Many of us have known great safety leaders whose commitment to safety, combined with excellence in leadership, have had an enormous positive impact on their organizations. The hard part is pinning down exactly what it is they do that distinguishes them from other leaders. Our experience is that these people tend to use certain practices that define how they interact with others in the organization and how they go about their day-to-day work. Not surprisingly, these behaviours have been shown to correlate positively with culture and climate attributes that support good safety outcomes:
- Vision – The effective leader is able to “see” what safety excellence would look like and conveys that vision in a compelling way throughout the organization. This leader acts in a way that communicates high personal standards in safety, helps others question and rethink their assumptions about safety, and describes a compelling picture of what the future can be.
- Credibility – The effective leader fosters a high level of trust in his or her peers and reports. This leader is willing to admit mistakes with others, advocate for direct reports and the interests of the group, and giving honest information about safety even it if is not well received.
- Collaboration – The effective leader works well with other people, promotes cooperation and collaboration in safety, actively seeks input from people on issues that affect them, and encourages others to implement their decisions and solutions for improving safety.
- Communication – The effective leader is a great communicator. He or she encourages people to give honest and complete information about safety even if the information is unfavorable. This leader keeps people informed about the big picture in safety, and communicates frequently and effectively up, down, and across the organization.
- Action-Orientation – The effective leader is proactive rather than reactive in addressing safety issues. This leader gives timely, considered responses for safety concerns, demonstrates a sense of personal urgency and energy to achieve safety results, and demonstrates a performance-driven focus by delivering results with speed and excellence.
- Feedback & Recognition – The effective leader is good at providing feedback and recognizing people for their accomplishments. This person publicly recognizes the contributions of others, uses praise more often than criticism, gives positive feedback and recognition for good performance, and finds ways to celebrate accomplishments in safety.
- Accountability – Finally, the effective leader practices accountability. He or she gives people a fair appraisal of the efforts and results in safety, clearly communicates people’s roles in the safety effort, and fosters the sense that every person is responsible for the level of safety in their organisational unit. It is important to note that this practice is placed last; accountability, absent the context of the other practices, can be counterproductive. Employees will know they will be held accountable, but not necessarily given the resources, information, leadership, support, and encouragement they need to accomplish the task. When used as part of the other six practices, however, accountability complements the work begun.