Are You A Good Safety Leader?

Are You A Good Safety Leader?

By the late George Robotham

Managers, supervisors, OHS personnel and informal leaders all have a responsibility to lead the OHS function. Leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in many spheres of life.

Safety leaders need to be asking themselves the following questions-

1. Do I visibly demonstrate commitment and focus on safety?

2. Do I set the safety example?

3. Do I create high safety expectations?

4. Do I use high values and detailed standards of performance?

5. Do I listen to and involve the workforce?

6. Do I do what I say I will do?

7. Do I value safety goals?

8. Do I make employees feel they are part of something important and satisfying?

9. Do I reinforce, reward and celebrate success?

10. Do I ensure everyone is held accountable for safety performance?


Why is safety leadership important

Safety leadership defines the purpose, goals, vision, mission and objectives of the safety management system. It further sets the direction for safety, lays down the expectations and guides implementation. It is a vital component of strategic and operational management plans. Leaders must manage by walking around and often be seen in the workplace.

Leadership Perspectives

Having survived a number of years in industry I am acutely aware that leadership of an organisation can make or break the organisation. The importance of leadership is vastly underrated in Australian industry, Leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in all aspects of business and life. Unfortunately it is sometimes the refuge of scoundrels.

Excellent health and safety leadership is the most important thing in maintaining an excellent health and safety management system. Having researched general and health and safety leadership extensively I am of the view we should be doing more to integrate general leadership principles into health and safety.

Health and safety leadership is a line management function and an integral part of management accountability. It requires a solid understanding of core skills, competencies, planning and execution. Senior leaders must personally drive the health and safety culture. All leaders must clearly communicate expectations, model and reinforce required health and safety behaviours and demonstrate a strong link between their health and safety leadership and career opportunities. Training, on the job learning, coaching, mentoring and projects or secondments to share health and safety knowledge are means of developing the required leadership (Adapted from Rio Tinto)

The Best Safety Leader I Have Worked With

For about a year I worked with a General Manager Operations, John, who could best be described as a humble but focused leader who had an overriding commitment to safety. John accepted the role of Safety Champion. John would turn up at operating sites in the middle of the night to see how safety was being managed. He would jump on a haul truck and go with the operator while the truck was loaded, John would question the operators about safety and tell them that he expected safety to be their top priority. He would walk through the workshop and observe how work was being performed. He would then gather everybody together and give them feedback about safety and tell them what he expected.

He used to give the workers his mobile number and tell them to call him anytime if a safety issue was not solved to their satisfaction. This did not happen often but there was some big action when it did. The approach by John was not always appreciated by the business unit supervisors and managers as he often knew more about how safety was managed at their site than they did, they were kept on their toes.

John had a very simple approach to safety audits, he chose ten things his wide experience told him had been known to cause fatalities and the associated prevention methods. He audited to see if the required preventative actions were in place. At the audit closing meeting he reported on the status of the items and said he expected the required actions to be in place by the time he came back in six months. All this was said in a soft, slow, Southern drawl but the managers and supervisors knew their jobs were on the line.

John let his subordinates know he expected nothing less than 100% commitment to safety, those who did not comply were encouraged to lift their game. Word quickly got around about his safety expectations, single handed he raised the profile of safety in the organisation. Unfortunately after John left there was no one to carry on his work at the same level.


George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below