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Safety Leadership Makes the Difference

I am continually surprised how much leadership matters when it comes to creating a safe workplace, and I am not sure why I’m surprised after all this time. Recently while working with one of my clients who is struggling with attitudes of a few of his frontline leaders, “acting out” during planning meetings, I shared an experience.

During a meeting with about 40 of my client’s working foremen one of them began talking loudly right in the middle of my presentation. In addition he had his tinted safety glasses on and his hat pulled down tight and was making wild gestures with his hands and arms. I couldn’t tell what his issue was but clearly he was not agreeing with what I had to say. Those around him looked over at him as if to say, “Shut-up” but he was not paying attention. After a while we took a short break and that is when the director of this work unit came over to me.

“Carl, I want to apologize for this foreman’s behavior. This happens all the time with this guy and some of the others.”

“Why are you apologizing to me and not doing anything about it?”

I explained to the “leader” that it was his job to clarify expectations for behavior. Further, I suggested that he could have stopped me and asked the foreman to step out in the hall for a moment to correct the behavior. Immediately the director walked over to the foreman and asked him to follow him out into the hall. When they returned the guy didn’t have his sunglasses on, his ball cap was in his hand, and he looked a little embarrassed. When I called the meeting back together the director looked up at me, a smile on his face, from the back of the room and gave me a thumbs-u. Surprisip.ngly the guy began to listen and I would like to think learned a lesson in behavior that day.

My current client appreciated the story and said he thought that he would engage with his employees in a similar way. Then I suggested that he might want to address the groups next time and ask them what kind of behavior it would take for them to be more productive in their planning meetings. This would allow them to reflect on and maybe suggest a more collaborative attitude in the future.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. ~ Peter F. Drucker

To create a safe workplace everyone must feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings. In my experience I have seen a whole group shut-down because of rude and disrespectful behavior during safety meetings, briefing, and planning meetings. To attain, maintain, and sustain safety success, positive communications is critical. When everyone feels safe in an environment of trust communications will be honest and open. This will lead us to a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter

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