Safety Cop Or Safety Leader

Here are 11 differences between a safety cop and a safety leader. See where you fit.

safety cop or safety leader by kevin burns safety speaker

In my safety keynote presentations, I explain the differences between safety and OH&S; leadership and management; service and customer service. Safety, leadership and service are all attitudes. OH&S is a program, management is a position and customer service is a department. 

In my conversations with safety managers, one big issue comes up often: safety managers feel they are viewed as a cop rather than a coach/mentor. For the purposes of this article, I will concentrate on illustrating the differences between the practices of a safety cop and the practices of a safety leader. See where you fit - even if you aren’t in management.

Safety Cop - focuses on singling out individual rule-breakers.
Safety Leader - focuses on building a team that looks out for each other.

Safety Cop - carries a big stick and an even bigger chip on his shoulder. He is looking for opportunities to wield his power and to criticize and possibly even stop work. 
Safety Leader - carries a big compliment and a helping hand. He is looking to find people doing it right so that he can congratulate them, support them to continue and to give others a standard to rise to.

Safety Cop - preaches from the safety manual at safety meetings focusing mostly on process, rules and procedure. The floor is his and it will be a one-way conversation - a lecture.
Safety Leader - makes safety meetings a two-way conversation of critical thinking, problem-solving and discussion. He knows people engage better when their voice is heard.

Safety Cop - gets defensive when challenged about anything involving safety or when presented with new ideas or suggestions from staff.
Safety Leader - welcomes new ideas and the opportunity to engage a crew in discussing the pros and cons of new ideas. After all, who better to ask than the people who do it every day?

Safety Cop - is focused on compliance and creates fear and uncertainty in employees to ensure they remain in compliance with the rules. Intimidation may be used to get compliance.
Safety Leader - recognizes that people make poor decisions when they are afraid. Instead, the safety leader builds confidence in workers. Confident workers make good choices.

Safety Cop - will not allow themselves to get too friendly with workers for fear that it might cloud their judgment and could potentially be seen as playing favorites.
Safety Leader - will make everyone their favorite. They will not be afraid of getting to know each worker personally. They realize that workers are people: good people with families that care.

Safety Cop - looks for someone to blame when it all goes wrong and an incident occurs. If he can find someone else is to blame, it is no longer on him.
Safety Leader - looks for someone to congratulate when it all goes right. When people take pride in the performance of their work, they make better choices.

Safety Cop - will pounce on an infraction of the rules or procedure which interrupts the work and the employee's concentration on the task.
Safety Leader - will wait until the job is done (unless there is a risk of harm) and calmly explain the proper way to do the job - in addition to supplying an explanation of why.

Safety Cop - believes he is entitled be respected purely by position, by title and by authority.
Safety Leader - will give everyone on the job site the same respect he would expect others to give to him and know that he will be respected when he earns it.

Safety Cop - assumes that people must be policed into following safety procedures and that if he were to turn his back, someone would do something stupid and get hurt.
Safety Leaders - assume that people don’t want to get hurt and will make the right choices if encouraged to think for themselves and if they are coached and mentored well.

Safety Cop - focuses on paperwork and the safety numbers
Safety Leader - focuses on the people who create the numbers

Add to this list with your comments and suggestions. And, remember that anyone can be a leader. Leadership has nothing to do with management. You don’t have to be in management to be a leader. Safety leaders encourage everyone else to become a safety leader: from the first-day, green-hand employee to the last-day, retiring employee. Because safety doesn’t stop just because you’ve stopped working.

10 Crucial Questions for Safety Managers

(c) Can Stock Photo

Topics: safety leadership, safety buy-in