The Challenge

Many professionals have found that substantial and lasting change in performance only comes through weaving safety into the fabric of organizational leadership and culture. That programs-of-the-month die, quick fixes aren't, and anything likely to yield world-class results requires planning, time and effort.

Safety leaders are ultimately change agents, helping people live and work with greater awareness of changing risks and knowledge of methods for controlling risk, with greater focus and control, more productivity, and with safer default behaviors. Leadership, which I think of as "creating positive change by working through others," is both an art and a science. The science is based upon principles of planning, persuasion and change as revealed in numerous duplicable studies; the art lies in understanding which principles to apply in a given situation, how to adapt the selected principle to the target culture, understanding the "timing" of change, etc. Trying to lead exclusively by management book theory or intuition each employs only one side of the brain, when it's critical to use our entire resources in the planning and implementation of change.

In the 21st century, demographics, expectations and economic realities are clearly shifting. Many leaders have roots in times where "command and control" was the accepted method for leading employees. But times have changed. Now, even in the U.S. military, older styles of management have had to give way to other approaches. Leaders who aspire to being highly effective in these changing times have to continuously hone their skills and approach to a cutting edge.

To start, strategic thinkers gather intelligence and see trends that potentially affect their ability to catalyze significant change. Nine trends that can impact organizational behavior and safety in the early 21st century are:

  1. Fast-changing structure - shifting alliances, mergers/acquisitions, multiple cultures, managers-of-the-month - make it difficult to plan and adapt to change

  2. Technology explosion can overwhelm leaders trying to keep up with latest equipment

  3. High expectations, both corporate (Who wants to be a multi-multi-billionaire?) and individual, can lead to short-sighted planning, a high level of risk-taking and impatience when instant change doesn't occur

  4. Changing workforce demographics require new ways to effectively communicate with multiple cultures

  5. Lessened sense of commitment may also chip away at the sense of personal responsibility

  6. Thinning resources - fewer supervisors per worker, telecommuting - make it difficult to monitor safe behavior

  7. Focus on speed often might trade off quality/sustaining improvements for quick fixes

  8. Exhaustion, fatigue and stress mount as older employees are working harder and faster

  9. Information overload occurs as communication methods and processes "improve" - this can serve as a blockage to the ability to control focus and attention

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