Who is the Enemy and What War is Safety Fighting?
It is interesting after the last piece on the military as a model for safety leadership the responses that assumed that somehow the military was under attack. The idea that the military is a ‘lean, green safety machine’ was used on another blog to advocate military leadership as a model for doing safety differently (http://www.safetydifferently.com/lean-green-safety-machine-part-3/ ). The idea that a military metaphor demonstrates a ‘different’ approach to safety is a curious one. The whole purpose of the military is to get people ready for the battlefield (defence or offence). A Brigadier commented to me recently that ‘safety is just hygiene’. He said, ‘Rob, you need to understand that safety is like brushing teeth and wearing dry socks, it’s something we need to do so we can fight the enemy’. This approach made perfect sense, even for civilian support staff everything is oriented to get those planes to complete their mission in Syria or to support special forces in Iraq.
I’m sure the military do a fine job at what they do, but is the military the model to articulate how we should lead in safety? Of course, there have been a number of recent exceptions: The Jedi Council scandal amongst ASF leaders (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/end-of-their-lives-for-the-army-jedi-council-scandal/story-fni0cx12-1227010531113), the problems with counselling soldiers with PTSD (http://www.smh.com.au/national/soldiers-could-avoid-counselling-after-files-used-against-them-20110627-1gnfq.html), veterans claiming victimization in the ranks (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-29/veterans-with-ptsd-turn-to-social-media-for-support/5056104), suicide and the setting up of DART (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-05/at-least-three-victims-of-military-abuse-have-taken-own-lives/5722564), the horrors of war (http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/11/04/i%E2%80%99ve-done-some-really-twisted-things-aussie-soldier-battles-drug-horror) and its after effects, the approach of the ADF to mental health (http://www.defence.gov.au/health/dmh/docs/review%20of%20mental%20health%201%20may%2009.pdf), many who ‘fall through the cracks’ (http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=jfadt/wounded_injured/report/chapter6.htm), sex scandals (http://theconversation.com/defence-force-sex-scandals-can-the-culture-be-changed-15194), a culture of denial (http://www.army.gov.au/Our-future/LWSC/Our-publications/~/media/Files/Our%20future/LWSC%20Publications/AAJ/2013Winter/AustralianArmyJournal_V10N3Winter_Discipline-HazingintheADF.pdf), repeated ADFA scandals (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/adfa-skype-scandal-cadets-sentenced-avoid-jail-20131023-2w0hz.html) and a history of cover ups and abuse spanning decades (http://www.adfabuse.com/Welcome.html).
One of the truisms of leadership is that if you don’t have ethical leading, there won’t be any followers. There is no leadership without voluntary following. The last three years of the Commonwealth Parliament (Thompson and Slipper) and NSW ICAC proceedings demonstrate that no one follows unethical leading. The preoccupation of the public with habitual lying in high office is the sport for the tabloids and is measured in polling. I certainly wouldn’t be using the Parliament as a metaphor for safety leadership indeed, the using of such a metaphor at present in Australia would simply alienate most of the audience. Similarly, I wouldn’t be using the church as a metaphor for safety leadership either (http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/). Even subcultures in prisons have codes of ethics that clarify ethical leading. So, is the military metaphor the one we should select to best articulate safety leadership or safety differently or indeed, ethical leadership?
If we are sick to death of the regimented, dumb down approach of over regulation is the military metaphor the one we want to articulate a ‘new way’ of doing safety? (as some call safety II http://www.safetydifferently.com/what-safety-ii-isnt/) If we want the military metaphor to describe safety leadership, who is safety at war with? Who is the enemy and where is the battle? If the military metaphor is the one to use for safety leadership, who are the generals? Who are the privates? What rank and status is afforded those command? Who is in control?
If we want to convey the nature of following-leading, safety ownership and how to tackle risk, what are the best metaphors to explain the need for inclusivity, mutual responsibility, acceptance and understanding, community and trust? Perhaps you could propose a metaphor that best conveys these values?