Throughout the 1990's many organizations focused their safety efforts on the front-line employee - and many became good at engaging the field and the shop floor in active safety roles. In recent years, we've seen the focus shift to the safety leader - including the safety manager, the plant manager, the head of HSE, and even the CEO. As organizations expand the scope of safety, what happens next? Is it possible to integrate these methods into one comprehensive process that engages all employees and provides motivation for safety improvement at all levels?

The active inclusion of leaders in safety activities raises new questions about what engagement means; what it is, how to achieve it, and what sustains it across diverse functions and locations. While workers are present at the point of exposure and are critical to safety improvement, they are limited in the scope of their impact. Leaders, on the other hand, can make decisions about resources and organizational direction, but are limited in their ability to enact the particulars of day-to-day work at the front line. Getting safety right means engaging the right levels in the right way.

This article discusses the safety interests and perspectives that are shared by senior leaders, supervisors, labor representatives, and board members, and how to motivate employee engagement at each level.

Understanding Motivation

The closest thing to magic in organizational change is getting individuals excited about what is going on. Most organizations have multiple competing priorities at all times. There are relentless cost and production-efficiency pressures. There are fewer people and more things to do. Time is at an absolute premium. Under these conditions, motivation can make the difference between success and failure. In safety, motivation opens the door to fluency in critical systems, the ability to detect patterns in leading indicators, and the vision to accelerate and advance performance beyond the status quo.

Simply speaking, the problem of motivation is one of generating motion. Derived from the Latin movere ("to move"), we use motivation to describe of state of being in motion toward a goal. In safety performance, we say the motivated employee (or line manager or CEO) is one who is actively pursuing the goal of safety improvement. He or she is engaging in the work of improving safety; using safety systems, talking about safety performance, advocating the interests of safety in light of other priorities, and so on. In this sense, the motivation we are talking about is an active state. Motivation is also spoken about in another sense; the internal drive or interest someone has for working toward an objective. In this sense, motivation can be active (the leader is interested in safety and is actively engaging in it) or inactive (the leader is interested in safety, but is not engaging in it.)

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