Most employers in labor-intensive industries will list workplace safety as a top priority. Driven by regulatory requirements, customer demands, and the ever-increasing costs of medical treatment for workplace injuries and illnesses, safety is an area of operational performance that directly impacts the bottom line.
Who’s responsible for safety?
Most employers view safety as a shared responsibility. While the burden of prevention ultimately falls on the shoulders of the employee, the administration of safety is the responsibility of management. As a supervisor, you have a direct and inescapable responsibility for the safety and well-being of your direct reports. More so than any other member of management, you have the advantage of access and reach. What you do with it has a direct bearing on the safety of those reporting to you. Additionally, it has a lot to do with how your performance is measured as a supervisor.
Responsibilities for safety are shared, whereas roles are not. As a supervisor, your role in safety is unique to your position within the organization. Being at the point of interface with direct reports puts you squarely on the front line and in the best position possible to impact actions and behaviors involving the workforce. Ultimately, your performance is determined by those reporting to you. Put another way, you won’t be successful if employees reporting to you are getting hurt on the job.
Leadership and management skills converge on the front line
Success on the front line requires skills and practices involving both leadership and management. Leadership starts with demonstrated and felt ownership of responsibilities and roles involving safety. It also involves efforts to gain the commitment and buy-in from direct reports for work practices and behaviors designed to minimize harmful risks and unnecessary exposures to them. From a management standpoint, it requires clearly defined expectations, ongoing observations for conformity, and feedback when and where needed. All combined, this process yields the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders involved.
Being a champion for safety
The key to becoming a champion for safety, however, requires more than knowing what to do. While safety practices are often defined by systems and process, it’s people that matter most. To make a difference and to truly influence a culture requires genuine, authentic, and sincere caring. The true goal of a leader is commitment, not necessarily compliance. While both are important, only the former has universal application without limitations or boundaries. When it comes to safety, few things are more important.
In practice, embrace and own your roles and responsibilities involving safety. The resulting mindset and behaviors are contagious and, over time, become part of the culture. As such, your legacy in safety serves not only those in the workforce today, but those of future generations – the ultimate measure of true leadership.