Inspiring safety culture – from C-suite to shopfloor
No one person can build an organisational culture on their own. But some people are inevitably more influential than others and if people look to you as the occupational health and safety specialist then they are more likely to take a steer from you on safety culture than from, say, the head of accounts.
The old saying in sales that “people buy from people” runs true for most other things. People believe people they trust and respect and most of all people who talk their language. How you talk (and sell) to people is a vital part of your impact on safety culture.
Environmental health and safety (EHS) professionals have a singular reach inside organisations; they have “access all areas” from the C suite to the shopfloor and the layers of management in between. But that privilege brings its own challenges. It means having to learn the language that resonates with each of those different groups. And that, in turn, means trying to understand what motivates them.
Adjust your EQ
That ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and to see things through their eyes is one of the main components of emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, which is one of the most valuable attributes a business leader can have. If you can achieve that perspective, whether you are dealing with executives, middle managers or frontline operatives, then you are more likely to shape your messages to suit that group and to carry them with you.
A cheering thought offered by Daniel Goleman, who popularised the idea of emotional intelligence, is that even people to whom it doesn’t come naturally develop more of it as they get older; so there is hope for us all.
One thing that is unlikely to engage people any level of the organisation is the language of regulation. Telling people they have to do things because the law says so may earn you compliance in the short term, but it’s no way to build a culture in which EHS is an organisational value and where everybody sees themselves as playing an important part in keeping themselves and their colleagues safe.
The key indicators of safety culture
Knowing what motivates people at work often involves understanding what they are judged on by their managers. The safety director at an airport once explained to me that he and his peers on the board were all tasked by their CEO with “creating excellent passenger journeys”. That KPI shaped his fellow directors’ discussions – people tend to manage what they are measured on. When the safety head was seeking support to improve housekeeping standards at the terminal, he didn’t talk about the potential liabilities under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Instead, he painted a picture of the impact on travellers starting their dream holiday or an important business trip of having to skirt a cordoned-off area on the concourse where someone was being attended by paramedics because they had slipped on an unmopped spill and hurt their back.
Convincing operatives and supervisors to take safety seriously involves showing them you understand the other pressures they are under – such as production deadlines – and working with them to find safe systems that don’t slow them down unnecessarily. It may also be about making worker safety personal to them, giving real life examples of people who have had accidents or developed long-term health conditions doing similar jobs, and the impact it has had on their lives. Showing that good occupational health and safety isn’t an abstract aim and that it’s about the organisation wanting everyone to thrive and go home in the same condition they came to work because they are valued is a positive message.
If you can convey those messages, tailored to fit the different constituencies in your organisation and couched in language they recognise, you will be on the path to developing an evolved safety culture. If you can persuade others with influence in the organisation to do the same, you will traverse that path a whole lot faster.
What Ideagen EHS can do for you
Find out how you can inspire safety culture in an actionable way with our EHS software.