You don’t Need to be a Hero to be a Safety Leader

You don’t Need to be a Hero to be a Safety Leader

That’s Not a Knife, That’s a Knife“When a meeting between two people truly takes place, when there is just you and me and we are interacting in a very real and honest way, dropping agendas and stepping into a wide space where the air is fresh and competitors become brothers and sisters and threats become people, this is when we come to life” (Long 2013, p.36) – More of the book here

These are the words of the Reverend Graham Long, who is CEO and Pastor of The Wayside Chapel ( which is located in Sydney’s red light suburb of Kings Cross. Under the banner of ‘love over hate’, The Wayside Chapel strives to create a community where there is no ‘us and them’ by breaking down the barriers of judgment and providing a safe place where people from all walks of life are welcome just to ‘be’.  Their programs and services are designed to ensure the most marginalised members of our community have access to essential health, welfare, social and recreational services

I was privileged to be able to visit ‘The Wayside’ last week as part of my post-graduate studies in social psychology and risk. These studies are helping me understand how our social arrangements are so important in how we understand and deal with risk. Our visit to The Wayside was just one of the many experiential learning activities in this course, and part of our studies in ‘Leadership’.

There is much written about leadership, and in particular the traits that make great leaders and on what ‘it takes’ to be a great leader. When you visit the Wayside though and hear Graham talk, it becomes obvious that leadership is not about traits, status, knowledge, intelligence and hierarchy, instead leadership is about people, followers, community and cause.

People that come to the Wayside don’t visit because Graham, or anyone else for that matter, are God like or hero’s and have answers to their problems. Graham is not an overly charismatic man who uses grand speeches to spread his word. In fact Graham doesn’t use many words at all, and the reason that people ‘follow’ Graham at the Wayside is that his greatest skill is listening.

As I listened to Graham talk to the group last week, one thing that really stood out for me that I think many people in the safety and risk industry could learn from was;

“At The Wayside, we tell people they are not ‘problems’ to be solved but rather ‘people’ to be met. We know we have had a good day if someone walks out our front door feeling ‘met’, rather than ‘worked on” (Long, 2014)

If we really want to be Safety Leaders in our organisations, we would do well to think about how Graham’s advice and methodology might apply in our industry.

In a recent article (Safety Crusader), I wrote about the importance of suspending our own agenda when engaging with others. When a Safety Crusader goes into a conversation with the agenda of “I must get them to take me/safety seriously”, they cannot be open to the agenda of others, and really understand what they are thinking, because the Safety Crusader thinks that their views are the only ones that count (control).

A Safety Crusader cannot be a Safety Leader as the Safety Crusader is not interested in ‘meeting’ others, they are interested only in ‘fixing’. This makes them a ‘Hero’, not a leader.

Graham is also the author of a great book Love Over Hate, Finding Life by the Wayside (2013). In this book, Graham shares many stories about both his own life and ‘life at the wayside’. There are many stores about the ‘Wayside’ community and how they go about achieving their vision which is “Making community with no ‘Us and Them’”

It is only when we consider our community, our social construct, and the followers who are part of that community that we can even begin to think about playing a role of Safety Leader. A Safety Leader is one who understands that there can be no leadership without followers, and no followers without community. As Graham so eloquently puts it,

“We do ourselves much damage when we divide the world into saved and lost, in and out, good and bad, Christian, Muslim, Jew and Gentile, housed and homeless, sick and well, us and them” (Long 2013, p. 35)

Safety Leaders realise that they need to be part of a community, part of the cause, engaging and supporting fellow members of the community. Safety Crusaders on the other hand, are not concerned about followers and community, they are concerned with rules, with objects and process. People are just a by-product of those things, almost an inconvenience for Safety Crusaders.

Safety Leaders will see it as their role to ‘meet’ and not ‘fix’ people. Safety Leaders understand that people are fallible, we will make mistakes and occasionally do things that others don’t expect or predict. When we see it as our role to ‘meet’ people, listen and hear them, we will ensure that our organisations are humanising, that they will allow people to be people, not machines.

Safety Leaders are not worried about how others perceive them, they are not focused on ego and self, they are focused on others. Graham provides one final quote which I think sums this up well;

“It is impossible to meet another person if we are worried about how they will affect us, or how we will perform in front on them. These kinds of meetings always become ‘an event’” (Long 2013, p. 75)


I never thought that I would learn so much about what it means to be a safety leader by visiting a chapel, but, I look back now and wonder why visiting The Wayside Chapel, and talking with people like the Reverend Graham Long where not some of the first things I should have done when I got into this industry. After all, it is all about people and humanising our organisations and not about objects, fear and process.

Thanks for your time Graham, you’re an inspiration to many.


You can learn more about The Wayside Chapel, and donate to this great organisation at




Long, G. (2013) Love Over Hate. Finding Life by the Wayside Sydney. The Slattery Media Group.

Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

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