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The whole world is battling the highly-contagious Coronavirus that has affected all parts of our lives and put our health and working environment at risk. For this reason, the question of efficient safety leadership is more important than ever. During this global crisis, we have seen that some companies have addressed the challenge of providing workplace safety better than others.

This is because their safety leaders lead by example, inspiring and encouraging favorable safety behavior among employees. This kind of behavior-based safety leadership, combined with well-devised safety management systems, makes up a sustainable and long-lasting safety culture. And creating a safety culture that will ensure the health and safety of all employees in the most challenging situations is a demanding and lengthy process.

This process requires a high level of engagement and continuous communication between employees and company management. According to Dr. Judy Agnew, author of A Supervisor’s Guide to Safety Leadership, this is the only way to create a safe and productive working environment. As she further explains in this book, everyone in a company, from senior managers to workers, will have clearly-defined roles in this process.

Thus, senior managers will establish safety-oriented vision and values and devise safety guidelines with precisely determined roles and responsibilities. Middle managers are to implement safety management systems, procedures, and accountability, and workers are expected to behave and work as safely as possible. Dr. Agnew adds that frontline supervisors are the “linchpins of safety” that ensure the entire safety system functions perfectly.

This safety leadership guide will focus on helping those frontline supervisors and other safety leaders to improve their leadership skills and implement a new safety culture. It will provide comprehensive insight into effective safety leadership practices that will lead to reduced incident rates and higher productivity. They will be able to take steps towards improving their leadership skills to create a working atmosphere where communication and positive reinforcement of desirable safety behaviors thrive.

Effective Safety Leadership Styles

You will find three prevailing types of leadership styles in the business world today. Each of these leadership styles has its advantages and can be effectively applied to ensure compliance with safety policy. These styles are:

1. Transformational leaders

 They determine the direction they want the company to go by devising clear, goal-oriented strategy plans with marked milestones that need to be reached on the way to success. They change the culture of a company by motivating and encouraging employees to work and achieve these set goals together. These leaders tend to develop a positive “can do “ attitude and incite employees to embrace the company’s safety vision as something they will benefit from.

2. Transactional leaders

 Here, leadership is based on the well-known system of reward and punishment. By rewarding and punishing various behaviors and outcomes, transactional leaders clearly show the “cause and consequence” connection between requirements and outcomes, pointing out employees’ responsibilities. This leadership style is highly effective in ensuring that everybody complies with safety regulations. Transactional safety leaders will conduct safety observations followed by feedback, addressing all the flaws in systems, processes, or people’s actions that may lead to safety issues. These safety leaders will also encourage and award responsible and desirable safety behavior.

3. Servant leaders

 They develop a sustainable safety culture by helping people get all they need to live up to their full working potentials. They build reliable interpersonal relationships and are aware of how essential open communication is for creating a safe and productive working environment. By fulfilling workers’ needs, servant leaders create a supportive atmosphere that enhances their engagement and productivity. Safety leaders who have adopted this leadership style will participate actively in meetings and search for new ideas on improving safety and helping people realize them. They will also do follow-ups to correct or prevent any safety hazards and to ensure compliance with safety measures.

None of these leadership styles is good or bad. It is up to safety leaders to decide which of these styles to adopt, depending on what kind of safety policy they want to cultivate in their company. However, different situations demand different approaches, so sometimes, you may need to combine all three styles to get effective results.

Features of the Efficient Safety Leadership

These three types of effective leadership can be described in other terms. You can choose to be a positional leader or an inspirational leader in the business world today. A positional safety leader uses their position of superiority to impose authority and lead by ordering others what to do to stay safe at work.

On the other hand, inspirational leaders have a vision of safety that they want to turn into reality. They lead from a position of believing that safety is essential, and they try to communicate this crucial message to all employees. In a way, they “sell” the benefits of acquiring and applying models of safe behaviors in the workplace. They are eager to explain why it is important to follow the safety policy rules.

Safety leaders who inspire use their words, tone of voice, and body language to convince people. Inspirational leaders also clearly communicate their vision of safety, encouraging others to be involved and believe in this vision. People follow inspirational leaders because they think they are doing something good for themselves.

●     Efficient Safety Leaders Create a Perfect Balance Between Caring and Controlling

Caring for the people you lead is one of the essential features of a successful and respected leader. Showing appreciation for employees creates an atmosphere of mutual trust where people follow your orders and directions, convinced they are doing the right thing. Caring leaders also listen to their workers and take action to help them or solve the problem.

As a leader, you should have everything under control. Efficient leaders set clear guidelines for further actions, delegate roles, and openly communicate expectations and responsibilities.

Maintaining the perfect balance between caring and controlling and is an ability that separates excellent safety leaders from the rest. Too much of either one may lead to underperformance, so choose wisely what approach to use in addressing different situations.

●     Competent Safety Leaders Know How to Tackle the “Last Mile” Problem

Unfortunately, many companies fervently advocate sustainable safety cultures on paper, while ignoring serious safety hazards and leaving them unaddressed. This is one of the most significant obstacles in creating and implementing long-lasting safety culture.

Companies don’t tackle safety hazards for many reasons. They may not have devised effective safety management systems or haven’t turned their words into action because of time or budget restrictions. The worst-case scenario would be that the company never intended to invest time, energy, and finances into solving these issues.

People won’t believe in the sincerity of the company’s intentions to create a healthy and safe working environment knowing there are serious safety problems that have been ignored and left unsolved. Companies need to address the existing safety issues if they want to succeed in removing the obstacles to effective safety policy implementation.

Successful safety leaders will constantly challenge the state of things, trying to find answers to why the problem hasn’t already been solved and introducing corrective measures. They will also maintain open communication with other employees, keeping them informed about possible solutions, the progress of solving the issues, and providing regular follow-ups once everything is finished.

As Dr. Aubry Daniels, the co-author of Safe by Accident? Take the Luck out of Safety, stated that safety leaders’ daily actions and decisions must “demonstrate, prompt, and reinforce desirable behavior among workers.”

This is how the behavior-based safety process begins, leading to improved safety behavior that will become habits. If leaders don’t lead by example, people, equipment, and the working environment may be at risk.

Well-Devised Safety Policy Leads to Success

Developing and maintaining an effective safety culture is a time-consuming process that requires a joined effort from everyone in an organization. Senior managers need to define desirable safety behaviors, provide guidelines, and assign and delegate roles and responsibilities. These behaviors should ideally include:

  • Making safe production a top priority
  • Maintaining open communication on safety
  • Encouraging employees to get involved in safety in a meaningful way
  • Providing help and support in changing risky behaviors
  • Providing informative follow-ups
  • Devising and applying corrective measures

This will enable safety leaders to devise safety management systems necessary to create a  long-lasting culture of safe habits that will incite trust among workers. This entire process should result in increased productivity due to lower workplace incidents rates and a supportive and positive working atmosphere.

Furthermore, companies determined to change old, inefficient safety practices should invest in safety leadership training so that safety leaders can implement a new safety culture effectively. High-quality training in safety leadership provides information related to the company’s safety expectations. This safety training provides practical tools for preventing injury and also targets defined competencies. This way, leaders can present forms of desired behaviors to employees and provide them with additional long-term support to ensure further improvement of their safety leadership skills.

Quality Safety Leadership is Based on Safety Partnerships

As we have already stated, creating a sustainable company safety culture is a joined effort of all in the company. Thus, employees need management to provide clear directions and measures accompanied by a reliable safety management system. At the same time, the management relies on workers to report potential safety hazards, or actual incidents, to recognize safety risks that may lead to serious injury in the workplace. They also need to trust that their employees will follow safety procedures and work safely.

Engaging the workforce and creating a healthy and safe workplace requires teamwork based on mutual trust, which will lead to reduced incident rates and motivate workers to be more productive.

One pharmaceutical company from Indiana is a perfect example of a successful safety partnership. They started implementing a partnership-based safety policy in 2008. Workers conducted safety observations daily, while management did the same thing twice a week, accompanied by briefings. In 3 years, this company had reduced the safety incident rate by 67%. This example proves that workers who are highly engaged in the process of creating a company’s safety culture are less likely to suffer an incident. Therefore, transitioning from the old and inefficient “command and control” safety model to a behavior-based safety policy that encourages people to adopt desirable behaviors requires teamwork and commitment.

Efficient Safety Leaders Usually Adopt the Servant Leadership Style

Safety leaders who tend to meet workers’ needs and help them thrive are more efficient than others. They try to “sell the benefit” and explain why keeping the workplace safe and healthy is essential for people’s well-being and, consequently, the company’s productivity.

If they want to inspire others to be engaged in safety, these leaders have to be inspired themselves. They have to devise new ways to involve all the employees in the implementation of safety policy. They can help in designing safety guidelines that focus on involvement and communication. For example, safety leaders can have regular meetings about safety with other employees. In this way, they will encourage others to embrace models of desirable safety behaviors and turn them into habits.

Tips on Successful Safety Leadership During the Coronavirus Crisis

We started the whole story about competent safety leadership by referring to the hazardous situation the entire world is facing due to COVID-19. We will offer you some efficient tactics to help you tackle this unknown but dangerous safety hazard and provide crucial safety in your workplace.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

 This is a time of great fear and insecurity that makes people more susceptible to the influence of unchecked information, assumptions, and misconceptions. If you build your safety policy on trust, it is essential to continuously provide reliable and crucial information to employers. Communicate your newly-introduced safety measures in a clear and direct way. This will calm your workers, and they will believe you have done all you can to provide a safe working environment. People also worry whether they will keep their job. So try to keep regular and frequent meetings about where you are going to inform your workers on the company’s situation and the new safety measures and guidelines you will introduce. Find a way to reach out to those who are working from home to keep them updated. You can use Zoom, for example, to hold video meetings or social media to post essential information or updates.

2. Use the Advantages of Technology

 One survey showed that 74% of businesses in America swiftly transitioned to teleworking soon after the Coronavirus outbreak. If you haven’t had experience with teleworking or working from home, now is the perfect time to get some. Technology enables people to set up their offices wherever they want. Employees use emails, Zoom, and the cloud to stay connected while apart and to do their work. By embracing technology and working remotely, you will keep workers safe and still get the work done.

3. Focus on the Essential Workers

 What about the essential workers who do not have the option to work from home? They have to stay on the floor building and shipping products. You need to do your best to alleviate their situation as much as you can. You need to find ways to keep these people safe, and the first step towards that is to keep them updated about safety procedures.

This may be challenging, given that CDC guidelines are constantly changing, so if this happens, try to explain why things changed.

Secondly, lead by example. You are responsible for introducing new safety measures related to this crisis, so make sure to do everything right. Mark the floor with Xs so people know what the safe distance is. Also, make sure every employee has a protective mask and provide a sufficient amount of hand sanitizer. Finally, respect all the safety measures you have introduced. When you show people you care about their safety, they will feel less afraid.

Final Words

Creating a sustainable safety culture that promotes desirable behaviors is a demanding process that involves management, all safety leaders, and workers. Efficient safety leadership is based on a safe partnership with employees where everybody knows the safety guidelines, their role, and the company’s expectations.

If you want to be an efficient safety leader, foster open communication and encouragement and lead by example. If you want your workers to embrace desirable safety behaviors, explain why working in a safe environment is crucial, and let them participate in the safety process.  In this way, you will build an atmosphere of trust in your company that will lead to improved safety and productivity. We help achieve these goals by offering high-quality training in leadership skills. Email larry@safety4employers.com or call (775) 843-8318. Let’s talk about the training course that best suits your organization and employees.


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