What is the role of senior executive leadership in the reduction of Serious and Fatal Injuries?
And what is the skill set the EHS leader needs to get this role across to leaders?
Yes, we want to reduce Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs), and yes, our senior leadership is supportive. This is a necessary start, but not a sufficient one. Senior leaders need to know the important things they can do, what their role is; and EHS leaders need to know how to teach it to them. It is rare to see these both happening within one organization, even among the most advanced.
At a Plenary Session of the ASSE conference, I will moderate a panel on this subject. Two thought leaders, Todd Conklin and Scott Geller, along with three senior EHS leaders, from Cargill, Goodyear, and Tesla will make up the panel. Here are some of the questions I’ll be asking, along with some comments:
- What do EHS leaders want from senior executive leaders when it comes to the prevention of SIFs? This can be a tricky business. Suppose a senior leader tells you, the EHS professional, “tell me the three things I should be doing to prevent SIFs”. The temptation is to try your best to give a list. But that may not be the best thing to do, because the leader may just take the list and stop thinking about it! You may have just relieved a healthy tension that the leader needed in order to find their relationship to safety improvement. Maybe you should have said, “That’s what you have to find out. Lets talk about it.”
- After it’s clear what you want from the leader, what does it take on your part to get it to happen? Have you noticed the proportion of senior EHS leaders who are operations leaders moved into EHS? The higher up you go, the more frequently you see this. Two out of three of our panelists are in this boat – operations people moved into EHS roles. What does this tell you? I think it says that EHS leaders are too often unskilled at the communications and thought leadership needed for effectiveness at this level. Organizations have found it easier to teach the basics of EHS to operations people than to teach EHS people how to communicate in an operations environment.
- What unique aspect of safety leadership have you found most valuable to teach senior leaders? In my experience, a key aspect that is often overlooked is this: does the leader know what it looks like when an organization is improving in safety? Are the leading indicators we see sufficient evidence of improvement? Is the culture really changing – how would the leader know? Is the right information flowing upward and getting to the leaders who make decisions?
We will explore these and other questions. Hope to see you there!