There's been lots of talk lately about safety culture, right along with "behavior." How setting your sights on cultural change may be the A-1 approach for engaging the clutch of safer and more productive performance, especially during these beleaguered times.

I've witnessed how elevating culture can step up safety. But when it comes time to move beyond mere concepts towards actual execution, have you seen leaders leaping towards solutions before they look? Assuming they already know what they evidently don't? Adhesive taping on another company's answers that are unlikely to solve their own different problems? Only focusing on what's wrong, ignoring the need to solidify internal strengths?

In one of his last articles (perhaps summarizing the body of his work), Management expert Peter Drucker wrote that would-be leaders spend too much of their time trying to come up with the right solutions when they should instead endeavor to pinpoint the right questions. Drucker's consulting was notably based on his practicing what he wrote--asking executives a series of discerning questions toward helping craft most-effective strategies for their unique culture. Many clients reported they were at first frustrated (they wanted the expert to tell them what to do) but ultimately satisfied they arrived at best methods for their specific needs.

I see this all too frequently: some senior managers and professionals blithely assume they know what's needed to turn things around (usually revolve around others but not themselves embracing significant changes). Ready to do something they've heard or read about. But proof of the pudding, if they really knew what was needed, why do many organizations seem stuck in the first place, trying many interventions but not able to surmount stubborn problems?

In this article, I'll discuss 4 levels of Safety Culture, as well as two critical questions for activating higher performance Safety Culture.

The 4 Safety Cultures

Senior managers have become increasingly aware of Safety potential returns, well beyond loss reduction. And Safety culture is an especially hot topic among leaders who sense something is missing, that performance could be better.

Their instincts are probably right.

Culture is like the air we breathe, invisible, but very real. It's what people really believe but don't necessarily talk about - what you can get away with vs. what sparks the attention of Executives. What you have to do to get promoted, and much more.

There are likely thousands of cultures. In fact, many pocket cultures can exist within one company. And a plant's graveyard shift typically has very different "air" than its day shift.

So why bother focusing on Safety culture? If you, like me, are dedicated to significant, ongoing improvements, it's important to first map where you want to go. Identifying your level of Safety culture can also help communicate urgency for change up and down your organization.

Practically, I've found there are four overall stages of Safety culture. Many companies "graduate" up these cultural levels; others become mired at one level.

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