You might say, ‘I’m just a safety officer – not a leader’. ALL safety professionals are leaders, as you are responsible for guiding your entire organisation when it comes to adopting, implementing and following sound safety practices.
And as a leader, the following nine qualities are key to fulfilling your role successfully.
1. Demonstrate genuine concern for people
Being a safety officer is more than a job, it’s a vocation. You must be ready for self-sacrifice, rather than being self-centred and self-serving. Your responsibility attached to this job is larger than our individual self. If a safety officer fails to conduct inspection, audit or training, the consequences could be damaging, or worse, fatal.
Whenever you’re feeling weary, motivate yourself with the thought that our profession plays an important role in preventing accidents and saving lives. If there is negligence on our part, we are accountable for our actions. Remember the Deming Principle: Most accidents trace their root causes to mismanagement. As part of management, what a safety officer does, or fails to do, will always have an impact on people and systems.
2. Earn their respect
As a safety officer, you need the respect of your team. Never do anything that would lose their respect, such as inventing facts or violating safety rules yourself. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit you don’t know and then find the answer. Making something up because ‘you’re supposed to know everything’ won’t do anyone any favours. Also, if you see a safety violation, take the chance to correct the violation and use it as a teaching moment.
3. Reward ‘good behaviour’
As a safety officer, you may be tempted to focus on the negative part of the job. However, you can find ways to focus on the positive elements too. Find ways to reward your team when they do things the right way. If your team is struggling with a certain safety focus, find a way to track when they are safe. If your team is struggling with ladder safety, for example, choose one piece of ladder safety and reward them when they stay safe. You could choose to track when ladders are being inspected and reward them if they inspect their ladders at a percentage you choose. Obviously, you can adapt this tip for whatever works best for you and your team.
4. Have a plan
Any good leader has a plan and executes that plan. As a safety officer, make sure you develop a safety plan and then use that plan as you develop trainings and find ways to enforce the rules.
5. Make your behaviour visible
Effective safety leaders lead by example, strictly adhering to the health and safety protocol outlined at all times. Your actions set the precedence for employees to follow, even when unobserved. If the safety leader cuts corners or takes risks, employees will behave in a similar manner. Great safety leaders are alert at all times and visibly follow the established guidelines to ensure they set the right example for workers.
6. Respond timeously
Be diligent in logging all safety issues and events immediately, and prioritise their resolution as soon as you can. An effective safety leader is quick to notice and respond to safety issues as they arise, lending visibility to these and any lessons to learn, while stimulating co-operation, trust and inspired motivation among employees. If an employee does not adhere to safety regulations, management must assertively (and without compromise) address the issue at hand. An inability to show strict yet constructive response in relation to safety issues can gradually erode employees’ trust in the programme and breed a lax culture.
Where appropriate, involve workers in resolution of safety issues; provide a safe place for concerns and ideas to be heard. By involving your employees in safety concerns as opposed to just informing them of issues, you aid better understanding and respect for safety, while promoting a strong culture of safety.
7. Maintain a proactive approach
An effective safety leader knows it is not only imperative to respond to safety incidents immediately after they occur, you must also be proactive in your approach, continuously anticipating potential risk factors on the ground, in the environment or hidden in routine employee behaviours. Carefully observe working areas, which will highlight possible ways to enhance safety, in addition to hearing each issue the staff raises. Workers are a vital and important resource, and regular proactive consultations are vital to the overall safety success of a company; carry out informal and specific meetings to discuss:
- high risk areas
- safety reports
- proposed changes, and
- safety surveillance concepts.
8. Build strong communication
The best safety procedures are worthless unless all workers at all levels within the company communicate effectively about potential hazards/issues and work as a team to remove them. As an effective safety leader you are aware that workers have a distinct advantage in highlighting work hazards and providing essential and valuable input into effectual safety procedures and policies due to their knowledge of the workplace and everyday practices.
It is important to maintain communication through consultations between officers, EHS practitioners, advisors, managers and workers around occupational health and safety practices. This creates a powerful commitment from everyone, on all levels, to implement safety decisions and practices, in addition to developing trust and cooperation within the company. Therefore a key ingredient is a framework that makes it easier for workers to report safety hazards in an open forum, highlights their contribution and earns them respect with management and their social sphere of colleagues.
Ensure to inform everyone of the exact protocols and their role in the operation. Establish the quickest and most productive form of verifiable communication to all parties involved with:
- Regular meetings
- Tool box discussions
- Face to face discussions
- Focus groups to deal with specific safety concerns
- Worker surveys
- A system for logging issues and resolution
- Share safety information and updates in newsletters/electronic noticeboards
9. Be conscientious
Another important attribute of an effective safety leader is to possess a strong sense of responsibility towards your staff and company’s health and safety, as well as a drive to constantly raise your level of competence and knowledge. It is your role to oversee and attend to all details necessary for safety excellence. Keep up to date, ensure regular spot checks, audits and observations are performed, document and communicate effectively so everyone within the company is aware of, and operate within the safety procedures outlined at all times.
Additionally you need to ensure you remain up to date.