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Safety Leadership in the Workplace

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on February 23, 2016 at 11:46 AM

Safety leaders are facing new and different challenges every single day. While 80% of leaders believe that top management supports safety efforts, many of them don’t think that executives fully understand the value of keeping workers safe.

Ways to Succeed in Safety Leadership

As a safety leader, your challenges are multifaceted. You have to deal with safety challenges, but you also have to deal with the people surrounding them. Executives, workers, even your own team can present human challenges.

However, there are ways to succeed in safety leadership. Here are three to keep in mind.

1. Put Safety First

It might seem obvious, but you have to put safety first.

Or, put another way, you have to articulate that safety is more than a job to you. It’s a personal value, one that you prioritize over everything else – including your own position at work.

You see, to be a safety leader, you have to show that you’re trustworthy. Otherwise, executives and workers alike won’t be willing to listen to you. If you show that safety is a personal value and you’re willing to work towards it, even if it makes you unpopular with management.

Remember, people know when you’re going through the motions. If you don’t care about safety, why should they?

2. Articulate the Big Picture–In Person

If you can show your colleagues that you think of safety as a personal value, then it’s much easier to get them to listen to you when you talk about the big picture.

In fact, you need to articulate the big picture, and you need to do it in the field.

Leaders have a tendency to leap headlong into the action. But as a safety professional, you know that leaping in headfirst is often the way to disaster. For an effective safety strategy – and an articulate safety plan – you have to take a holistic, thought-out approach to the issue.

Then, present your plan to your colleagues as a complete picture. Don’t be afraid to talk them through your logic and show how you’re working to address several real problems instead of one metric, like injury rates.

And above all, don’t be shy about going out into the field. The workers in your care will be more likely to listen to you if they feel like you know what’s happening on the ground rather than spouting ideas from on high.

3. Define Clear Expectations

And speaking of your workers, you need to define clear expectations if you hope to get them involved (hint: you should get your workers involved whenever you can).

Think about it. Workers are on the front lines of the job, and your safety team is on the front lines of implementing safety policies. If they don’t know what’s expected of them, you can’t reasonably expect them to do what you want.

But don’t stop with defining expectations. Make connections. Show workers, executives, and your own team how their contributions tie into the bigger picture – and why their contributions are essential to a safe workplace.

That way, you can demonstrate the value of active participation and encourage your key players to take part.

Leadership in EHS and Sustainability

As the availability of well-trained environmental, health, and safety (EHS) professionals shortens due to retirement of baby-boomers and overall market demand, it’s important to identify young professionals who show promise in their careers. NAEM lists three skills that have been self-reported by EHS and sustainability professionals as their strongest aptitudes:

  • Written communications: Communication skills are vital as a leader is required to not only communicate the facts they know, but share a vision that can get people on board2. This can prove difficult considering the variety of people that an EHS or sustainability leader interacts with from day to day. Whether presenting to a management board or working with field personnel to explain safety systems on the job, an EHS or sustainability professional has to lead by example to instill confidence in their abilities.
  • Translating technical concepts for non-expert audiences: For many of the EHS and sustainability professionals who have degrees or experience in sciences or engineering, communication skills must be intentionally developed for career advancement. Subject matter expertise or technical skill can only go so far – to be a leader in EHS or sustainability requires more.

  • Managing without authority: The last skill, managing without authority, is perhaps the most intangible of all. Connecting on a personal level can be difficult for some, but is necessary for an EHS or sustainability professional hoping to secure a leadership position.

Practice makes perfect, and for emerging leaders in the EHS and sustainability fields the time to develop these skills and advance is now.

How to Ensure Safe Workplace Practices 

Employees are most productive in a workplace that is safe, healthy, and in a conducive environment. While it may not be possible to keep workplace injuries and illnesses at zero, it is possible to minimize them, and that is what safety leadership is all about.

As a safety leader, you will be expected to identify and control workplace hazards with the goal of achieving safety excellence. This can be done by implementing safety strategies which may include training workers, automating safety tasks, and performing periodic audits and inspections.

You must remember to spend your time and effort wisely when it comes to implementing safety best practices. This will ensure that your entire staff has an understanding of the EHS management processes in place.

Productivity and employee morale will rise when the department is on the same page of workplace health and safety policies. Reinforcing this initiative - while providing constructive feedback - is one of the tasks of safety leadership.

Apart from a consistent and growing bottom line, safety leadership makes your business units compliant with occupational health and safety laws. Cases where a company is being sued for its lack of safety measures are costly, and the consequences that follow could be dire. Safety mismanagement may tarnish a company's reputation, impact its revenues, and cost it the trust and goodwill of consumers and the public at large.

Safety leaders should remain engaged with their workers and management team to practice workplace safety by:

  • Interacting with workers and listening to their concerns about workplace safety
    • Questioning them in between training sessions will also let you know how aware and engaged they are
  • Following up on any health and safety-related incidents and making sure the incidents are addressed quickly
  • Holding employees accountable when they fail to adhere to safety standards

Your Commitment to Workplace Safety

Great safety leadership starts with one thing: commitment. You have to be committed to the cause, and you have to be committed to getting everyone on board. It’s more than just paperwork – it’s about getting everyone home to their families, safe and sound.

And remember, safety leadership involves going the extra mile to deliver quality to customers and employees. Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” That should be the goal of every safety leader.

Topics: Performance Improvement, EHS Management, Safety Tips, Safety Management, Safety Culture, Human Resources

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