Next Generation Safety Leadership – From Compliance to Care
“Safety as an industry is in crisis. For reasons that escape me, Australia seems to be clinging to out-dated, culture-eroding, fear-driven ‘traditional’ safety models and theories that we just can’t seem to shake. We have trivialized what it means to ‘be safe,’ adopting punitive approaches to safety built upon weak foundations of words on paper, tick-and-flick exercises, PPE, and ‘catching someone doing something wrong.’ And the scary thing is that the majority of managers, people leaders, and even safety professionals I come across genuinely believe this approach is the right one.”
…And so begins the opening salvo from Tim D’Ath in the Foreword.
Next Generation Safety Leadership illustrates practical applications that bring theory to life through case studies and stories from the author’s years of experience in high-risk industries. The book provides safety leaders and their organisations with a compelling case for change. A key predictor of safety performance is trust, and its associated components of integrity, ability and benevolence (care). The next generation of safety leaders will take the profession forward by creating trust and psychological safety. The book provides safety leaders with actionable goals to enable positive change and translates academic languages into practical applications. It leaves the reader with a clear strategy to move forward in developing a safety plan and utilizes stories, humor, and case studies set in high-risk industries. Written primarily for the safety community and can be used to influence day to day safety operations in high-risk organisations.
Some Chapter Extracts:
On Zero Harm and other Platitudes – Chapter 2
Some common safety leadership philosophies, tools, and language can inadvertently reduce trust and impede safety culture development. One such example is the use of ‘zero harm’ goals. Binary safety goals are not supported by the research; in fact ‘zero’ programs have been found to be associated with increased occurrences of serious incidents and fatalities. Most employees view ‘zero harm’ as unrealistic and unachievable; hence the goal is likely to be regarded as a mere platitude, often resulting in cynicism and mistrust. When companies become overzealous about a ‘zero’ goal, they can become intolerant of incidents, and their people may become less inclined to speak up due to fear of reprisals and a lack of psychological safety. While often well intended, for all of the above reasons, a goal of ‘zero harm’ may (ironically) end up doing more harm than good.
BBS (AKA Behavioral Bull Sh#t!) – Chapter 3
Behavior based safety (BBS) is based on the underlying principles of behaviorism – a psychological approach that fell out of favor with most practicing psychologists decades ago – yet is still widely used in the mining, oil, and gas and construction sectors today. BBS relies heavily on a primitive stimulus–response approach that inadvertently promotes a parent–child hierarchy and often results in a ‘blame the worker’ mentality. A core tenet of behaviorism is positive reinforcement, and unfortunately, many organizations still employ the perilous BBS practice of providing ‘safety incentives’ for ‘good’ behaviors. However, as the author clearly illustrates in Chapter 3, incentives based on lag indicators can lead to under-reporting and catastrophic consequences. Through case studies and examples the author explains why BBS is not an approach that lends itself to creating the trust and psychological safety required for companies to move toward a more mature safety culture.
Mind Your Language! – Chapter 6
Language is powerful. As leaders, our words strongly influence the degree to which our people experience trust or fear. The use of parent–child language can diminish psychological safety within our teams and inhibit the flow of potentially vital information. In Chapter 6, the author illustrates how top-down, hierarchical language has permeated traditional safety processes and examines the negative impact that certain titles, phrases, and labels can have on how safety is perceived by the workforce. The author also provides examples of how authentic leaders have successfully implemented strategies to utilize more inclusive, adult–adult language that results in a more mature safety climate. As leaders, it is inevitable that, from time to time, we are required to have challenging conversations with team members. On such occasions, monitoring our own emotional state, owning our words, and inviting our people in can help us engage in difficult conversations without losing the trust of our people.