Safety Leadership: Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

Take a moment to think about the people who have influenced you: Your parents, friends, or the sports teams that you follow. These are the people that you have looked to for leadership at one point or another in your life and as a result, their actions and opinions have influenced the way you think and act.

As a supervisor or a member of your company’s safety committee, you are in a leadership position; you are a safety leader.  What you do has a tremendous influence on those around you with regards to their attitudes toward safety. It is those actions that can set the tone for how safely your organization operates, in essence, its safety culture.

Safety culture boils down to “what your fellow employees do when no one is watching.” Your company has a safety culture… it may be positive or it may be negative. What you say and the actions you take can have an influence on that safety culture, either positive or negative.

Think about the last time you had a discussion with an associate with regards to safety. Would you rate your attitudes and behavior as positive? How do you think the associate was influenced?

A positive attitude is critical when we interact with our co-workers. Motivating employees to make the right decisions will reduce the likelihood of an injury and make it clear that you care about them. For example: An employee is standing on a chair with wheels. Which do you think would have a more positive influence?   

(1) "Hey, don’t stand on that chair… go get a ladder"

(2) "Hey, Joe, standing on that chair could get you hurt. Let’s go find a proper stool or ladder."

Safety leadership is also the positive reinforcement that you provide when you see an employee performing a task safely. Positive reinforcement plays an important part in influencing employees to work safely when you aren’t there.  A simple “good job” or even “thanks for working safely” when you witness safe behavior goes a long way to creating a positive safety culture. Employees will remember those positive interactions when faced with situations where they could make a good or bad choice. New hire employees are particularly susceptible. Think about  a first impression when you joined your company. Do you still have that impression? Those first impressions tend to stick with you, so communicating positively about safety and the importance of working safely will have a lasting impression on those new hire employees.

The phrase “Actions speak louder than words” holds true for how you, as a safety leader, perform your job and those tasks within your job. As a safety leader, you must be conscious that your actions, day in, day out, are watched by your co-workers, and those actions must reflect how to perform work safely. In the previous example of Joe on the chair… was Joe up there because the day before he saw you standing the very same chair? Be confident you understand your organization’s safety policies. If you are unsure, simply ask your safety representative. Making assumptions or ignoring policies can lead to injury and sets a poor example to others. A positive safety culture encourages questions and open communication.

Safety isn’t always the easiest or fastest path, but it allows you to perform your job and move on to the next task with a minimum risk of injury. All businesses must balance productivity, quality, and safety. A positive culture does just that, and your words and actions are critical to success.

Check out the MEMIC Safety Director for more information regarding the development of your safety culture.