This workplace safety article was originally published in BST’s The Manager’s Guide to Workplace Safety (2012: Safety in Action Press).
Managers and supervisors play a critical role in culture change. They are the ones who communicate organizational priorities and values and who build relationships with individual team members. Managers and supervisors act as messengers between employees and the organization at large, and their actions signal what is accepted and rewarded. To many employees, managers and supervisors are the organization.
Optimally, a safety culture change initiative would engage the whole organization through a comprehensive strategy of evaluating current functioning, defining the desired culture, and engaging employees at every level through defined behaviors and regular feedback. It only makes sense for supervisors and managers to be involved in culture change initiatives; they have tremendous influence on the organization and its employees simply through their day-to-day actions.
There are several things you can do as a manager or supervisor to begin changing the safety culture:
Demonstrate your support
Are you asking employees to take on new roles? To buy in to new safety policies? Engage them in discussions about organization or operational changes and collaborate on solutions to perceived problems. Employees who believe that the organization is concerned about their needs in general, and who perceive that support is available, are also likely to believe in the organization’s values and to be actively engaged in its goals. Offer workplace safety training, behavior based safety observations, and other employee-led initiatives.
Strengthen your relationship with reports
Ask how employees are doing, check with them on concerns, and give thoughtful responses to suggestions. Employees who have a good relationship with their supervisors are more likely to be cooperative, to live up to the spirit of organizational objectives (rather than just the letter), and to initiate voluntary contributions.
Show that you’re fair
Make sure that policies and procedures that impact your employees, such as promotions or disciplinary actions, are fair, consistent, and visible. Employees who perceive that decisions affecting them are made fairly, even if they don’t like the outcome, are more willing to contribute above and beyond their immediate job duties.
Follow through on commitments to employees, “walk the talk” when it comes to following new procedures, and be open about the reasons behind your decisions. The way in which employees perceive your judgment, honesty, consistency, fairness, and openness in dealing with them influences the extent to which they will take personal responsibility and support new initiatives.
Build stronger workgroups
Set expectations for “fair play” and model them in your own interaction with others. If coworkers treat each other with respect, listen to each other’s ideas, help one another out, and follow through on commitments made, they’re more likely to become actively engaged in their workgroup’s commitments.
Show that the objectives matter
Does your company say safety (or any key performance area) is “number one,” but then behaves as though production and schedules are what really matter? Evaluate the message of your actions and align them to mirror your stated objectives. The more value that employees see attached to goals, the more likely they will be willing to invest their energy in them.
Initiate conversations about performance concerns and allow workers to speak without interruption, recognizing the value in their ideas. The more freely communication flows from workers to their supervisors, and among the workers themselves, the more influence an organization has over the level of desired workforce behavior. One way to improve communication is through supervisor safety training, like the BST solutions: SafeAlign, and through safety leadership assessment, including BST’s Leadership Diagnostic Instrument (LDI).