February 11, 2013
Supervisors need soft skills to improve worksite safety
When I began in safety as a construction safety officer (CSO) 20 years ago, our role was to observe and report non-compliance.
We would inspect for hazardous acts and conditions and report these to the Superintendent.
All too often, this resulted in one of two scenarios: either the work was stopped until safety measures could be put in place (resulting in delays), or the work was allowed to continue (despite the acknowledged risks) because it was considered too late in the game and “time was money”.
Neither outcome was ideal, and both lead to increased stress and frustration on somebody’s part.
Safety was only reactive, and was considered by many to just slow you down and cost you money.
This basic safety role evolved upstream over time.
Increasingly, we participated in the planning of upcoming work tasks so that we could prevent the development of unsafe acts and conditions.
However, despite having created safety plans for the work proactively, we would often see these plans disregarded or corners cut during the execution of the work itself, sometimes resulting in gruesome tragedy.
For the last decade, we have been focussed on safety management systems, which document a company’s due diligence in their approach to the work.
These systems bring together the ‘step-change’ improvements made in safety over the last 50 or 60 years. Certainly we’ve seen a reduction in injuries, but why do accidents still happen?
Management systems alone are not the answer.
We have to be willing to question our long-held beliefs about how we fundamentally approach work itself. Management systems, (and even laws for that matter) are important, but they do not always drive human behaviour.
People still routinely drive faster than the speed limit.
The fact is that we comply with the rules we feel have some value, and which do not inconvenience us too much. If we can rationalize our way around compliance, we often do.
This dynamic is seldom more evident than it is with health and safety rules, since the individual actions required for compliance are often inconvenient, the chances of getting caught sometimes minimal, and the perceived consequences are remote.
With these truths, where will safety change come from?
While important and very necessary, management is not leadership, and leadership needs to be added on the front lines, not in the corner offices.
Building on John Kotter’s groundbreaking article, I set out to find a model for leadership that was simple and relatable.
One that factors in the need for emotional intelligence, also called EQ, in the workplace and thus provides optimal outcomes.
Most of all, it had to be contemporary, effective and be one that could unite the divergent generations we now have in our workplaces.
Through my research, I settled on a simple interpersonal leadership approach that seemed to be the right fit for what was missing.
Transformational leadership consists of only four elements, which have been shown to be both teachable as well as highly effective in producing the desired behavioral changes.
Even the holy grail of employee engagement is improved through developing transformational leadership in supervisors.
Most of all, it still feels contemporary and through exploration and work-shopping the four elements, even the crustiest supervisors can improve their EQs.
Lyth is presenting seminar T03 Leadership in Safety – the Next Step in the Evolution of Safety on Thursday, Feb. 14 starting at 8:30 a.m.
Jeff Lyth is the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance’s regional safety adviser for the Lower Mainland. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.
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