I often get asked what is the role of safety leadership in an organisation. There are a bunch of definitions ranging from bosses that “care” for their people to managers that a focussed on safety through compliance and strong discipline. Personally I see them all playing a role and like all leadership there is a balanced approach.
The most important part of safety leadership is captured in the saying “what interests your boss fascinates you”. It is a saying I heard whilst working for Shell in Singapore from one of the best leaders I had the privilege to work with. For me it is “social thinking” in action and highlights the importance of having your leaders engaged and working with any program you are implementing.
As we know, humans are social beings and our decisions are strongly influenced by the social setting, social norms and social expectations. Leaders set those social expectations.
We’ve seen it time and again that a sure fire way to torpedo your program is to not engage your leaders from the get go. When the workforce is looking for the social norm or social expectation, if your leaders are not on board, the program bombs. The safety world is full of well intentioned but failed programs that have missed this point.
So, if you want a workforce to accept and adopt your next safety program, make sure the next level supervisors support and set that social expectation. Make them your new social norm. Because “what interests your boss fascinates you!”.