Leading Safety, Leading Safely Part 4 – Engaging person to person
Engagement, Communication, Promotion, MBWA (Management By Walking Around) surely it’s all the same, isn’t it? One of the most significant safety leadership challenges out there is a lack of real, tangible and meaningful engagement, showing that leaders really are interested in their teams, and how they are being supported in delivering a safe operation. Safety Leadership requires teams and individuals to be engaged and not just’ communicated at’; to care about, explain and also listen to their team:
- how they are getting on,
- why you care about them and are asking them to behave in a certain way,
- how those behaviours relate to the mission and vision of the organisation,
- what may be preventing them from achieving what they have been asked to do safely.
I am sure you have heard it a thousand times, but for leaders, really listening is one of the most powerful tools in the armoury. Showing you genuinely care about those in your team will build trust, and with trust comes confidence, openness and honesty. This sounds like Life 101, right? If only we saw it when working across the industry; I’d be out of a job!
“Effective leaders not only tolerate the open expression of concerns, they actually reward their people for sharing their concerns in an open, honest and constructive manner….concerns cannot be surfaced and resolved without give and take dialogue.” – Ken Blanchard
It is vital to recognise that engagement does not happen with Divisions, Structures or e-mail accounts, but with people. Safety is done by people, not by processes and procedures, so individual recognition is also important if people are to feel part of the team, part of the vision and part of the mission you all signed up to. By being recognised as an individual, and that their contribution towards the vision and mission is valued, they are more likely to exhibit the right safety behaviours. Individuals are also most likely to trust those they have conversed with and feel more valued. Where sometimes action can’t be taken, or may not be appropriate, leaders need to articulate why this may be the case.
This trust can also be demonstrated by allowing open access to information – nothing creates trust and open attitudes that showing you have nothing to hide, treating teams and individuals as grown-ups. How many times has information been held back, for fear of generating the wrong attitude or behaviour. Done effectively, morale and motivation can be significantly enhanced through a personal and honest approach to engaging and communicating the safety message, including the sharing of bad news, improving the sense of purpose and feeling of team participation.
Inspiring and motivating people remains an essential part of Safety Leadership. The ability to encourage and support individuals as they work to deliver whatever it is that you are asking of them requires energy, passion and commitment. It is not something that can be done from behind a desk and so requires active participation from leaders, both formal and informal. In this case, actions definitely speak louder than words. Just imagine the impact of a Director saying “’Safety equipment is to be worn whenever in the hangar’, that doesn’t apply to me!” rather than taking the time to put on the right shoes, hard hat and eye protection – something we have seen time and again.
- How often do you actively engage and listen to your team, rather than talking at them?
- What do you do to be open with your team, how do you tell them what it is you are trying to achieve?
- How often do you trust your team to tell you the truth, and how do you react to what they tell you?
- What do you do to recognise the efforts your team makes, even if it doesn’t result in success?