Steps in Safety Strategy: Making Change Work

Dec. 1, 2009
Improving safety continuously, rather than in fits and starts, requires ongoing mechanisms that become normal and reliable practice.

The terms “normal and reliable” are key when discussing continuous safety improvement as it is a function of mechanisms that sustain the change. The final elements of any change process involve defining how the change will be supported and sustained for long-term success. This article completes a series on 10 steps for making safety a strategic endeavor.


What does strategic safety consist of? A vision provides an organization with a concrete picture of the desired future state. However, it cannot diagnose the steps to getting there. The barriers to creating desired state qualities will vary, depending on the unique configuration, history and culture of each organization.

Leaders must develop an intervention plan that starts from where the organization currently is (not where we hope it is) and that prescribes specific, real-world changes that optimize available resources. Leaders must:

  • Educate themselves on safety, organizational culture and culture change.

  • Develop a behavioral description of the desired future state and the “compelling case” for safety.

  • Develop a communications plan for the vision and take an active role in driving the message.

  • Identify and implement a governance structure.

  • Gain an understanding of the current state of safety and identify the gaps between the desired state and the current state of safety within the organization.

  • Oversee the development/deployment of the plan.

  • Make safety a critical criteria in decisionmaking.

  • Identify the metrics that the senior team will monitor to permit evaluation of the implementation.

  • Conduct timely project reviews and adjust the plan as necessary.

  • Provide rewards, recognition and consequences.

Culture change requires that leaders act with determination, but it also requires a nimble, flexible response to the task at hand. Different organizations proceed at different speeds, and some may need to spend more time on certain steps than on others.


Shifting organizational priorities can derail a change initiative. Sustaining mechanisms provide a counterweight to ensure needed continuity of intention and action despite priority changes. Such mechanisms provide accountability for keeping safety visible, for identifying and addressing hazards, for ensuring that others are actively engaged in safety and for maintaining alignment among the senior leaders on the strategic importance of safety. Fundamentally, the sustaining steps focus on attention to the project itself and support of the people required to work the project.

Step Nine

Conduct timely project reviews and adjust the plan as necessary.

  • Review process and outcome metrics.

  • Evaluate both the effectiveness of the implementation and the adequacy of the plan.

  • Ensure alignment across all activities and departments.

  • Modify the plan or the implementation as appropriate to continue progress toward the desired future state.

Step 10

Provide rewards, recognition and consequences as appropriate.

Positive consequences increase the frequency of desirable behaviors and build an open and cooperative culture that is more accepting of change and able to sustain improvements. It is important that leadership continually provides recognition and consequences suited to the expected and observed changes in behaviors. For example:

  • Recognize visible safety-supporting behaviors.

  • Quickly address detracting behaviors.

  • Continually review selection, development and performance management decisions in the context of safety.


Sustained safety excellence takes an organizational development undertaking. Getting people and systems at every level to anticipate and respond to changes in exposure requires the guidance and ownership of top-most leaders in partnership with operational leaders, safety professionals and employees.

These steps serve as a guide to begin planning for the shift from tactical to strategic safety functioning and to take a major step toward true injury-free performance.

Psychologist Thomas Krause, Ph.D., is chairman of the board of BST, a global safety performance consulting firm.

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