In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we laid out the reasons for having a written Safety Improvement Strategy, why an early objective is likely to be to improve the organizational and safety culture, and how to approach the measurement aspect. In this section, we’ll finish with objectives and start on the next part: designing interventions.
Set the Right Objective
If you think we’re right about the crucial importance of safety leadership (Insight 3 in our book, 7 Insights into Safety Leadership), then you’ll want an objective to address it. Something simple like, “Improve and Sustain Safety Leadership Capability throughout the Organization.” It’s easy to say, not so easy to do. Here is the important thing; if you get this one right, everything else will follow. This is the crucial insight you need to understand. One problem however is that this general space is muddy water. Improving leadership is always an objective and all sorts of training and other improvement work is already underway.
Despite this effort, safety leadership still suffers. You see it when you analyze serious incidents. You see it when leaders visit sites. You hear it in the discussions that occur (or fail to occur) in senior leadership groups. You recognize a great safety leader by how much they stand out from everyone else. So, you need to be clear and convey that clarity to the organization generally. Safety leadership is a different thing than leadership in general. Interestingly, improved safety leaders become better leaders in general, but improved general leaders don’t necessarily become better safety leaders.
Culture Improvement Follows Leadership Improvement
If culture improvement follows leadership improvement, why did we start (in this series) with the cultural aspect? Because it is the one that leaders tend to recognize. “Ride the horse in the direction it is going” is applicable here. But the reality is that the first objective is to build safety leadership capability within the organization. When you do that, you will see the culture you want. Leaders will stop creating the one you’ve got and start creating the one you want. The critical move happens within the leadership group.
Start at the Top
How to approach this critical piece? The most important leaders to train are the ones at the top of the house. They make the most critical and far reaching safety-related decisions, even though they often don’t realize they are doing it. Churn at senior levels is a reality, so you need the internal capability to provide 1:1 evaluation, training, and feedback based on live observation. Your Safety Improvement Strategy should be centered on building this internal capability.
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