SLC 2019 Q&A: Cultural Transformation Across Global Locations

Aug. 27, 2019
Kirk Bagnal, Domtar’s global director of EHS&S, will share a case study of the company's journey with 2019 SLC attendees.

Kirk Bagnal, Domtar’s global director of safety, environment, health & sustainability, has worked to greatly reduce injuries while integrating six manufacturing plants the company has purchased over the past five years.

The former U.S. armor officer and paratrooper is in pursuit of a culture of safety excellence at Domtar's nine locations across North America and Europe.

Bagnal will explain how he is creating Domtar's newest safety leaders at the 2019 Safety Leadership Conference session titled "Cultural Transformation Across Global Locations - A Case Study."

The special case study will explore in detail the practical approach taken across global locations to strategically improve both safety performance and culture and the lessons learned along the journey.

Read more about his Safety and Risk Management track session in his Q&A with EHS Today.

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

Kirk Bagnal: The Cheshire Cat said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” This is so true in life, business, and certainly when considering your Safety Strategy.  Following, Shawn Galloway’s “STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence” model and Paul O’Neill’s Alcoa model for “how to work together… beginning with employee safety,Domtar has built a highly collaborative, forward thinking, strength-based team that has developed and executed a strategy for safety which has resulted in the integration of six businesses which were purchased by Domtar over the past five years. Not every part of the journey has been smooth but it has yielded a 77% improvement in total injuries while eliminating all severe injuries and has served as a model for other business disciplines like quality, reliability, and continuous improvement to follow. At the core of this strategy is a relentless focus on living out our mantra of  "People First -- Safety Always" which serves as the guide for all that we do.

Why is the topic of your presentation of interest to you and why is it important to SLC attendees?

Bagnal: As leadership expert John Maxwell states, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  He couldn’t be more correct… as we have seen in our journey towards a culture of safety excellence. We have established as our number 1 goal in safety to create more and better safety leaders… and we are excited to share with everyone “HOW”!

What are the takeaways you hope to leave with attendees?

Bagnal: 1. Understand and be able to articulate the definition of a Safety Leader.
2. Understand and be prepared to apply key principles to create more and better Safety Leaders.
3. Provide “watch-outs” and “pitfalls” on trying to build a safety management system without first developing a sound safety strategy while creating a dynamic and robust Safety Leadership Development Culture.

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

Bagnal: When my company president asked me if I was interested in moving from my plant manager role into this new position responsible for the safety of all of the people in our company in eight locations including Europe, I was overwhelmed… to put it mildly. We didn’t have a strategy, we didn’t have a team, and I had 100% responsibility with ZERO authority. I immediately realized that I needed to change, and I needed to establish a team to build a strategy for creating “Safety Leaders”. Thus, our journey began. Through any conversation, you’ll find that I am extremely passionate about my job – my “calling” – to protect our people, places, and products.  What began as an impossible task has turned into an incredible journey  full of beautiful stories of people becoming leaders… SAFETY LEADERS.

What do you think are some of the most pressing EHS and risk management issues facing corporate leaders and safety professionals in 2019 and beyond?

Bagnal: I believe strongly that our most pressing issue now… and into the future is priorities. Even the word itself – “PRIORITIES” – is incorrectly stated. You can’t have “multiple priorities”. There really is only ONE priority… and I have to say candidly: “SAFETY IS NOT THE #1 PRIORITY… nor should it be”.  You may be wondering how a Global Safety Leader could speak such heresy to the safety leader community.  Simply stated, we must realize how our words, our language, and our thoughtfulness in how we use them can shape our culture and our society.  Instead of “Safety VS. Production”, we must expect “Safe Production”.  Instead of “Safety First”, we must promote “People First”.  Words matter. By building a robust…yet easy-to-understand strategy (including a marketing plan to evangelize it), we begin by using our words to engage HEARTS, inform HEADS, so that our people in our organization can execute with their HANDS.Therefore, if “prioritization” is our most pressing issue, let’s put that issue to rest by making people our #1 priority and our #1 goal to “Create more and better (safety) leaders”.  It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the most effective way to get it done.

Do you have any additional insight you would like to share?

Bagnal: Whatever the size business you are operating within and whether you are in the manufacturing, distribution, service, or even not-for-profit business, Safety Leadership is essential for any immediate and sustained success.  Although training and classroom development are a critical part of building a resource base for leadership, the ONLY way to become better at leading… is simply by leading. All organizations can benefit from how to go from a “Leader-Follower” model for safety to a “Leader-Leader” model for safety.

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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