What Old Teachers Can Teach Us About Safety Leadership

How did you get to where you are? And who were the people who you depended on to help? The answers to those questions can help you become a better safety leader.


I was home for a visit recently. I had a chance to drive by my old high school. I was transported back to high school days, the trouble I’d get into, the places we’d hang out with friends, and the memories we made. I even began to recall some of my old teachers.

Bill Keon was at the top of that list. He was my high-school history teacher. He was one of the first people to have an impact on me in safety as he was my driving instructor. And he was the coach of the high school curling team. (Of course, I was involved in curling. I’m from Canada.)

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Our team of four curlers and the coach spent a lot of weekends in cold curling rinks in the dead of winter playing in tournaments: bonspiels as they’re called. And it was at those bonspiels that I got to know Mr. Keon at a personal level. He had a ton of experiences for a boring history teacher. But under his reserved exterior, he was an adventurer. History might be a dry subject, but his history and the stories of things he’d done in his life were not. They were fascinating.

Bill and I stayed in touch after I left school and we became friends. In fact, he even attended my wedding. We’d get together whenever I was home. We’d go for coffee at the local Walmart McDonalds and just talk. I think what made Bill so interesting is how much interest he took in me. He’d ask about what I was up to, where I’d travelled, what I had seen and what I had done with the learning from high school.

The people who make a difference.

Bill was one of the people in my life who made a difference. He passed away just a couple of years ago. And he will be missed. So, who are the people who made an impact in your life? Who are the people that you will miss when they are gone?

Seriously, think about the best teacher or the best boss you ever had. What did they do that none of the others did? And what is it that makes them so memorable to you? Now I want you to transport yourself twenty years into the future and ask yourself, will anyone remember you as the best teacher or the best boss they ever had?

Are you being a great teacher and boss for someone else?

Are you being that kind of great teacher and great boss for someone else? If you'd like to get started on becoming that better boss and teacher for your team, then take the Free Preview of the Safety Communications & Coaching for Supervisors course. 40-minutes of video instruction, summary sheet download PDFs and a companion MP3 audio version to take with you on the go. And it's free to get started.

The best team leaders are the kinds of people who you just want to do better for.

Are you wanting to become the kind of supervisor, foreman, manager or safety person that will inspire your people to go beyond the bare minimums and doing enough to not get fired? Or, are you going to be satisfied with being one of the mediocre and forgettable bosses in a person’s life?

What the good leaders do differently.

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Like that favourite teacher from high school, a good supervisor will keep their team motivated and inspired, wanting to do their best especially for the other members of the team. A good supervisor finds ways to insulate the team from office politics and lousy culture. A good supervisor doesn’t allow excuses to distract or hold back the team.

Great teachers and bosses do the things that others don’t. They go beyond the check boxes, and the endless streams of mind-numbing PowerPoint slides. They go past the rules and regulations. They dig deeper than a couple of atta-boys. The teachers and bosses we connect with, the ones we respect, and admire, and most of all trust, are the mentors who take an interest in their students and their teams.

They are the kinds of people who you just want to do better for. You want to give your best for them because they will give you their admiration and respect.

When you find someone who cares about you as a person, you tend to not want to disappoint them.

You can never say enough nice things about the people who genuinely care about us, the work we do and the way we do that work. Those teachers and bosses, the mentors of our lives who care about us as people care about our success, our abilities and our safety.

And when you find someone who cares about you as a person, you tend to not want to disappoint them. And you will up the level of your own participation. When you focus on helping your people get what they want, they will give you what you want.

Quality, pride and safety.

SCCS Banner WebsiteTake the FREE preview lesson of Kevin's course Safety Communications & Coaching for Supervisors. 40-minutes of video instruction, summary download PDFs and a companion audio MP3 version to take with you on the go. SCCS is an online course to help energize safety, build teamwork, and get employee buy-in.

Kevin Burns, consultant/author, works with smart, caring companies to energize safety culture, build teamwork, and get employee buy-in. KevBurns Learning is committed to to helping companies improve safety by improving people, through creative learning materials, virtual strategy sessions, safety meeting presentations, and team coaching programs.

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Topics: safety leadership, safety complacency