Engaging your C-Suite in Authentic Safety Leadership

Take few moments to reflect on what, if any, evidence of your leadership is in your safety management system?

Make it Meaningful

The importance of leadership can never be underestimated when it comes to the success of a business. When your team is together, on the same page, and moving autonomously in the same direction, capability and confidence builds and success is only a matter of time. The challenge for business leaders is how to achieve that success in all areas, all the time.

As a safety champion and mentor to business leaders, one of the most disheartening observations I must make is about leadership targets. Setting Short-Term Incentive (STI) or Long-Term Incentive (LTI) for safety can be counterproductive when the impact on behaviour and engagement is not thought through.

If there is an expectation for the entire executive team to be involved it is best to step back and consider how to create a sustainable method that is robust and supports the broader framework.

The Problem

In quite simple terms, Safety Management Systems (SMS) are designed to meet the requirements of a standard and the law. The focus of executive leaders is ever changing, to stay ahead of a competitor, whilst continuing to deliver an outcome for the organisation. Quite simply, Executive Leaders do not have the bandwidth or the technical safety knowledge to get into the detail.

The result can be a SMS which is hard for non-practitioners to interpret driving low levels of engagement as they struggle to keep pace with all the obligations they have. On top of this, setting a “one size fits all” target for the executive, such as a weekly walk-through of a manufacturing plant, does not add value and often leads to disengagement.

Key Indicators

KPIs are of more value if, through achieving them, the benefit is experienced by more than one stakeholder.

To keep your SMS effective, and motivate and engage your leaders, challenge your safety practitioner to link leadership KPIs to those areas of the SMS that get left behind and need senior level buy-in to ensure operations is accountable and engaged.

Link the KPI to critical elements to a variety of standard clauses which result in meaningful interactions with operational leaders as they follow the system. The outcome will be a test of the system or feedback on how to improve the system.

As a result, you will enhance collaboration, involve top management, and improve the level of engagement and conformance.

The Challenge

Think laterally. When it comes to what you want people to do, think how an executive member can add value just be being who they are and doing what they do best.

  • What are the strengths of each executive member?
  • Which elements of the SMS can those strengths enhance?
  • What performance outcome is supported?

When you have answered these questions, you can start identifying key tasks which will support the management of the SMS. The KPIs will become obvious.

The Solution

Some of the leadership tasks can be measured by simple totals and others may be measured by percentages. Simple totals for example may include:

  • the company requires an executive to approve the annual audit schedule;
  • the company requires an executive to approve annual safety objectives; or
  • the company requires an executive to attend an annual EPC meeting.

When events occur outside your control, such as incidents or emergency evacuations you have a ready made list of events that usually require senior management involvement.

Events which are disruptive or result in harm need to be prevented or the frequency minimised. This can also be a great place to focus the attention of the leaders of the company as it can improve reliability and minimise the risk of harm in the workplace.

Where an events based KPI is used it should be as a percentage of the total. For example:

  • 80% of all incidents require an executive review; or
  • 80% of all employment contracts require an executive review to ensure safety obligations are clear.
The Benefit

There is nothing more satisfying than witnessing an executive leader being part of a process where they understand what is happening, can act appropriately to lead others, and assist to improve or enhance the standard of safety. 

When your leaders are encouraged to do what they do best they will step up and the results will be obvious to all. If you have any specific aspects, you’d like more information on or if you have further questions, reach out by clicking here!

Read more about the Author of this article here.

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