A number of years ago I met a senior operations executive whose favorite phrase concerning safety was "It's all about behavior." He was a strong supporter of safety in the workplace and demonstrated that support by providing significant resources in time and money to support behavior based training for the workforce. There is a certain degree of merit in the executive's statement if the statement is applied to behaviors at all levels of the organization. Not just employee behaviors while performing their jobs, but also supervisor behaviors in providing guidance and setting a positive example in supporting a safe work environment, and most importantly, leadership behavior in leading by example and providing the necessary resources to support a strong safety management system. As a front line employee so succinctly stated it, "If safety is really so important to them, they need to walk the talk."
The basic ABC's of traditional employee based behavioral safety programs are well imbedded within the safety community. The use of Activators stimulating Behaviors and the use of Consequences to reinforce safer behaviors or provide coaching to correct undesired behaviors has been implemented in organizations worldwide with varying degrees of success. A major factor in the overall success of organizations safety efforts is dependent upon how well an organization balances the communications aspects of their behavioral safety efforts and the safety management systems that provide the technical knowledge, training, systems, standards and measurements to provide a safe and healthy work environment.
Using a broad definition, this paper discusses how Leadership Behaviors provide the Activators and Consequences to achieve the goals and objectives of an organization whether it is related to production, quality, safety or other business goals. The Activators and Consequences by Leaders take the form of behaviors that may me observed directly or are evidenced through communications and allocation of resources.
This paper focuses on how leadership behaviors as Activators and Consequences support or undermine an effective Safety Management System. Several components of a comprehensive Safety Management System will be reviewed using real life examples to illustrate how leadership behaviors as activators and/or consequences can make or break a successful Safety Management System.
The examples provided are representative of similar observations made during Safety Assessments over the past 26 years at companies in various industries, of various sizes, privately and publicly held, in various countries.
The Principle of Leadership Example – People tend to use their leaders as models. (Bird, Germain) This principle not only encompasses the overall safety culture but also has a direct impact on individual components of a safety management system. This principle concerns the impact of management actions on organizations. It is based upon the belief that workers want to please their leaders and do so by following their example.