a world-class safety culture.

EHS Today: What are the takeaways you hope to leave with attendees?

Mathis: I hope attendees catch the vision of what ownership means: both the responsibility aspect and the sense of pride. Then I hope they begin to plan how to accomplish this in their own organizations.

EHS Today: What do you think are some of the most pressing EHS and risk management issues facing corporate leaders and safety professionals in 2017 and beyond?

Mathis: I believe the highest levels of safety performance cannot be accomplished top down. Safety statistics over the last several decades indicate our traditional efforts reach a plateau as they approach excellence and the gap between that plateau and true excellence is not being crossed with more of the same traditional efforts that got us here.  This means the entire safety culture must be engaged.

Leaders must become coaches and workers must get into a continuous-improvement mode. Safety professionals cannot police the workforce into excellence and should instead become the subject-matter experts to help others understand how to reach their highest levels of safety performance.

EHS Today: How will this session help attendees be a better resource for their employees and company?

Mathis: All progress begins with thinking differently. This session will introduce some radically-different thoughts on how to achieve safety excellence. Those who get it will be able to return to their organizations with new ideas of how to progress, rather than simply trying to make the same old approaches slightly better.

(EHS Today's 2017 Safety Leadership Conference and America’s Safest Companies Award Program will take place Sept. 11-13 in Atlanta, GA at the Hilton Atlanta. This event is designed to share best leadership, risk management, compliance and safety practices with EHS professionals hoping to achieve world-class safety at their companies. The conference features 28 sessions across four performance tracks; Safety & Risk Management, Compliance, Construction Safety and Safety Technology.)

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