How to Improve Safety Culture Without Management Support

Without management’s public endorsement of safety you can still build a strong safety culture.

boss01.jpgIt doesn’t happen often. But occasionally, I get a call to help out in convincing a few key members of the senior management team of safety’s importance. The first question I ask is whether the senior managers are actively preventing employees from buying-in to the safety program or purposely undermining the safety program in any way? No is always the answer.

And so, we discuss options to improve teamwork in safety at the front-line, build a more robust safety culture at the front-line and make the safety program more attractive for senior managers to want to be part of it.

Senior management does not need to be gushing about their undying support of safety in order for safety to become more prominent. Don't worry that senior management does not appear to be supporting safety. Without management’s public endorsement of safety you can still build a strong safety culture. Oh, sure, it might be easier to get buy-in from employees if management is on-board. But it’s not impossible. It’s just going to take a little more work.

But ultimately, the job of any front-line supervisor or safety person isn’t to try to change the minds of senior managers. The job is to ensure that the largest number of people have safe workdays. The largest number of people are at the front-line. The largest amount of activity is at the front-line. The greatest risk of incident is at the front-line. That’s where the largest amount of focus needs to go.

Knowing that, let’s explore three things that you can do today as a front-line supervisor or safety person to build better buy-in to safety from the people who really matter to the safety program; the front-line employees.

1Take local control. The culture of an organization exists in the relationships between employees and direct supervisors. What people think of their workplace, and by extension, safety, is largely dependent on what they think of their immediate boss. That's where culture gets created. That’s where employees form their opinions about safety and the code of ‘how we do things ‘round here.’ If you are going to change culture, you have to change the code. Focus on that which you have control of: your interactions with front-line employees. To take local control is to focus on that which is in your immediate area of responsibility. Earn the trust and respect of your people. And, in return, show them trust and respect. Build a safety culture that is built on trust, respect and the way you value their contributions. Focus on fixing what is not going well and praise what is. Never miss on that second part.

2Get commitment from your fellow supervisors. Supervisory is a lonely position at the beginning. Especially as a new supervisor tries to find their own management style. In the same way that a supervisor wants to build a tight team, supervisors should be doing the same thing. They should get tight with each other, lean on each other and motivate each other to be their very best. After all, employees deserve the very best that their supervisors can give if the supervisor expects the employees’ very best. Convince your peers of the need for a support system among supervisors and get them to commit to join in. Talk with fellow supervisors about teamwork, consistency, and personal commitment to making sure their crews have safe days. If all of the supervisors are pointed in the same direction, the positive culture of safety has an environment where it can flourish.

3 New Call-to-action Stick with it for the long term. Culture is not changed all at once. Culture is changed person by person, one behavior after another, slowly and methodically over a long period of time by supervisors and front-line safety people. It’s the people who have the daily influence over how the work gets done that have the greatest control over shifting the culture at the front lines. Because senior management has little interaction with front-line employees and supervisors, they have little to do with how the culture shifts at the front-line. Over the long term, you get better in safety in the same way professional athletes get better: day by day, coaching, mentoring, instruction, review, on-going communication, camaraderie, teamwork, focus and changing attitudes. All of that happens at the front-line.

Kevin Burns helps safety departments, safety committees, management and front-line supervisors to accelerate safety programs. Through consulting services to create a personalized plan to accelerate safety teamwork, or a safety meeting speaking presentation to rally your employees around safety, Kevin helps improve engagement and teamwork in safety.

Kevin Burns is a management consultant, speaker and author of “PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety.” He believes that the best place to work is always the safest place to work.

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Topics: safety speaker, kevin burns, safety culture, peoplework