Leadership Training

Leadership in Safety – Are we good or just lucky?

Leadership drives an organization’s safety culture, and safety is preeminent in successful operations. If your organization is injuring people, breaking equipment, or damaging the environment, you’ll never get to execute a fully successful project.  Leaders can’t let themselves be fooled into thinking they are successful if they haven’t had any incidents, especially when they have had near misses but simply escaped having reportable incidents. This is luck, not deliberate action and luck is always temporary. Leaders must understand how to integrate safety into every phase of operations. Holding a toolbox talk, followed by everyone signing a Job Safety Analysis form is not integrating safety with efficient operations. Safety can’t be treated as a separate function, managed by “other people.” As a leader, it is our solemn duty to give our team the absolute best possible opportunity to succeed. How do we achieve this?

From the first days in any Naval Officer’s career, they are told that each and every one of them is a Safety Officer.  They are not told that every one of them is a Tactics Officer or an Operations Officer, they are told that each of them are Safety Officers. Why is that? The purpose of a Navy is to fight and win battles. Why would senior naval leaders tell their new officers that safety is just as important as efficient operations? The answer is that they are completely interdependent, one can’t be achieved without the other. Leaders must embrace this concept at the very beginning or else they are doomed to substandard performance and more importantly, increased risk to their team and their assets.

Ownership and accountability is the soul of great leadership. Leaders must own everything in their control and hold themselves personally accountable for their own actions and the actions of those in their charge.  By that definition, a leader must embody the traits and principles of great leadership. A leader cannot pass off the success of others as luck and make excuses for his or her own failures.  He or she must drive culture from the front, isolate any failures and take deliberate action to prevent future occurrences. If a person in his or her charge is not responding to training and continues to deviate from the standard, then a leader must have the moral courage to remove that person from the team. The leader must be the one to make the tough call. It’s all on him or her.

A solid safety culture is truly a leading and lagging indicator of success.  Given this, leaders must be the driving force in hazard identification and risk assessment in everything the team does. He or she must set the standard for the planning phase of any operation, demand clear and concise communication with confirmation of understanding and above all, be on constant alert for the signs of a deviation.  He or she must provide forceful team backup when required and perform a critical self-analysis of how the operation went to determine if any deviations were foreseeable and therefor preventable, and if the corrections were timely and appropriate.

Leaders are obligated to correct even minor deviations within acceptable and required standards. If a leader ignores such deviations, they will immediately establish a new lower standard.  When a junior employee sees that a specific standard is not being enforced, or worse yet, that a person they deem to be a leader violating a known standard, measurable harm is done. The junior employee will likely feel empowered to test the bounds of other standards to establish if a cut-off or baseline exists. This is problematic and creates a downward trend in the culture that most organizations are hoping to improve upon.

It has been said that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. Based on this principle, positive, proactive leadership actions carried out every day in a very deliberate manner will unquestionably inspire a team to greater heights collectively than they could ever achieve individually.  We can be equally assured that leaders without the skills needed to prepare, motivate and guide their teams, will ultimately fail. Unfortunately, in the course of that failure, they will expose their crews and equipment to unacceptable risk. There is a reason militaries around the world begin leadership training on day one. They assume upfront that leaders are made not born, and then give them training and tools to be successful. Is your organization taking deliberate action or just hoping for the best?

About the Author:

David Burnham, CEO of CAVU International served 27 years in the US Navy.

For more info please visit https://cavu-intl.com

  1.   Naval Leadership, Naval Institute Press 2005
  2.   Extreme Ownership, Willink and Babin 2015

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