Six Strategies for Stronger Safety Culture

EHS Today recently blogged about “Six Strategies for Stronger Safety Culture” (click HERE to see original article)

Their points provided good advice for any sort of safety culture:

1. Accountability

Setting goals and making them visible shows confidence on the part of management. Most importantly, it shows confidence that their employees will take safety seriously enough that they have minimal injuries. Everyone has something at stake when goals are set and managed. If the goals are a management priority, management must find ways to convey that to the people that work for them.

2. Engagement

CoachingWhen you look at companies with low X-mods and a consistent record of minimal injuries, the one trait that seems common to all of them is that the workforce is engaged in the company’s safety program. Employees are involved and participate. They feel like safety is a big part of the job, and there’s no reason to take shortcuts or unnecessary risks. [A strong communication plan would be essential for fleets whose drivers are scattered during a normal workday]

3. Recognition

Recognition in front of peers for a job well done is a definite motivator. To achieve a goal is one thing, but the achievement is not as impactful as when that achievement is recognized publicly. This should be one of the goals of a monthly safety meeting.

4. Motivation

Coaching Tips TitlePart of working hard to accomplish a goal is the payoff that’s expected at the end. When people are motivated to achieve a common goal, positive peer pressure will emerge, and you’ll notice employees encouraging co-workers to wear their PPE, clean a spill or be careful when performing a certain task. Culture tends to move as a group so the positive effects will be felt throughout the workforce and entire organization.

5. Appreciation

This one is a difference maker. It’s an easy one to overlook, but I can’t stress its importance enough. The No. 1 reason that people leave a job for another job is because they do not feel appreciated. 

6. Credibility

smc 1The final driver on our list is management credibility. We all have seen companies where management wishes there weren’t any injuries, but doesn’t respond immediately to reported hazards. Everything management does in regard to safety is a kind of proof statement. Workers don’t have to consciously know what actions are taken or not taken, but inconsistencies are noticed and a general attitude is established. That attitude typically is a direct reflection of the attitude that workers perceive management has toward safety.

These are only highlights from the report, but there’s a clear underlying message that communication, consistency, and clear goals/expectations are important to the process and the culture.  Getting everyone moving in the same direction can be a challenge, but building momentum and keeping focused are also important to getting strong results.


Leadership in Transportation Safety

NHTSA 2012 OverviewA recent Forbes article, titled; “Kindness does not equate to weakness in leadership” explores how we might make changes to our leadership style without undermining our authority as managers of employees/operators.

Kindness is often mistaken for weakness and vulnerability, but with regard to leadership kindness is best described as being able to demonstrate grace under pressure, leading by example, or balancing a genuine concern for the well-being of subordinates with the organization’s goals (i.e. the classic “win-win” scenario).

The author of the Forbes article sums it up nicely:

Think about esteemed leader Colin Powell for just a minute. In his book It Worked For Me, he talks about the skill set needed to be a drill sergeant. While every soldier is taught to fear his or her drill sergeant, the best drill sergeants aim to also instill strength and confidence in their soldiers. By building that strength through kindness, the sergeant is better able to deliver the very tough decisions that they need to make.

Of course, its important to remember that kindness doesn’t mean we never fire chronic poor performers who refuse to change their habits.  Kindness does NOT mean that we “wimp out” on tough decisions, or fail to do what’s necessary.

Kindness simply means listening, seeking a balance, and acting out of real concern whenever possible to assist our operators.


From a safety standpoint we talk about performance coaching sessions as “compassionate interventions” with operators who chronically take risks while behind the wheel (often leading to violations, failed inspections because of poor pre-trips, etc.)

The goals of the safety professional may (arguably) include:

  • Increase awareness of safety policies, goals and corporate achievement
  • Motivation of operators to engage their cooperation
  • Detect violation of policy and understand motivators (policy misalignment with production goals, failure to explain properly, etc.)
  • Monitoring of driver performance, violation history, etc.
  • Post-crash investigation (including rulings on preventability, fault status, etc.)

At issue isn’t the specific content of this bullet list, or how it’s worded — but rather how YOUR specific criteria is executed.

smc 1Is your safety leadership style:

  • Stern, but kind?  
  • Compassionate, but uniformly executed? 
  • Uncompromising, but educational and coaching based?
  • Focused on both right message and how it gets delivered?

Demonstrating kindness without compromising standards may be the key to increasing results without sacrificing tenure or increasing turnover.

What do you think?  Would kindness undermine safety and production?  Will seasoned drivers unfairly take advantage of kindness or see it as patronizing?  Can we be like that Drill Sergeant that inspires fearful respect while also coaching for better results?

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