Steps in Safety Strategy: Communications & Governance

April 1, 2009
Continued look at 10 actions that help leaders establish safety as a strategic objective. The steps begin with building a foundation of understanding and purpose for the safety mission

In the last column, we began to look at 10 actions that help leaders establish safety as a strategic objective. The steps begin with building a foundation of understanding and purpose for the safety mission: first as leaders educate themselves about safety and culture change, and then as they develop a behavioral vision of — and articulate the “compelling case” for — safety.

In this installment, we build on the strategic safety foundation with the next two steps: the development of a communication plan and a safety governance structure.


Safety improvements, like other organizational change efforts, are vulnerable to many elements. Most organizations have virtual graveyards full of abandoned or half-realized initiatives that gradually eroded under the naturally occurring forces within and outside the workplace. Clearly, merely launching an initiative, even in the support of a strategic objective, is not enough.

The initiative needs an infrastructure that supports essential activities, drives the effort down through the organization and sustains it through the inevitable changes that workplaces undergo.

Step Three — Develop (or oversee the development of) a communications plan for the vision and compelling case, taking an active role in driving the message down and across the organization.

An effective communication plan seeks to answer affirmatively the question, “Am I part of this?” for employees throughout the organization. Rolling out a communication plan from stem to stern creates understanding and alignment. Notably, once the steering team, the behavioral vision and the communication plan are in place, the entire organization hears how the CEO will behave differently and how the company now is organized for safety. The communication plan also lets the hourly workers know that even the CEO, leadership and the board members have behavioral expectations focused on safety. To be effective, leaders at this step must assure that:

  • The chair and all members of the senior team take an active role in getting the message out.
  • Everyone in the organization understands the vision, the compelling case for improving safety and their role achieving this vision.
  • There is a “two-way” system to let employees communicate issues, ideas and barriers back up the hierarchy.

Step Four — Identify and implement a governance structure for the initiative.

Attention to safety in all its dimensions — including exposures or risk — starts at the top. Setting a tone in the boardroom and among senior leaders favoring performance means more than reviewing the safety performance statistics at each meeting and more than visiting worksites. It means paying attention to the full picture of safety, requiring accountability and expecting improved performance — without perpetuating a culture of blame.

An effective safety improvement initiative requires that roles for employees throughout the organization clearly are defined and that there is an explicit governance structure. Ideally, senior-most leaders charter and sponsor a multi-disciplinary steering team to take on the enactment of “leading with safety” throughout the organization. Leaders must:

  • Identify and document the role that the senior team will play.
  • Develop a charter for the senior team to define roles, expectations and responsibilities of the senior team as related to the transition.
  • Identify the role of the safety department and how it will interact with the senior team.
  • Appoint a senior team member as the safety team “champion” (sponsor).

In the next installment, we will look developing the implementation plan itself and how to introduce safety as a criteria for executive decision making.

Psychologist Thomas Krause, Ph.D., is chairman of the board of BST, a global safety performance consulting firm. Krause has conducted research and interventions in the use of performance improvement methods for accident prevention, culture change, leadership development and other targeted applications. He has authored several books and articles on safety and leadership.

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