Critical times demand critical actions, and the best safety leaders are able to conduct these actions with determination and authority, bearing in mind worker safety and health. This is a short description of safety leaders who have managed to get their employees through the global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leaders in the safety industry have had to face various unexpected and new challenges since the coronavirus outbreak, finding new ways to tackle potentially serious safety issues. Simultaneously, they have had to maintain an atmosphere of trust among employees. Other challenges have included communicating new safety procedures, the importance of critical safety measures specific to this crisis, occupational health updates, and convincing people that everything is under control.
Unfortunately, we have witnessed many companies struggling to implement a much-needed health and safety program and a strong safety culture to demonstrate their commitment to safety and workers’ health and wellness. For this reason, we decided to focus on the crucial leadership skills that define strong safety performers. This will provide an answer on how to choose effective safety leaders who are able to tackle various critical situations effectively.
A study conducted on the defining factors of effective safety leadership showed that the most successful safety professionals had the following features:
- They were reliable and supportive
- They care for their employees
- They focus on their employees’ needs rather than profit
These leaders also set clear goals to be achieved, ensuring improved safety and health conditions in the workplace. They were also resourceful in finding new ways to approach safety issues and resolve them. According to this study, these four characteristics make up 89% of effective safety leadership.
Let’s look at how successful leaders motivate people to accept and implement safety culture.
1. They Base Their Behavior on Vision
They have a clear vision of the safety culture they want to introduce, and everything they do is in accordance with it. They lead by example with their every action, showing commitment to this safety goal they want to achieve. In this way, successful safety managers incite people to accept and implement desirable safety behaviors, creating a sustainable behavior-based safety culture. When employees see the passion their safety managers have for creating a secure working environment, they will be eager to follow their lead. They will believe in the leader’s vision and the benefits of new safety measures.
2. They Encourage Collaboration
Understanding that creating a sustainable safety culture requires a joined effort from everyone in the organization is an essential feature of strong safety leadership. Senior managers translate their vision of safety into guidelines that help safety leaders define clear roles and responsibilities of employees. This way, employees can implement safety procedures correctly, providing much-needed feedback to management on the efficiency of these measures. One pharmaceutical company from Indiana set an example of an efficient safety partnership by managing to reduce safety incident rates by 63% within three years.
By involving employees in this process, you build an atmosphere of trust and appreciation. People are willing to abide by new rules because they know safety leaders will hear them and do their best to meet their needs.
3. They Foster Open Communication
This practice is closely related to collaboration. Open communication and understanding between workers and safety leaders is a crucial factor in providing a safe and healthy work environment. Efficient safety leaders are always on the job site role modeling the importance of safety and safe behaviors, making sure that employees follow set safety procedures while providing valuable feedback. They also keep workers updated about introducing new policies to ensure workplace safety.
Cases of miscommunication between safety management and workers may lead to severe safety incidents with tragic consequences. The arc flash incident that occurred in Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2015 pointed out how harmful miscommunication regarding safety issues could be. Arc flash happens when electric current leaves the circuit and travels through the air from one conductor to another.” This incident didn’t end tragically because the worker involved wore certified safety equipment (i.e., Arc-Rated equipment). But the point is it could have been avoided.
As the incident report stated, the visual indicators of power were misleading, and there were inconsistencies in zero energy verification. Essentially, there was a serious case of miscommunication between the working crew and the management. The whole situation could have been avoided by providing regular maintenance, consistent zero energy verification, and open communications about the state of equipment between workers and management.
So, exceptional safety leaders should point out that wearing protective clothing will save lives. Also, they should provide regular updates on equipment maintenance and stay consistent in implementing crucial safety measures. A well-informed worker is a safe and protected worker. On the other hand, workers should feel free to report any possible safety hazards to the management so that they can take timely actions and prevent potential incidents.
4. They are Ready to Take Actions
A successful safety director nurtures a proactive mindset. Strong safety performers tackle various challenges in worker safety by redefining safe behaviors or re-examining protective clothing. They encourage employees to get involved in finding the best way to solve the safety problem. Once they start solving occupational safety issues, they provide employees with regular updates on how this process evolves. After fixing potential safety hazards, they conduct frequent follow-ups to ensure everything runs smoothly. In this way, they show that they are in control, reinforcing their credibility. They also show they care about workers by offering reliable information.
5. They Care About People
Excellent safety leaders genuinely care about the people they work with. They treat employees with respect and appreciation. They listen carefully to their worries and fears, especially in crises like the COVID pandemic. These leaders invest all their time and energy to address potential safety-related concerns and help people get everything they need to feel safe. By showing you care, you build relationships based on mutual trust and respect. This way, workers will believe you and embrace safe behaviors gladly.
The Next Level of Safety Leadership
Exceptional safety leaders in companies with strong safety cultures have been making significant efforts to raise the concept of safety leadership to the next level. Introducing neuroscience to understand better what factors are crucial in providing a safe work environment has brought safety leadership to a tipping point. These bodies of research study the brain’s reactions in various situations, and we can use this data to develop new safety measures to protect workers. They also point out the misconceptions about the human brain that may lead to potentially risky behavior. Here are the most common misconceptions to avoid when creating a reliable safety policy.
● People are Completely Aware of Everything around Them
This statement is not true. You may think that you notice everything that is going on around you, but your brain saves energy by ignoring minor occurrences in your environment and focusing on important things. When working, you always focus on critical signals that indicate your life is in danger and take safety measures to protect yourself. However, you may miss some hints of potential safety hazards that can have tragic consequences.
● Some People are Excellent at Multitasking
Another dangerous misconception is related to the ability to do various things simultaneously. This is something many people believe to be one of their strengths. Unfortunately, they are wrong. Multitasking requires focusing on several different operations at the same time, and our brains are not capable of doing this perfectly. For example, we can follow a conversation easily when people talk one at the time. The minute several people start talking simultaneously, our focus is shattered, and it becomes challenging to follow the conversation. Our brain can focus on one thing at a time. So the ability to multitask is a misconception that can lead to serious safety risks because workers fail to notice critical signs when doing several different things simultaneously.
For these reasons, it is essential to involve neuroscience in creating a sustainable safety policy. This scientific approach will provide safety management and executive teams an invaluable insight into human behavior. It will also eliminate potential hazards and implement safety measures that will improve workplace safety.
Involving the neuroscience approach in creating safety policy is taking a step towards the future of safety leadership. When it comes to occupational safety, successful safety leaders need a combination of hard and soft skills and a clear vision of the safety culture they want to cultivate.
When creating your safety culture, make sure that leaders care about employees and are ready to communicate and take action. They should lead by example and be passionate about keeping employees safe. A lot of time and energy is invested in safety training and the development of safety leadership skills, so leaders need to be committed to the cause. Excellent safety managers are aware of all these factors because their main goal is to keep employees safe, healthy, and happy while doing their job.