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Risk in Context

Three Common Safety Leadership Errors to Avoid

Posted by Larry Pearlman February 09, 2017

As we’ve previously shared, leading organizations maintain three lines of safety leadership defense to help prevent workplace injuries. But as your organization develops and executes its safety capabilities, it’s important that you also avoid some pitfalls. Here are three common errors you should watch for.

1.  Acting Without Top Team Alignment

A strong safety leadership culture requires planning to define expectations and implement its various elements. Executives must lead this effort. They need to think through what the organization’s safety vision is and how it will be developed.

Safety leaders need to make clear the need for change and present it to others in the organization. If done successfully, executives will buy in to the case for change and understand their roles in supporting the effort. Otherwise, your safety program will lose credibility.

2.  Missing the “Quick Wins” to Change Culture

We often hear that safety culture change takes years to make happen, but we don’t believe that’s true. Instead, you can find ways to change culture immediately. This can be as simple as understanding existing risks and focusing on reducing a couple of them.

Take your existing policies and practices, tweak them if needed, and roll them out again to the organization. Work with supervisors to determine how to engage the workforce and how they can better hold the organization accountable for meeting those expectations. Then, follow up with an audit or review process. Measure the progress and reinforce the good things that are getting results. Correct the issues that are holding the organization back.

3.  Failing to Use Simple Metrics to Show Progress

One of the most effective steps an organization can take is to establish performance indicators and measure them. For safety, these measures should be reviewed in the same way that metrics for other parts of the business are reviewed. Specifically:

  • Metrics should be visual so that team members can interact with the data, see how the group is progressing, and feel good about their contributions.
  • Business and safety leaders should ask questions about the data, review the improvement efforts, and provide support for additional improvements. This can come in the form of allocating time, materials, and budget, harnessing ideas, giving feedback, or removing roadblocks.
  • When presenting metrics, frontline leaders should physically touch the data points on charts and celebrate successes with specific feedback. Research shows that actually touching the data points helps better communicate key points.

Developing a safety culture is a journey that requires endurance, perseverance, and a safety mindset. Company leaders need to work together across all levels to champion safety and reinforce expectations. Their efforts will result in better safety practices and improved employee protection, which will increase your organization’s productivity and improve your bottom line.

For more on this topic, listen to a replay of Marsh's The New Reality of Risk® webcast.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Larry Pearlman

Larry Pearlman is a senior vice president with the Workforce Strategies Practice of Marsh Risk Consulting, located in the Chicago office.