Successful companies strive to use every tool possible to ensure their projects are safe, on schedule and within budget. New methods are developed and piloted each year in an effort to improve project execution and satisfy customer expectations. However, all too often safety programs are not updated regularly, and safety performance can result from luck rather than reproducible results.
Many companies understand the need for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance and work to enforce regulatory requirements. Industry-leading companies don’t accept compliance with government regulations as their success criteria, but rather continuously seek new and proven safety management methodologies. One proven tool for preventing injuries and incidents is effective safety leadership by project executives and the management team. Effective safety leadership can be the major differentiator between average and industry-leading safety performance. Following are the five critical components of effective safety leadership.
1. Field Presence
There is no better way to measure a company’s safety culture than the CEO or another high-level manager asking field workers for their feedback. By committing a minimum of one hour each week to walk the field, company leaders not only show the project team they care, but they also set the standard for the entire workforce in establishing safety as a priority.
Far too many project leaders stay in the site trailer or office attending endless hours of meetings, failing to realize the importance of personal presence and interaction with the workforce. The focus should be on role modeling safety expectations and sharing a vision for maintaining an injury- and incident-free jobsite. Take every opportunity to share that vision with trade professionals to illustrate how important their safety is to the entire company.
2. Effective Communication
Far too many projects unknowingly support an underground rumor mill of false and misleading information, typically caused by management’s failure to effectively communicate after an injury or incident. Safety leadership requires excellent communication skills, as well as proven safety processes and aligning all personnel with the firm’s vision for success. The ability to effectively communicate to the project team, including subcontractors, is paramount to achieving safety excellence.
The most opportune time to communicate safety expectations and gain the workforce’s trust and respect is during the project safety orientation. Project executives can demonstrate leadership by teaching the orientation or at least dropping in to introduce themselves and share their personal commitment to safety. In addition, use newsletters and toolbox meetings to get the word out on job progress, injuries and incidents, as well as publicly recognize safety role models on the project.
3. Feedback Mechanism
To understand the firm’s actual safety culture, develop a direct avenue of communication between the workforce and management. Establish a safety committee comprised of field representatives, a regularly scheduled forum in which a cross-representation of workers meet privately with the project manager, or weekly field walks designed to solicit direct feedback on working conditions, perceptions and issues.
Watching executives or project leadership walk the jobsite in street shoes or sans personal protective equipment is the most prominent safety culture killer. Workers will recognize the lack of role modeling and accountability for the safety program and will rebel against the double standard. Take time to ensure all project personnel, regardless of title, follow all safety rules at all times. Also, it is paramount that all discipline is fair and consistent across all job classifications. Everyone must be held accountable for their actions, starting with management.
Great leaders understand they must routinely seek new processes in their quest to eliminate injuries and incidents. Benchmarking against competitors or joining industry groups that openly share best practices is a great way to assess a safety program’s contents and overall performance. Establishing a roadmap for continuous improvement helps ensure the company’s safety programs are keeping pace with its project management systems.
The main difference between a good and great leader often is the level of personal commitment leaders exhibit to those seeking guidance. Successful safety leadership is never measured by the effort put forward, but rather by the results gained and the lives affected.