Walking Leadership

Brene Brown comments that ‘the best way to move information from the head to the heart is through the hands’ (Daring Leadership). I’m more inclined to think it’s more through the feet. The affordance of hands is for holding but the affordance of feet is for moving and I think leadership is about movement much more than it is about holding.

All learning involves movement of some kind and in safety the most common form of movement is a ‘walk around’ but is it viewed as an opportunity for learning?

On building sites a ‘safety walk around’ often means ‘finding things wrong and fixing them’. Whilst it’s important to fix some things what else might a walk round do? The following come to mind.

  1. For me the most important aspect of a walk around is the practice of presence. Being present rather than in an office checking boxes ought to be the primary activity of leadership in safety.
  2. The second most important thing of the walk around should be not policing but rather developing relationships. This means learning about others and movement to their interests and their perspective on how they work.
  3. The next most important part of walking around is the building of trust. Trust is the bedrock of all safety. If you can build trust across site, safety will improve.
  4. Of course, asking up and down scaffold, across site and walking in and out of alimaks should be mostly about looking and listening more than telling and policing.
  5. If you want to lead in safety on site in a walk around then develop your skills in questioning, especially open questioning. On a safety walk don’t forget that leading and interrogative questions don’t work.
  6. Remember you are in someone else’s space, you are not in the safety of your own office. When you are in someone else’s space you need to be very aware of where the power lies. Wearing an invisible hat called ‘safety police’ makes for a failed walk around.
  7. When you are in someone else’s space you are not the expert so don’t try to be one. Safety people are not plumbers, stressors or chippies but rather helpers and, the best way to help is with good questions and conversation. You don’t have to know someone’s job to build trust and create a good conversation.
  8. A good walk around is about tuning in to what matters and tuning out to petty risk, that simply pisses workers off. Nothing is more sad than a safety crusader on site with a pair of snips searching for untagged leads to cut.
  9. A good walk around that displays leadership makes mental note of mood, language and symbols. Good leadership pays attention to the invisible unconscious things and knows that is where the power lays in the development of culture.
  10. One of the most important things in a walk around is not to repeat gossip but to reframe gossip and question its motive. There is nothing more destructive to safety than triangulating information and erosion of trust.

Walking leadership is about walking to others, walking with others and walking around others. Moreso, the walking metaphor is also about learning, listening, helping and discovery. One thing is certain, that whatever sits on a checklist in the office resembles nearly nothing like the dynamic space of disruption on site.

Whenever I go to site with safety people I always want to know how much of their time is consumed at the desk. This is often one of the best indicators of leadership success.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
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.

4 Replies to “Walking Leadership”

  1. In a large Australian corporation – I tried (but failed) to replace tool box talks run by supervisors with tool box listens

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below