Have you ever said out loud (or secretly wished) that senior management would openly show their support for safety so that the team would perform better in safety? Well, it turns out that you don’t need their help. Here’s what to do instead.
In a former life, (back when what seemed like a million years ago) I sold office products. Whenever we hit a rough patch when sales were slow, the sales staff would talk (and sometimes grumble) among themselves how if only senior management would lower the price of our machines, we’d sell more. If only senior management would manufacture machines with the same features as our competition, we’d sell more.
You’ve probably done this too (at one job at least) that you wished your bosses and their bosses would recognize your true value. If they acknowledged your real worth, they’d pay you more.
The search for quick fixes
When times are tough, when performance slips, we start looking for someone to step up and address it. We get caught up in waiting for someone else to take action or make a decision that hopefully results in making our jobs easier. It happens in safety too. If only senior management showed better commitment to safety. If only they sank more money into safety. If only they stepped up and told our people how important safety is, then our safety performance would improve.
Except that it doesn’t.
It’s not about how much money gets sunk into safety or how much the CEO preaches about safety that fixes safety performance at the front-line.
An intervention by senior management alone doesn’t improve front-line crew culture because senior management doesn’t oversee crew culture. That’s done at the front-line where processes, procedures, and safety all live. A few platitudes from the CEO about safety aren’t going to suddenly change employees’ minds - especially if their immediate supervisor doesn’t share the same values.
Where safety culture is really created
Safety culture and performance is created and changed at the supervisor-to-employee level; one conversation after another, slowly and methodically over a long period of time. Senior managers have little interaction in that. That’s the almost-exclusive domain of the front-line supervisor.
Don't worry that senior management doesn’t seem to be supporting safety in the way that you would like them to. You don’t need their help.
That doesn't mean that having the support of senior management is ineffective. Of course, it helps. But without management support, it’s not impossible to improve safety culture and performance. It might just be a little harder.
You are the one with the power to fix it
Companies get better in safety performance by ensuring that their people receive ongoing coaching, mentoring, and instruction. this is done through supervisor and safety personnel review, communication, camaraderie, teamwork, focus and by changing attitudes. Front-line supervisors and safety personnel are the ones interacting on a daily basis with the front-line team. The team is only as good as the coaching.
Safety Hearts & Minds Tip: Your team is where they are right now because of the skills of their immediate supervisor. For your team to improve, they will need better coaching from you.
Invest in yourself. Don’t wait for the company to spring for your training. After all, they’re your skills. You will own them.
You already know that the team gets better when the team gets better coaching. You don’t need management’s help for you to decide to get better. You just need to care about your team, their performance, and the kind of coach you think they deserve to have.
When the daily front-line coaching improves, so does the team’s performance.
Kevin Burns, consultant/author, works with smart, caring companies to energize safety culture, build teamwork, and get employee buy-in. Kevin is on a mission to help employees purposefully care about the work they do and to actively look out for the people they do it with.
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