Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership is not the Basics – 20 Suggestions of Where to Start

A very popular one from the archives

When you do a search on the internet for ‘safety leadership’ the first hit that comes up is a QLD Government handout, a ‘toolkit for safety leadership’

Can you imagine what the zero harm state would produce, that’s right, simplistic basics peddled as leadership. Apparently safety leadership is about: the fundamentals of risk assessments, inspections, investigations, toolbox talks, consultation, challenging behaviours, site visits and recognition. Since when did the basics become leadership? Most of these aspects of safety are mandated anyway. Do a Google search on safety leadership and just see what you come up with, many advocates for safety leadership and really just peddling safety basics as excellence. Safety basics is not what safety leadership is about.

To demonstrate leadership in safety one would expect to go beyond the basics, to know much more about how to influence safety culture and provide vision for an organisation. There is much more one needs to know and enact in order to demonstrate safety leadership than just police what is mandated under the WHS Act. Here are just 20 suggestions of where to start:

  1. Learn about the psychology of risk, what drives human judgment and decision making.
  2. Understand the psychology of perception and how perception affects decision making.

  3. Study the fundamentals of motivation, and understand why some initiatives work and why other don’t.

  4. Learn about heuristics as required by the Handbook Communication and Consultation about Risk (HB327). This is the handbook to the risk management standard AS/NZS ISO 31000.

  5. Develop knowledge about social psychology, how people learn and the importance of the imagination in learning and prediction.

  6. Learn the fundamentals of implicit knowledge.

  7. Learn how to observe.

  8. Learn how to read.

  9. Learn more about the nature of risk and uncertainty and why a safety organisation should be a ‘humanising organisation’.

  10. Learn how to think critically.

  11. Develop a more sophisticated understanding of culture than ‘what we do around here’.

  12. Develop an understanding of safety complexity as a ‘wicked problem’.

  13. Understand the psychology of ergonomics.

  14. Learn the fundamentals of the human unconscious and subconscious.

  15. Learn the importance of how the geography of space, icons, symbols and non-rational communications influence human judgment and decision making.

  16. Develop an understanding of the fundamentals of cognitive bias.

  17. Learn about the psychology of goals and how the discourse and language of goals can counterintuitively trigger the opposite of what is targeted.

  18. Learn about cognitive dissonance and why some messages in safety are not only ineffective but drive the opposite of what is being sought.

  19. Learn about social politics in safety and how organisational dynamics affect safety performance.

  20. Learn about sub-cultures and how factionalism affects organisational culture.

If you expect leaders to be more sophisticated in their understanding of safety and have a greater hold on how to influence others in the engagement of risk, then these topics are a place to start.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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