Organizations in all industries value safety, security, and occupational health in their workplaces. Safety leaders in these organizations know all too well the importance attached to workplace safety. They know employees of all ranks look to them for effective guidance in making the workplace as safe as it can possibly be. Some safety leaders rise to this challenge very well, whereas others fail. What makes for excellent safety leadership? What is it that outstanding safety leaders know and do that distinguishes them from safety leaders who miss the mark? Outstanding safety leaders I’ve hired and observed over the years know a fundamental truth about leadership in general: the safety leader must master both the “hard stuff” and the “soft stuff” of safety leadership. Weaker safety leaders are good at one or the other of these dimensions, but star performers master both.
The “hard stuff” of safety leadership relates to knowledge, content, and execution. Outstanding safety leaders are experts in their field, and they stay abreast of all manner of developments in safety practices, safety-enhancing technology, occupational safety laws, applied occupational health science, and so forth. This expertise is reflected in the comprehensive content of the safety programs and practices these safety leaders design. The safety training provided to employees using tools such as safety training DVD’s, also reflects this expertise (great safety leaders use the right tools in order to teach and to equip). Finally, successful safety leaders are superb at executing safety programs–they turn plans and designs into actions and results. They plan, do, measure, and evaluate, making very sure workplace safety is optimized according to plan and goals, within budget, day in and day out.
The Soft Stuff
The “soft stuff” of safety leadership relates to motivation, persuasion, and modeling. Outstanding safety leaders know that phsyically engineering safety into the workplace is not enough; employees must be motivated to behave safely. The safety leader drives employees’ safety actions, intensity of effort, and faithful persistence through incentives, recognition, and participation. Safety training also helps greatly in this regard (great safety leaders communicate to persuade and to encourage). Successful safety leaders also know that they have to “walk the talk” of workplace safety, so they constantly model the expected behaviors and attitudes, always showing by their actions and words that achieving excellent safety results is doable and is something worthy of employees’ time and attention.
The outstanding safety leader masters both the “hard stuff” and the “soft stuff” of safety leadership. Mastering only the “hard stuff” makes for superficially textbook-perfect safety programs that fail to inspire and to motivate. Mastering only the “soft stuff” makes for warm emotions, but weak focus and insufficient program content. In either case, the result is a failure to maximize workplace safety results regarding accidents, employee injuries, workplace security, and even employee health. The safety leader who can master both dimensions of safety leadership, however, will succeed in generating workplace safety results that make an invaluable contribution to the organization.