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Bearing the Weight of Safety Leadership

You may say, “What I say or do doesn’t matter”, but you would be wrong.  If you don’t realize or believe that you are an influence to those around you it just means you are asleep at the wheel.  Who do you influence?  Anyone that can see or hear you are influenced, right or wrong.

Let’s say you are at the functional level of the organization where you work.  Nobody reports to you and all you do is take care of your assigned duties and tasks.  Your co-workers and even your boss are influenced by how you behave with regards to safety, quality, and relationships.  Your boss’s ability to approach you with a safety issue is directly tied to how you feel and think about safety.  If your boss sees you as someone who is secure and not easily upset because you made a mistake, then they are more likely to say something.  However, if they feel that you will be upset by receiving feedback, they may be tempted to avoid the issue because they don’t want to deal with the conflict.  On the other hand, if you are the boss and you have a pattern of reacting negatively to things, you may be influencing the people assigned to you to avoid conflict.

Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another. – John C. Maxwell

Many supervisors tend to supervise as they were supervised.  When allowing the past to be a strong influence in your life, you will just continue to pass on either good or bad leadership skills.  In my career I have noticed that most people easily emulate the bad traits if they are not paying attention.  If you are a supervisor, manager, or executive you can choose how you are influenced.  Choose well.

Recently I spoke at a safety day celebration and one of the managers shared a piece of wisdom on the subject.  He said that when he became a junior officer in the Marine Corp, he began to learn the ropes of leadership.  His commanding officer suggested that he keep a list of good and bad traits that he found in senior officers.  It was suggested that he emulate the good and avoid the bad traits.  Not bad advice.

Good leadership is learned and not just gained by influence.  Left to our own we will lean towards the negative or easy ways of leadership.  This means avoiding conflict, responsibility, and using our formal title to get results.  The burden of leadership is heavy because it requires a desire to get better.  The manager I previously mentioned said that to this day he spends time asking himself if he is emulating and practicing the good leadership traits or allowing the bad to influence him.  Everyone is a safety leader, including you. Choose the good traits.

No matter what your position is in the company or at home, you are a safety leader.  When you take short cuts in your work or at home, others are influenced.  If the person you influenced to take a short cut is not as experienced as you, they might not get away with the behavior.  Safety rules and processes are in place to mitigate the risk posed by the hazard.  Rules and process are intended to remove or reduce the hazard to a level where an injury is less likely.  Without the process, the chances of an event are increased and the person with less experienced may learn the hard way.  Help them choose safety.

Here are a few questions that we can ask ourselves about how we want to influence:

  • What if a co-worker was injured when he or she took a short cut that they watched you take?
  • As a supervisor who has the attitude that completing the work is more important than doing it safe, how are you going to feel when you have to tell a spouse and children that Momma or Daddy is in the hospital… or worse?
  • If you are a parent you might be influencing one of your children.  How would you feel if you got a call to come to the hospital because your child, “Did as you would do?”

Safety leadership is at all levels of the organization.  Leadership is influencing others to do that which accomplished the intended result.  By this definition a safety leader, leads other to prevent injuries while accomplishing the intended results.  Today, take time to think about who you are influencing in safety, what you do, and how that influences others around you to create a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt.


Carl Potter is the founder of The Safety Institute, an organization made up of safety experts of various backgrounds who help clients create workplaces where it is difficult to get hurt.  In 1977 Carl began collecting his experience working for one of the largest electric utilities in the United States.  In 1993 he started his own company and shares his experience through safety presentations and programs across the country.  As an author, speaker, trainer, and consultant, Carl influences people at all level of organization to make safety a priority so everyone can go home every day without injury.  You can reach Carl at 800-259-6209 or by emailing him at


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