As many organisations in Australia who operate in a safety critical environment know, creating a safe culture is complex, and is much more than having well-established safety systems in place. A key factor in organisations having a strong safety culture are the people and behaviours that support the safety systems. Research shows that up to 90% of injuries, accidents and near misses in the workplace are caused by the decisions and actions of employees.
The key to driving a shift in organisational wide behaviour lies in having the right leadership approach, and the development of safety culture is no exception. By exemplifying certain attributes, a safety leader can successfully enact positive change within an organisation.
Safety leadership can be defined as, “the interaction between leaders and followers through which leaders exert their influence on followers to achieve organisational safety goals” (Wu et al., 2011; Griffin and Hu, 2013). Essentially, it is the process of leaders guiding employees toward participating in desirable behaviours by endorsing certain values and standards.
A safety leader doesn’t always need to be an individual in a managerial or senior position; but can also be a team member inspiring peers to take initiative in safety situations. Here are four qualities that an effective safety leader will consistently demonstrate when promoting safety culture.
Safety Leaders Genuinely Care About People
By displaying empathy and appreciation for others, safety leaders are able to connect and engage with employees, laying the foundations for a constructive working relationship. As the quality of the relationship between leader and employees will impact how well the message of the leader resonates with others, a safety leader will develop mutual respect and understanding in order to exert influence.
Highly skilled safety leaders are also able to release a certain degree of control and entrust employees and peers with the responsibility of acting appropriately when a safety situation arises. Safety leaders recognise that by building trust and setting accountability, rather than micromanaging or authoritatively enforcing rules, that team members will be empowered to follow safety practices on their own accord.
It is crucial that each employee within an organisation embraces safety culture in equal measure. A safety leader will actively build an inclusive environment that encourages all team members to participate in safe behaviour. What’s more, a safety leader will allow others to be heard by listening to them and taking action when relevant information is shared.
Safety Leaders Know How To Control Situations
Safety leadership is all about communication. An effective safety leader will set a clear direction for the team to follow and will continually monitor progress to ensure all team members remain in alignment. As part of this process, a safety leader will clarify expectations and make each employee aware of their accountabilities and responsibilities at both an organisational and individual level.
Following initial implementation, organisational safety culture must then be fostered on an ongoing basis. A safety leader will take steps to maintain and adapt safety behaviours as needed, measuring key results against specific targets to track performance and identify strengths versus areas in need of improvement.
Safety Leaders Tackle The Last Mile Problem
There will often be hazards and risks within the workplace that are known to certain individuals, and yet no action is taken to address the issue. When such a problem is brought to the attention of a safety leader, they will follow procedure to remove the hazard or mitigate the risk. During the process of overcoming the problem, a proficient safety leader will keep others informed of the proposed solution, its progress and the outcome once the solution has been implemented.
The presence of known hazards and risks completely undermines the safety culture of an organisation. A safety leader will constantly challenge the status quo, attending to safety issues that others may neglect or overlook.
Safety Leaders Build Partnerships
While safety leaders will spearhead behavioural change, safety culture cannot be maintained by a lone individual. All employees must participate in safety behaviours in order for an organisation to achieve success. It is up to each and every team member to report on potential or actual incidents, identify hazards, follow procedures and conduct themselves in a safe manner. Similarly, employees will be unable to fulfil their responsibilities if a safety leader does not set a clear framework or lead by example. The safety leader needs to build a partnership with their employees in which both parties are held accountable.
Strong safety leadership is critical for building and maintaining a successful safety culture. To identify individuals in your organisation who demonstrate a natural aptitude for safety leadership or further develop leadership safety attributes within your existing team leaders, contact People Solutions today.