After many of my safety leadership talks or training’s, I hold informal Q and A sessions with other safety professionals. During this time, the vast majority of questions I receive are around self-leadership. Leadership has become a favorite topic and is discussed in most any professional setting. In fact, I believe the term “leadership” is a grossly overused and misrepresented word, especially safety leadership (a topic of an upcoming blog). However, the “principle” of leadership is very underused in many people.
The safety profession is no different. In fact, the last 7 years of my life has been dedicated to pointing out the low level of leadership in the safety profession. I have and continue to be, committed to sharing my thoughts and knowledge to increase the safety professional’s leadership with employees, supervisors, and executives. I firmly believe the safety professional has more daily interactive opportunities to lead people than any other levels of the organization.
Think about it. Executives are relegated to an office, managers and supervisors have assigned areas of responsibility and seldom venture outside of their designated area. They may understand the departmental dynamics, but not necessarily how it affects the rest of the worksite or organization. The Safety Professional, on the other hand, typically has responsibility for the entire facility, region or area. Much of the safety person’s workday is interacting with people on the floor or field and with those who have direct control and authority over the production and operational personnel. So when I think about all the opportunities where a safety professional’s leadership is essential, I think about every conversation, interaction, and/or situation where the opportunity for leadership is inserted.
In this blog, I will identify and briefly discuss 6 insights on what successful safety professionals know about leadership. I’ve developed and learned these through my personal experience and by observing and mimicking successful people.
Anyone who reads this blog will have the necessary insight to improve their leadership. For the safety professional, improving our individual leadership will enhance our ability to influence others in the direction we believe will eliminate injuries and protect employees.
I encourage you to think about how you currently lead and use the information to improve your effectiveness.
Here are the 6 insights successful Safety Professionals know about leadership.
- They focus on leading themselves first – The ability to drive ourselves is crucial to our ability to influence others. However, leading ourselves is one of the most challenging things to master. Why? We don’t see the blind spots. Blind spots are areas where we fail to look at the situation or ourselves realistically. We see ourselves through our intentions, people see us through our actions. Leading yourself is perhaps the least discussed aspect of leadership yet. When we fail to do what is right, trouble ensues!
- They understand how leadership works -Leadership is a complicated subject. However, effective leaders understand that leadership starts with influence. The safety profession is built on influence. I don’t know of any safety professional who has direct authority over others. I know some who think they do. However, safety professionals have no authority and must learn to “influence without authority.” As safety professionals, the way we efficiently influence and ultimately lead is to ensure we are adding value to everything we do and say. We need to make others successful. We accomplish that by helping them eliminate self-imposed limitations and encourage them to achieve their potential.
- They learned how to resolve conflicts – Every safety professional encounters conflict. Anytime you try to change behavior, conflict arises. People do not like being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it. However, the safety professional’s ability to effectively resolve conflict will determine their level of influence with the individual or group. To resolve conflict;
- Meet with the person privately
- Ask for their side of the story
- Try to come to a flexible agreement
- Set a deadline for action
- Validate the value of that person and make a commitment to help them succeed.
- They learned to efficiently work under poor leadership – Poor leadership is common in the workplace. I probably didn’t have to tell you that, but understanding what you are working with is essential. One of the most discouraging situations is to work under and with poor leaders. I have personally worked with poor leaders from the CEO of several companies to the line supervisors who have direct influence with the people on the floor and in the field. There are several reasons they may be poor leaders; they may be difficult to work with, they may not like you, they are a bully, they may lack vision, they are indecisive and inconsistent, or they have character issues
- Here is how to work with poor leaders;
- First, consider if you are the problem
- Determine if you have specific evidence to support your opinion
- Assess your influence and credibility
- Think through every possible outcome
- Make a decision to act
- Ask to speak in private
- Outline your complaint, and seek a collaborative solution
- Determine whether you should stay or move on
- If you decide to stay, give your best and support your leader
- Here is how to work with poor leaders;
- They learned how to navigate leadership transitions – Life is one big transition after another. Transitioning leadership can be exciting and challenging. One of the most common challenges is to transition the new leader into the safety process. I can’t tell you how many times I have established a safety process and culture, then a new plant manager or CEO comes in and they have a difference of opinions. It makes the future unsettling. However, a new leader can bring excitement and high expectations, which can lead to a more engaged leadership team in the safety process. Here is how one navigates leadership transitions;
- Consider the possibilities
- Weight the risk and rewards
- Receive the affirmation from your direct reports
- Take action and move forward
- They learned how to develop leaders within – One of my most successful approaches to building a robust, sustainable safety culture has been to create an environment where I personally coach and mentor leaders at various organizational levels. This has led to an influential mutual respect that resonates within the organization. John Maxwell has said, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” I have found that saying to be entirely accurate. Nothing can be accomplished without leadership. My desire to impact the safety of others is my ability to increase the leadership influence of those who have direct authority on the safety outcome. I have found this to be one of the most rewarding activities in my career. How do I identify potential leaders?
- I look for those who make things happen
- I try to identify those who have influence on others
- I watch for those who build relationships, not friendships
- I see who people are congregating around
- I see who see and adds value to others
- I look for those who seize opportunities
- I look for those who finish tasks
The ability to effectively lead people through your influence is directly proportional to your success. Let’s face it. Your success is directly proportional to the safety of those employees at your site, facility or within your company. Remember this, “a good leader is one that yearns to learn.”
“a good leader is one that yearns to learn.”
As you learn more about leadership and develop as a leader, you will find new ways to improve. Consider using these 6 insights to learn and grow in your quest to become a successful safety professional.