Learnings from Safety Professionals: Old and New Views

Learnings from Safety Professionals

March, 2017, our EHSQ Community had a Mastermind session with Carsten Busch and Rosa Antonia Carrillo, hosted by Tamara Parris, to discuss the Modern and Traditional Safety Management styles, and the challenges EHS Professionals face with each.

During our sessions we had just over 142 community members share their views in our Members voice survey. During the session, we had several members voiced their challenges and insights learned through their own work experiences.

From our “Member’s Voice” discussion we learned 78% of our members use an Empowering Leadership style in their workplace for safety management, and 43% use the Taylorism /Traditional approach. Rosa shared she was not surprised because when working with Safety Professionals they understand empowerment is the only way to motivate people and get buy-in. Carsten shared that because he works in the Police Organization, the institution is hierarchical. Whereas, his department leader uses a Servant style with the team. This is an example of how you can often have both, not one or the other.

Our member Grant mentioned he is not surprised by the empowerment model ratings. He believes safety programs are doomed to fail, unless workers are empowered to stop work if there is imminent danger. This is more than a simple statement, it has to be promoted as a core value.  To be taken seriously, safety managers have to model this behavior too.

Zubeni shared it is important to be thinking in different strategies, depending on the person and situation such as delegating, supporting, coaching, directing, etc. He agrees situational leadership would be more effective. Razvan mentioned he would be interested in learning more about how people are implementing their empowerment style of management. He is curious to find out the difference between what is done in documentation, compared to on site implementation. In his experience he has seen some companies promoting the empowering style, but in “reality” the situation was different. Bogdan commented it is a great point about empowerment, and he believes it is a great challenge too for supervisors, managers and senior leaders.

When we asked our members what they believe is the most important component of Accident Prevention efforts; 47% mentioned is was quality of relationships and interactions, 42% believe it is Behaviour-based observations and 40% chose Compliance.

Carsten shared he started his safety career in the technical side, which encompasses compliance a great deal. Safety is often perceives as a technical field, although it really isn’t. Rosa pointed out how the member’s response on the graph show our field is equally divided in what they focus on first. Through today’s discussion she would like to highlight the “Quality of relationship” because in the past we have seen that BBS and compliance only succeed if there is a foundation of trust and open communication.  Both believe we need to move away from check list and focus more on quality relationships and interactions with our workforce. Relationships are key to ensuring that people feel psychologically safe to bring up concerns or stop an unsafe situation.

Micheal brought forward that the stress on “relationships” is a two-edged sword. He has had safety managers fail to address safety issues based on the fear that relationships may be “damaged”. It is key to not run the risk of encouraging overlooking non-compliance, in favor of “relationships”.  Charles shared that management needs to establish a process/procedure to vary from the standard in an efficient and empowering manner.  He cautions that drift is the most dangerous; that using the skill and knowledge on site, when making changes, in an orderly way, prevents drift.

We asked our members to share how they view their employees with the question “Humans are…” We had an overwhelming response, 93% who believe humans are our greatest asset and capable of things that machines are not. 26% believe people are needed, inherently unreliable – must be controlled with procedures, safety systems. Carsten shared how often he hears professionals comment on the need to engineer out human errors.

When asked to expand on their thoughts, one member mentioned that workers are likely to do what they think is right in the circumstances they are in.  They are well meaning and will try to solve the problem. Another shared, they are our greatest assets, weak links, sometimes unreliable, must be engineered into safer roles, trained, enlightened, and empowered.

In our discussion we looked at the Taylorism or Traditional, and Servant and Empowering leadership Management Style of Safety Management. Our members highlighted several common identifiers related to each one during our planning conversation.

Traditional style:

  • the focus on safety as an “Outcome”,
  • the viewpoints of Behaviorist, Rules, Heinrich Triangles, and
  • concept of Human Error: the human is a problem.

Servant and Empowering:

  • Looking at Safety as a capacity or process
  • Developing a work environment of respect and trust
  • Paying attention to how people relate to each other
  • ‘Human error’ is a symptom of something in the system

In our discussion we looked at how to motivate organizations towards changing Leadership beliefs. Several ideas that where shared with our group were; start through understanding the need for “Situational Leadership” style, instead of either or standing. That there are good in both styles that can be adapted to various situations.  Both Rosa and Carsten shared the suggestion that there are time we need to shifts between Servant and Empowering leadership, to and from a Traditional Management Style.

During the group discussion we identified various challenges people have experienced. Our expert members shared these top 6 from their own working experiences:

  • Working with others not like-minded, particularly in belief of human nature.
  • Many individuals having black/white thinking; “either or”
  • Upholding safety ethics and principles under pressures
  • Trust is easy to break, and very difficult to heal.
  • It is not for management team to determine if you have a culture of trust.
  • Recovering from feeling betrayed or from betraying by others. Need to be resilient.

Throughout our conversations, member shared their own learning from over the years, with the most common mentions being;

  • Ask questions, rather than tell people what to do or assume reason.
  • Identify challenges to understand their point of view, use this understanding to lead to new point of view.
  • Learn if there are conflicting goals, focus or views.
  • As EHS Professionals can make the choice of our own behaviors and shape the safety belief system, instead of blindly following flow of culture.
  • Take risk of using new philosophies and approaches when thinking about how to change safety beliefs and values of organization.

Ray shared it is important not to only focus on motivating the organization through the workforce/safety professional relationship. We also need to work on influencing the upper levels of the organization to make a larger impact. Tamara suggested to learn what each Executives / Divisional objectives are so you can strategize how to tie applicable safety processes to their operational procedures. This would encourage the executives to champion safety through their own objectives. Carsten agreed it is important to not focus on just one area because we will miss seeing and learning from other areas of the business. We need to look for the why, more than for the errors. Celebrate the successes more than failures, to help motivate people to repeat positive behaviours.  Rosa shared how in North America, we often do not share or focus on relationship building. In the boardroom the core focus is finances and avoiding disasters. She believes it is important to build your team to have the power to change the work unit culture.

In closing, Carsten mentions the need to show people, “walk the talk”, to set a good example.

Ask questions, be humble and involve others. Give and taking to earn trust.

Rosa shared her belief that if she wants other people to change, then she takes ownership to create the safety space for people to approach and share their ideas with her. We often focus on changing management because we need their commitment to implement our programs. If we are encountering resistance we should work on establishing a relationship of trust and respect with that manager so that there is a better chance of being heard. We should also look for supportive supervisors who have a lot of influence on the front line and work closely with them. Look for a place to start and take responsibility for building good working relationships. Relationship doesn’t mean being “good friends.” It means respect, trust and a willingness to reach a common understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it.

We invite you to view the Live Open Discussion which inspired this month’s Learning’s from Safety Professionals post; “link to recording here”.


Community Experts:

Carsten Busch

Founder, Mind The Risk, Contact: Email: carsten@mindtherisk.com

Carsten has studied Mechanical Engineering, Safety and Law. He brings over two decades of experience in HSEQ Management from various railway and oil & gas related companies in UK and Europe. Currently he works as Senior Advisor Occupational Safety at Politidirektoratet, and is owner/founder of www.mindtherisk.com.

Carsten was part of the organising team for the 2014 EHSQ Elite symposium and is an active member of the Dutch Society for Safety Science (NVVK). In May 2016, he published his first Safety book, the well-received Safety Myth 101.

Rosa Antonia Carrillo

President, Carrillo and Associates Inc. Contact: Email: rosa@carrilloconsultants.com

Rosa Antonia is an expert in organizational change with an emphasis in environment safety and health. Her ground breaking articles on safety culture, mindful conversations, trust and open communication have gained the attention of leaders world-wide.

Rosa is the president of Carrillo & Associates, Inc. a provider for employee engagement, leadership development, and coaching services for leaders of companies in high hazard industries. In January 2015 Rosa authored Safety Conversations: Catching Drift and Weak Signals

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