Safety Culture Steering Part 3; The Rough


If you have not read parts 1 & 2, please click the numbers to spin yourself up to this post.

We have already talked about roping management into understanding the why’s of safety.  If you chose to shove it down their throats with rules and policy, you’ve already lost and should look into the many books, articles, and rules on leadership (both with authority and through influence). -This one is my favorite, but the verbiage does not coddle.

In my first post after saying to give a damn, I mentioned being hands-on, showing forgiveness, reinforcing policy, and patience.  What exactly does that mean?  What does it look like?

Hands-on:  Never ask someone to do something you yourself would not do.  When starting to steer your safety culture, get into the trenches with your folks.  Have them teach you how to do their job so you can feel the lower back pain from stooping to tie hotdogs; understand just how hard it is to cut and peel metal sheets; and feel the burn in your calves and backside from pulling 100′ of 3″ hose full of fuel on concrete covered in slippery deicing fluid.  This not only increases your credibility with those you need to buy-in the most, but also tunes you into understanding them as people first; some of the more difficult ergonomics issues; and possible procedural deviations.

Showing Forgiveness and Reinforcing Policy:  When taking over a facility that has safety culture problems, you will notice systemic problems with safety (no seatbelts, partial or no PPE use, etc. by all personnel).  -You can’t fire all forklift operators because they are complying with long-term accepted norms!  Praise in public.  Coaching on the right way and zealously voicing gratitude when compliance is demonstrated via initiative goes a long way.  Continued coaching in hushed tones for brief engagement and pulling supervisors into longer conversations is effective in the steering process with the late (non) adopters for the right trajectory.

Patience:  Everything one does to influence safety culture must be done with the patience of Job.  Leading with the approach that they can’t quit or be fired keeps one’s mind on working with folks to steer the culture in the right direction rather than divert valuable focus to hiring/firing and unnecessary drama.  Steering culture is a long-term goal with failure, unprecedented success, backsliding, jokes, as well as overt and covert resistance by individuals or organized groups all hitting at different times (or sometimes it feels like all at once) throughout the process.  Another reason for patience is that sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train… Groups may begin to reform from within with the new knowledge and empowerment of your new, great training.  At some point enforcement may become the way to go for hold-outs or egregious violations, but one must be very measured in this approach if you recognize the group is already in or about to tip into a storming phase.

Perception is Reality.  One must be at their most calm and engagement should be above professional to avoid getting pulled too deeply into the storming phase as taking a side (or appearing to) can tank your credibility.

Stay tuned for the last post in this series where we will discuss what some symptoms of early success are and how to deal with kick-back from other areas.

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