Knowing safety rules, laws and procedures does not make you a safety leader. If you are in the safety industry, you must know the legislation and procedures. It is a basic job requirement. If you were applying for a safety job, you would need to have the same knowledge of the rules, laws and procedures as the other forty people competing with you for the same job.
Your safety certification does not mean you are automatically a safety leader. Becoming a safety leader is largely dependent on what you choose to do with your safety certification - the same certification that every other candidate gunning for your job would have.
There are mediocre safety professionals and there are effective safety professionals. You are one of the two. There are far more mediocre safety professionals than there are effective ones. That is not a slight against the profession, it is just the numbers. Many do an OK job, but only a few do an exceptional job.
Apply the Pareto Principle and you will find that eighty percent of safety professionals are middle-of-the-pack performers, while twenty percent are high-performers. The 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) can be applied across every job function, department and manager. Out of five job candidates, one will be above average and the other four will be considered average. Not everyone is a star player, and only a few become leaders in their respective field.
Here’s where it gets interesting. To become a safety leader does not require you to be certified in safety. You need no certification. Anyone can be a safety leader; from front-line employee to a senior manager. Safety leader is not a position. It is a testament to one’s effectiveness in safety.
What separates good safety professionals from mediocre safety professionals is how effective they are at their job. So, put aside your preconceived notions of leader being another word for someone in a supervisory or management capacity. Let go of the need to assert your safety position or responsibility. It’s actually getting in the way of you becoming a more effective safety leader.
Here are three ways you can start today to become a safety leader:
Build More Safety Leaders
It sounds counterintuitive, but if you want to be considered a leader, you have to be willing to create more people just like you. The people will possess capabilities that will likely surpass your own. If you’re trying to keep people down, you’re not leading - you’re suppressing. Leaders don’t hold people back. That’s a thing that mediocre and insecure managers and supervisors do.
The purpose of a fruit tree is not to grow fruit - but to grow another tree. That is also the purpose of a leader - to build more leaders. If you are afraid of being replaced by someone you helped to develop, then you’re protecting your job - not helping them in theirs. Lousy, insecure managers protect their jobs. Leaders build others up even to the point of finding themselves replaced by one of their own. But never forget, a good company will see the value of the safety leader and want to keep that person working and developing more safety leaders. Safety leaders who build the talents of others and whose performance are invaluable.
Change Your People View
How do you view your people? As shortcut takers and those who can’t be trusted when you have your back turned? Or, are they viewed as good people wanting to do good work and make good decisions? How you view people will determine your approach. If you don’t think you can trust people to make the right decisions, you will approach the job as safety cop; enforcing rules. If you view people as good and wanting to do the right thing, you will seem to be more of a coach and mentor.
People-view is perhaps the most important idea for a safety professional to concentrate on. If you can determine how you view the individual members of your team, you can determine your level of willingness to work with the members of the team. People-view pre-determines your level of connection and the relationship you will have with people. If you believe that someone can’t be trusted, you won’t trust them. You will alter your interpersonal communication with them accordingly.
Become very clear about your own people view. Come to the belief that your people are essentially good people, wanting to do work they can be proud of. Then, you will honor your people, treat them like professionals, and have high expectations, which many of them will surpass for you. Who wouldn’t want to work with a safety leader who believed people to be a collection of exceptional individuals who each bring unique strengths to the table?
Change the Conversation
View some of the LinkedIn Groups and you will see some disturbing signs of lack of safety leadership. It’s not unusual to see negative comments written by safety professionals to chastise management for a lack of commitment to safety. Amazingly enough, some of the critics and complainers are themselves looking for work in the safety industry. Others are already employed, yet criticize their bosses. In public. On a social network (insert head shake here). Who would want to hire or keep a safety professional who blames, criticizes and complains?
Safety leaders don’t complain, blame and criticize. Safety leaders find positive ways to reinforce good behaviors, encourage positive dialogue and build strong supportive teams. Safety leaders don’t offer up excuses. They stand for accountability and ensure that their team accepts their role in accountability. Safety leaders don’t scare their people into compliance through the use of gory accident photos or gut-wrenching stories of being injured on the job. Safety leaders rally their people into looking out for and positively supporting each other. Safety leaders choose their words carefully and look for ways to improve regardless of the obstacles in the way.
Change the conversation by changing the tone of your words. Get rid of the criticism, blame and complaining. Focus on what’s most important; the safety performance of the group of good people and future safety leaders right in front of you.