Although they might not be directly performing the work that requires safety procedures, leaders play a significant role in safety performance. Leadership establishes the standards and values in an organization and has the power to enforce safety requirements. For these reasons, it’s critical for leaders to have a deep understanding of the day-to-day challenges employees face while doing their jobs.
In addition to the organizational leadership team, individual workers play a significant role in maintaining safe practices and cultivating a culture of safety. Because of this, natural safety leaders tend to emerge among the group. Recognizing these people and empowering them to take on leadership responsibilities in their teams will help your organization maintain a strong track record of safety in the workplace.
Understanding the importance of safety leadership is critical for any organization that wants to create a safe working environment. Learn how to nurture the natural leaders in your team to take your commitment to safety to the next level.
What is Safety Leadership?
A safety leader is somebody who not only exhibits personal safety behaviors, but inspires others to do the same. These are people who not only follow safety protocols to the letter, but speak up in a constructive way when they see that others could be doing something in a safer manner.
Who can be a safety leader? Anybody who demonstrates these behaviors:
- Understanding and following safety procedures
- Reporting safety issues when they arise
- Proactively preventing safety issues
- Implementing new processes to improve safety
- Encouraging others to take safety seriously
Safety leaders don’t necessarily have to be managers or supervisors. It can be anybody who has positive social influence over their peers and an interest in improving safety across the organization. It’s important to note that a safety leader should be less like a hall monitor and more like a cultural influencer. The best safety leaders are the people who help their peers improve without them even realizing it’s happening. They are the people on the team who others come to for advice about best practices because they know they’ll get a response that is both correct and useful.
How to Cultivate Safety Leaders
Ideally, an organization has safety leaders across all teams and departments. This means that multiple individuals have to step into the role of safety leadership. Follow these steps to develop the safety leaders in your organization:
Identify the Naturals
Some employees are naturally inclined toward safety leadership. Identify these individuals and empower them to develop their leadership role. Look for the employees who have the best safety records and observe how they interact with their peers. They might provide gentle reminders to wear safety gear or offer advice about safer ways to do specific procedures.
Safety leaders are always thinking about how processes can be improved. When you have identified potential safety leaders, encourage them to share their ideas and implement them. These are the types of people that are willing to take on extra work if it contributes to a safer environment, so tap into that engagement to make improvements across the organization.
Anybody can improve their leadership skills with ongoing training. Provide your safety leaders with development opportunities so they can learn even more ways to engage their coworkers about safety. This might include experiential learning to help people become more comfortable with their new leadership skills before applying them on the job.
Remember that safety leadership is not a singular role. In fact, the more safety leaders you have in your organization, the more likely you are to achieve your safety goals. Always be on the lookout for people who are driven to go the extra mile when it comes to safety.
Achieving organizational safety goals requires leadership, both from executives and among the people doing the work. Be aware that safety leaders are not always in managerial roles and that often the people doing the work have a deeper insight into the steps that will improve safety. Cultivating safety leaders by identifying them, giving them a voice, and providing additional training will increase the motivation they already have and help encourage safe behaviors across the organization.