Walking the Talk: Leading Safety by Example | SOS Podcast
Supervisors have an impressive list of responsibilities. None, however, are more important than those related to direct reports' safety, health, and well-being. This episode discusses the importance of felt leadership in safety and highlights ways to demonstrate it.
Nicknamed the Wizard of Westwood, basketball icon John Wooden once said, "The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own example." While we're not discussing basketball today, we are talking about the need for leadership and workplace safety. Stay with us.
Hello, and thank you for joining us. My name is Joe White. I'm the host of Supervisor Skills, Secrets of Success. The SOS Podcast series is produced to create ongoing development opportunities for mid and frontline managers. With each episode, we take on topics of interest and share insights and perspectives for the benefit of our listeners. In today's SOS short episode, we're talking about workplace safety. More specifically, we're talking about leading safety by example. This topic is extremely important for supervisors, especially those in labor-dependent industries, which tend to have higher levels of inherent hazards. Through the course of our discussion today, it's my sincere hope that you'll find an opportunity to demonstrate more effectively your felt leadership and safety.
A number of years ago, I worked for a company that had very progressive and forward-thinking views on motor vehicle safety. They were truly ahead of their time, with many driver safety requirements in place long before it was common practice within our industry. As an example, while driving company vehicles, you had to blow your horn before backing up, regardless of where you were and weren't allowed to pull into parking spaces. You had to back into them. In addition, convertibles couldn't be driven on company business, and cell phone use while driving was strictly prohibited. As part of the company's driving policy, we had to complete extensive training, which included a behind-the-wheel component once every three years.
On one particular occasion, my division was behind schedule, and a number of employees were delinquent on completion of driving safety modules assigned to them. An email was issued by senior executive that said all the right things, conveying a clear message of what must be done by when. In summary, his expectations regarding individual responsibilities were made loud and clear, complete the training and follow the policy. As you might expect, response to the contact was immediate, and delinquent training modules were completed with a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. Within a month of receiving the senior executive's email, I was traveling on company business and saw him at one of our regional sites.
As he was leaving the plant, he approached the highway in front of it, pulling up beside me, lowering the top on an 800 series BMW convertible with a cell phone attached to his ear. In an instant, everything he had said and done in an effort to demonstrate leadership and safety no longer mattered. His actions had far more impact upon me than his words ever could. A lesson I've never forgotten. Demonstrating leadership at safety doesn't require inherent traits or characteristics limited to a select few. It also doesn't require a college degree or any sort of certifications. Leadership and safety is about authenticity and integrity. It's not what you say but what you do that matters most. As a supervisor, you're always on stage and constantly being watched.
Your actions and example are far more important than words. If you expect certain actions or behaviors from your employees, they must first see it in you. Otherwise, you're viewed as giving nothing more than lip service to safety, which happens to be among the most important things you have responsibility for as a manager. For those wanting to improve as a supervisor, demonstrating leadership and safety is a great area to focus your attention to. It will have an immediate impact on employees and helps distinguish you from peers, something of great value when promotion or placement opportunities are being discussed. Here are several ways you can effectively demonstrate leadership and safety.
1. Define, document, and communicate your expectations for employee safety.
Most companies have safety procedures and conditions of employment. This goes beyond that. As a supervisor, what do you expect from your employees? There should never be any doubt regarding your expectations. Make sure they're clear and understood.
2. Don't walk past things in need of attention.
The job site or shop floor has any number of items that can quickly become an unsafe condition. Don't walk past spills, tripping hazards, or conditions that need to be corrected. If you won't take the time to do what's right, why should your employees? Demonstrate the behaviors you want to see in others.
3. Address at-risk behaviors when and where they occur.
More than 85% of all workplace injuries are the result of at-risk behaviors. Shortcuts sneak into work practices and over time, form the basis of bad habits. When you see an at-risk behavior, take the time to address it then and there. Follow up with employees as needed and reinforce any expectations that may not be clear.
4. Encourage reporting of near misses and other learning opportunities.
As humans, we're prone to making mistakes. Fortunately, we don't always suffer harm or loss when we do. The potential, however, does exist. When these instances occur, we should do everything possible to learn from them. As a supervisor, do everything you can to promote, encourage, and acknowledge those sharing personal experiences where learning opportunities exist. Doing so offers many benefits and helps drive interdependency.
5. Follow up and complete all open action items.
Chances are, you have a list of open items related to safety. These action items could be the result of training assignments, incident investigations, or safety observations. Regardless of where they originated, your response to them speaks volumes to your integrity as a leader. Lead by example and complete any open items, especially those identified as safety oriented.
Supervisors have an impressive list of responsibilities. None are more important than ensuring the safety and well-being of your employees. Where safety excellence does exist, it's usually supported by well-prepared and deeply committed core frontline supervisors. Lead by example. Walk the talk and make sure your leadership and safety is not only demonstrated but felt by all those around you. Thank you for joining us. I hope this information will help you grow and improve as a supervisor.
We look forward to sharing additional podcasts with you in the months ahead and welcome any suggestions you might have for topics you would like to see us cover. We're always looking for guests and enjoy sharing insights and success stories from the field. If that's something you would like to be a part of, just let us know. The SOS Podcast series is brought to you by AEU LEAD, a consultancy dedicated to the needs of mid and frontline managers. We value and appreciate any feedback and would encourage you to review and rate your experience with the show wherever you access your podcast. For additional information about AEU LEAD or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes accompanying this episode. That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.
About Joe White
As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.