Strategy, engagement, execution: 10 secrets to raise your company’s safety quotient

Posted on 23 March 2011

By Doug Brown, BST

Great safety organizations understand the safety perspective of employees at each level. They focus on connecting the right people with the right activities in the right ways.

Great safety organizations understand the safety perspective of employees at each level. They focus on connecting the right people with the right activities in the right ways.

What do great safety organizations do that others don’t? Drawing on our experience with hundreds of organizations around the world, we have identified 10 characteristics shared by great safety organizations. These characteristics can be grouped into a focus on strategy, engagement and execution.

Strategy

Reducing exposure to hazards requires an organizational development undertaking, which means engaging senior-most leaders and connecting safety to the core of the business. From a strategic perspective, great safety organizations do this by:

1. Understanding the real safety objectives of their organization’s leadership.

Great safety organizations have established safety as a strategic, rather than tactical, objective. Senior leaders are aligned around the necessity of safety as an organization-wide strategic objective and core value – and they have determined what that alignment means with respect to other strategic objectives.

2. Getting top leadership to develop a vision for safety.

Forgoing the traditional bullet list, great safety organizations create specific behavioral narratives that answer the question: What observable and replicable behaviors will define the future state of safety?

Engagement

Safety means different things to different people, which translates into different types of involvement. Great safety organizations create engagement through:

3. Understanding what motivates safety leaders.

The leader who works to improve safety is usually doing so out of a belief that safety is the right thing to do. Compassion and motivation for excellence differ fundamentally from other business motives, including the drive for operating profits and business success.

4. Learning how their organization is de-motivating safety leaders.

Focusing on injuries while ignoring the exposures that create them or encouraging leaders to say things they know are contradictory are just two of the ways that organizations unintentionally de-motivate safety leaders. Great safety organizations recognize the realities that leaders face and align organizational systems, processes and strategy to support consistent safety leadership.

5. Understanding the “Safety Perspective” of employees at each level.

Great safety organizations focus on connecting the right people with the right activities in the right ways by understanding what safety means to different people.

6. Teaching the core elements of organizational safety to leaders.

Safety systems are just one element of safety functioning. Great safety organizations help senior leaders recognize the connection between safety performance and the wider business.

Execution

Safety excellence requires reliable systems that are operating well and used consistently across the organization. Employees must communicate and collaborate with each other, across departments, between shifts – even when their immediate interests may be in conflict. Great safety organizations do this by:

7. Assessing safety leadership skills across the organization.

Leaders are critical to driving safety excellence, and great safety organizations know this. They use an array of tools, assessments and coaching to help their leaders understand how they’re influencing safety and to provide ways for leaders to optimize their influence. Many leaders are pleasantly surprised to find that they don’t need to make drastic adjustments to their behaviors to create a measurable change.

8. Assessing the organizational culture and safety climate of the organization.

As the saying goes, when strategy meets culture, culture eats strategy for lunch. Great safety organizations recognize that the shared values, assumptions and beliefs within their workplaces have very real implications for safety outcomes and activities. Understanding current culture and climate helps leaders make the changes necessary to support desired-state activities and outcomes.

9. Designing interventions that address top leadership, middle managers and front-line employees.

Great safety organizations focus on designing interventions that enable front-line employees, middle managers and senior leaders to reduce exposure within their everyday roles.

10. Continually re-assessing and improving all of the above.

Organizations are not static. Great safety organizations periodically review safety systems and processes to assure that they are still working as intended and still fit with the business as it progresses.

Becoming Great

What it takes to become a great safety organization is neither mysterious nor attainable by only a special few. Each characteristic is actionable and accessible for any organization. The common underlying thread to these characteristics, and the true key to their success, is the commitment of senior leadership to driving the development of these traits and to creating a truly great safety organization.

This article is based on a presentation at the 2011 IADC Health, Safety, Environment and Training Conference & Exhibition, 1-2 February, Houston.

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