The Noise of Safety Leadership
Do a YouTube search on ‘The Next Age in Safety Leadership’ and see what you get, the same old stuff that is not about leadership, new age nor about safety. Let’s have a look at some of the top hits:
1. HSE Global – Safety Leadership
The first cab off the rank states ‘leadership drives the culture that you’ve got’. Ah, sorry no, leading is only one small part of what constitutes culture. Indeed, there are far more unconscious elements of culture that are far more influential (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-the-collective-unconscious/ ).
Just look at this formula in Figure 1. Leadership to Results. Nothing could be more warped. Just more of the old top down focus and the linking of culture as behaviours and of course the outputs of measurable results. Any focus on outputs and measurable results has no idea of the following-leading dynamic in risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/following-leading-risk/ )
Figure 1. Leadership to Results.
Of course, the old chestnut of ‘what we do around here’ is spruiked obviously demonstrating once again that Safety has no idea what culture is (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-socialitie/ ). Safety silences about culture (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-mythology/) are a loud demonstration that the speaker knows little about culture or risk.
It doesn’t take long into this video and out pops ‘high performance’ mantra, a good indicator that this is not about leading nor about safety.
When the video comes to the end, we learn that it’s all about ‘competencies’ and a ‘set of behaviours’ all packaged in the language of blaming eg. ‘lack of care’, ‘lack of commitment’, ‘short cuts’ and ‘sub-optimal performance’. So, if you want to know about leadership and safety, you won’t find it here.
2. Introduction to Safety Leadership
The next is a sad case of traditional safety on steroids and sadly progresses for over an hour on the same old tired stuff. What is safety? Starts the presentation and the answer? Freedom from risk!!! What? Time to turn off after the first minute because this presentation has no idea of learning and no idea of risk.
If one doesn’t understand learning and risk as the flip side of the same coin then, there can never be leading in risk. Save your time and go do some painting and watch it dry for an hour.
3. You Are a Safety Leader! – Leadership – Safety Training Video
You already know before this video gets rolling that as soon as it presents a cartoon superhero as leader, you know this video is not about leading in risk.
The caricatures in this short video endorse many of the common mythologies (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-mythology/ ) that hold Safety back from ever becoming professional. The first focus of this video is on the behaviours (OMG) of a leader – more behaviourism, more individualism, more about leader behaviour and less clue about leading in risk.
Apparently, leadership is about setting a behavioural model that others mimic. How fascinating when those in management are rarely seen at the coal face. The video doesn’t take long to set up the same old tired binary dichotomies of the dumb follower and the savvy safety advisor. Figure 2. Dumb Followers.
Figure 2. Dumb Followers.
Give me a break. The semiotics of this video are a wonder to behold, affirming again all the mythologies of safety but has little to do with leading-following and risk. See Figure 3. Watch Where I am Going.
Figure 3. Watch Where I am Going
All good leading starts with understanding following and listening, NOT spruiking generalized silly safety goop that condemns workers and elevates leaders as heroes. If you watch more of the video it’s just more behaviourism (not culture) and more blame, more heroics and more irrelevance.
4. Leadership in Safety
You get about a third into this video and you guessed it, more behaviourism (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/ ). The video then raises the idea of dialogue and discussion but we know in safety what this really means is ‘telling’.
There is no demonstration or discussion of how conversation, openness or listening is essential to dialogue. For Safety, these are just words like ‘consult’ which of course doesn’t include listening, it’s just code for telling.
Safety vision is apparently like a conductor presenting PPE on a musical staff, using the metaphor of harmonies to assert that culture is orchestrated PPE policing. You couldn’t make this s*#t up (https://safetyrisk.net/when-safety-doesnt-know-just-make-st-up/ ).
See Figure 5. PPE to Music.
Figure 5. PPE to Music.
What a wonderful semiotic of traditional safety, prioritizing PPE as notes of music so we all happily sing along to the PPE song. Makes about as much sense as the Lumberjack Song.
Have your thrown up yet?
And wait in for good measure you will get in your YouTube feed some useless shlock from Simon Sinek. Hey yes, leaders get what you want and push in line! More populist noise and nothing about following-leading.
If you want to know if someone is really speaking about leading (including of Sinek, Robbins etc) do a language audit and see just how much they speak about followership and the qualities of followership (https://journalofleadershiped.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/13_4_Riggio.pdf ).
So much of the stuff presented as leadership in safety is just more of what a leader does than what leading is. You won’t hear any language about ‘meeting’, ‘humility’ or ‘listening’ just more safety goop about mimics and behaviours. And if you watch the next 10 videos on YouTube its just more noise on the same old behaviourist treadmill so that nothing changes.
Leading in Risk
The first step in leading in risk is to ensure you do not deny the reality of risk.
Any denial of risk or, any denial of fallibility in risk is a demonstration of non-leadership. There can be no leading from zero ideology.
The mantra that safety is the reduction of risk, also implies the reduction of learning, and there is no leading without learning. There is no learning without risk.
Leading in safety is about leading in risk and through risk not leading into no risk. Unless Risk Makes Sense (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/risk-makes-sense/ ), there will be no leadership in safety.
So, what we see in this so called ‘next age in safety leadership’ is: more individualism, more behaviourism and more traditional safety. PPE, policing and blame. If this is the next age of leadership in safety, then bang your head three times and punch a brick wall and, see if it helps improve your vision.
Learning comes by the following-leading dynamic in risk.
Leading in and through risk is not locked into the noun of leadership but rather focuses on the active participle of ongoing dialectic between following-leading in risk. Real leading is found in Real Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/real-risk/).
Real leading in risk is found in the hyphen in following-leading NOT in the leader. It’s not about what happens in the leader that is lading but what happens in ‘meeting’ in the hyphen – in what happens between the follower and leader. There is simply so much noise in safety about characteristics in leadership and so little about the Socialitie of leading-following (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-socialitie/ ).
Unless there is a mutual understanding of shared risk then there will be no envisioning of risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ) or following-leading in risk.
Brian Edwin Darlington says
A great blog as always, tried watching the videos that were linked but stopped after some minutes of each as it is the traditional safety stuff all over again. Clearly no understanding of all the dynamics that make up culture, no understanding of the collective unconscious and definitely no understanding of the principle of the I-Thou and the importance of the hyphen. till a long way to go before we see a fundamental shift in risk and safety globally.
Rob Long says
Yes Brian, so much marketing and so little leadership. So much spin and so little focus on ethical practice. So much focus on power of the manager and so little on he humility of followership. So much behaviourism and and so little on what safety is about.
Of course leading and culture are never defined and always assumed as about what is in an individual and never about the social dynamic of mutuality. Just more branding and different words for the same thing. Like safety differently that is no different.
Brent Charlton says
I’m not going to waste my time watching, but have a question – how many of those videos involve a person or company offering to “fix” your leadership or “safety culture?” I’m guessing a very high percentage.
Rob Long says
Brent, of course. That’s where the money is made.