On-the-job injuries and fatalities are rarely caused by workplace conditions alone. Rather, the vast majority of accidents happen as a result of unsafe work behaviors, usually due to complacency and workers just “going through the motions.” The good news is, behaviors can change. Molding those behaviors to follow the belief that safety is a value not a priority (priorities can shift, after all) is an essential component to cultivating a safety-driven culture.
Theoretically speaking, a culture of safety sounds great, right? Of course employers want their employees to go home safely and to protect their bottom lines from the significant costs that accidents bring. But how practical is it?
For most organizations, the cultivation of a safer workplace isn’t a matter of investing significant amounts of time and money into training. Instead, it’s recognizing that with strong, reliable, and interpersonal leadership, a new culture can be created.
The first step in establishing effective leadership takes a little creativity and requires one to redefine what it means to be a leader. In the past, especially in heavy-duty industries, a leader equated to being the boss. However, the days of barking orders and expecting results are gone now, and quickly being replaced with management systems that create leaders at all levels. Though it’s true that expectations will need to be set by ranking members of management, all leaders should be expected to model those behaviors, and not just require that their employees carry them out because the company expects them to.
When leaders set the example, discarding the adage “Do as I say, not as I do” and replacing it with “Do as I do”, they help to blaze the trail to successful behavior for those that they lead. In a sense, they take on the roles of both mentor and teacher. Dropping the misnomer that employees are able to defy the odds and meet unspoken expectations. True leaders take the time to help their employees understand the why and the how, setting employees up for success and in turn, naturally creating safety-minded behaviors.
Engaging Trust and Integrity
The patience and understanding essential to emergent leadership has to be built on a relationship of trust. Great leaders have a foundation of interpersonal savvy. They find ways to connect with their employees, allow the employees to feel empowered in their experience and expertise, and create bonds of mutual respect. This creates a dynamic of engagement, something that is essential to integrity on the job. Simply put, if an employee is engaged in their job they’ll do the right thing on the job, whether or not the boss is watching.
With a strong bond of trust, it’s easier to create levels of accountability. A good leader will shoulder that accountability along with their team. On the flipside, a good leader will share all successes with their team as well, and not be enthusiastic about taking full credit. It truly is a matter of teamwork at its core. With a high level of camaraderie on a team, not only are employees going to enjoy work more, they’ll be looking out for each other as well, inherently creating a safer workplace.
Leadership: Passion Required
The final component of a culture of safety is sustainability. . If employees are engaged, this won’t be too difficult. At the end of the day, it takes a leader with a sincere passion and interest in the culture to make it work in the long run. Putting the right person in the driver seat is going to make all the difference. They will set the tone that will drive the team to success, and make sure they go home safely every day.
It doesn’t take a big investment to make a workforce safer. If employees are engaged by genuine leadership, they’ll make those changes naturally. By shifting the narrative of effective leadership to one that maintains a culture of excellence through trust, accountability, and passion, better behaviors from all team members will become the norm and safety incidents will be less and less common.