Leadership and safety
Leadership and safety

A safety campaign won't do it (alone)

Safety series: Leaders play a key role in driving behavioral change. That is why mobilizing leaders to drive a safety culture should be the focus for every communication department.

By:Rasmus Engelhardt, Senior Creative Advisor & Signe Raskmark, Communication Advisor (27 April 2017)

“So your safety culture needs a boost? Let’s do a safety campaign!” This will most likely be the response from many communicators when asked to help out with the organization’s safety communication. But while a great safety campaign can often move hearts and minds – it probably won’t have a long-term effect, unless your leaders play an active role in driving a safety culture.

Picture this situation: You are a lab-worker in a big medical company. Lately, corporate communication has rolled out a fancy campaign with colorful posters, films and stickers reminding you how important safety is, and how you should check for risks before you start a task. You agree. You also want to get home to your family with your eyesight intact at the end of the day.

But the thing is; every time you bring up a safety hazard with your boss, he seems to get irritated, so you’ve stopped doing it. Whenever there’s a safety inspection in the lab, people joke around and make fun of the procedures – and your boss is the biggest joker of them all. Frankly, you also find it difficult to follow all the procedures, while still meeting the team targets for speed and efficiency.

As with everything else in corporate culture, leaders play a key role in driving behavioral change. But when it comes to compliance issues such as safety – where the initial payoff isn’t tangible, but rather an add-on to an already tight schedule – a leader will quickly push safety to the bottom of the team’s priority list, if the overall priority of safety isn’t clear in the organization.

That’s why mobilizing leaders to drive a safety culture should be the focus for any communication department tasked with boosting the safety culture.

So how do you do that?

Make safety leadership a priority
Well, first of all, leaders have to know that promoting safety culture is part of their job. ‘Safety leadership’ starts with making leaders aware of how important they actually are in making safety a first priority. Believe me, chances are that they simply don’t know it.

Putting safety leadership on the agenda at your next management meeting or seminar and asking leaders to assess their own safety leadership, is one way to go about it. Answering the question: “To which degree do you act as a role model when it comes to safety?” will make the penny drop for most.

Give leaders tools to communicate about safety
Secondly, most leaders don’t actually know how to make their team take safety seriously. So help them! Give them the key messages, the tools and the training they need to become strong safety ambassadors. Show them that making safety important means:

Communicating about safety on a regular basis; at meetings, at beginning of shifts, at year-end. This entails telling people why safety matters, how to act safely and share the progress they make. Often safety efforts get tired if it feels like it doesn’t make any real difference.

Engaging in dialogue about safety. Employees are often the best safety experts; they know the hazards and have the best solutions, but some leaders are not used to engaging with their teams in this kind of dialogue. So show them how to ask questions that people can answer – and not least – how to listen to and act on the input they get.

It’s a group effort
Close collaboration between the safety organization and corporate communication is a prerequisite for any lasting safety communication effort. But mobilising your leaders to drive a safety effort also requires a strong top management focus on safety. So, as a communicator your first step to coining ‘Safety Leadership’ in your organization in getting your top management on board in being the organization’s no. 1 safety ambassadors.

Take a look at how Haldor Topsøe mobilized their leaders as safety ambassadors.

To celebrate the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on Friday (28 April 2017), we at Open will share some thoughts and inspiration on the topic each day this week. Hopefully it will kick-start reflections and discussions – and help break with the bad reputation of safety communication once and for all.