Management and Leadership

Resources - Management Systems and Leadership

Getting Top Management Commitment

It is essential to the success of your company's safety and health program that top management demonstrate not only an interest, but a long term serious commitment to protect every employee from injury and illness on the job. But, if you think you don't have that level of commitment, how do you get it? Real commitment doesn't just appear out of thin air. What is the secret?

Management commitment to safety will occur to the extent they clearly understand the positive benefits derived from the effort. Understanding the benefits will create a strong desire to improve the company's safety culture. Managers will invest serious time and money into effective safety management by developing formal programs, policies, plans, processes and procedures. They will also display leadership through effective accountability and recognition of behaviors and results.

Employers "do" safety (a behavior) for one or more reasons:

  • To fulfill the legal imperative. At this level, the primary goal is to fulfill the obligation to comply with OSHA rules. To stay out of trouble. Do only what has to be done to meet minimum requirements. Safety is not a priority or value.
  • To fulfill the fiscal imperative. Employers who are motivated to do safety understand the financial benefits derived from effective application of safety systems. The primary reason for "doing safety" shifts to maximizing profits. The goal is to fulfill the obligation to stakeholders to operate the business in a fiscally prudent manner. The employer will do whatever needs to be done reactively and proactively to save on direct and indirect costs of accidents. The employer will likely go beyond minimum legal requirements if needed. Safety is most likely a high priority...However, it may be subject to rapid change when the going gets tough.
  • To fulfill the social imperative. Employers who, for whatever reason, have come to the realization that long-term corporate survival depends on more than maximizing short-term profits, will value and tap into the incredible creative potential of each employee, from janitor to president. Managers appreciate the inherent value of each employee, not just as a worker, but as a corporate "family" member. They also realize and value the roles their employees fulfill away from work, in the community, as mothers, fathers, coaches, helpers, etc. Employers strive to fulfill their obligation to each employee, local community, and general society to support and protect the welfare of all employees. Safety is perceived as a core corporate value that does not change when the going gets tough.

It's a question of leadership

Every day, employees, supervisors and managers have many opportunities to communicate and act in ways that demonstrate safety leadership. Unfortunately, these opportunities go unanswered because they are not seen as opportunities. Employers and manager do not understand that the simple expression of tough-caring safety leadership can result in enormous benefits. The inability to perceive leadership opportunities as they arise limits the company's potential to succeed.

It's appropriate to assume that employees at all levels of the organization are good people trying to do the best they can with what they've got. The problem is, they don't always have the physical resources and psychosocial support to achieve the kind of results expected of them. Why? Ultimately, the workplace culture may not support effective safety management and leadership.

Corporate culture

The way we perceive "the way things are around here,"can exert a great influence on leadership styles. We can associate three fundamental leadership styles to the three management imperatives discussed above. Let's take a look at this association.

The tough-coercive leadership model. In this approach, managers are tough on safety to protect themselves: to avoid penalties. The manager's approach to controlling performance may primarily rely on the threat of punishment. The objective is to achieve compliance to fulfill legal or fiscal imperatives. The culture is fear-driven. Management resorts to an accountability system that emphasizes negative consequences. By what managers do and say, they may communicate negative messages to employees that establish or reinforce negative relationships. Here are some examples of what a tough-coercive leader might say:

  • Punishment - "If I go down...I'm taking you all with me!" (I've heard this myself!)
  • Punishment - "If you violate this safety rule, you will be fired."
  • Punishment - "If you report hazards, you will be labeled a complainer."
  • Negative reinforcement - "If you work accident free, you won't be disciplined."

As you might guess, fear-driven cultures, by definition can not be effective in achieving world-class safety because employees work (and don't work) to avoid a negative consequence. Employees AND managers all work to avoid punishment...consequently the motivations driving behaviors are likely to be driven by fear and selfish. Bottom-line...the culture is not healthful to employees at all levels of the organization. It may be successful in achieving compliance...but that's it.

The tough-controlling leadership model. Managers are tough on safety to control losses. They have high standards for behavior and performance, and they control all aspects of work to ensure compliance.

This leadership model is most frequently exhibited in the "traditional" management model. As employers gain greater understanding, attitudes and strategies to fulfill their legal and fiscal imperatives improve. They become more effective in designing safety systems that successfully reduce injuries and illnesses, thereby cutting production costs. Tight control is necessary to achieve numerical goals. Communication is typically top-down and information is used to control. A safety "director" is usually appointed to act as a cop...controlling the safety function.

Tough-controlling leaders move beyond the threat of punishment as the primary strategy to influence behavior. However, they will rely to a somewhat lesser extent on negative reinforcement and punishment to influence behavior. Positive reinforcement may also be as a strategy. Tough-controlling leadership styles may or may not result in a fear-based culture. Examples of what you might hear from a tough-controlling leader include:

  • Negative reinforcement - "If you have an accident, you'll be disciplined."
  • Negative reinforcement - "If you don't have an accident, you won't lose your bonus."
  • Positive reinforcement - "If you comply with safety rules, you will be recognized."

Extinction, the withholding of positive reinforcement, is common in cultures in which managers employ the tough-controlling leadership style because, once again...the manager is more likely to be concerned with his or her own success than the success of "subordinates". Consequently, production, profitability, morale and all other long term bottom-line results are not as positive as they might otherwise be. Why? Although excellence is requested, the safety system is designed to produce compliance behaviors.

The tough-caring leadership model. Managers are tough on safety because they have high expectations and they insist their followers behave, and they care about the success of their employees first. This is a self-less leadership approach.

The tough-caring leadership model represents a major shift in leadership and management thinking from the selfish tough controlling model. Managers understand that complying with the law, controlling losses, and improving production can best be assured if employees are motivated, safe, and able.

Management understands that they can best fulfill their commitment to external customers by fulfilling their obligation to employees...their internal customers. Communication is typically all-way: information is used to share so that everyone succeeds. A quantum leap in effective safety (and all other functions) occurs when employers adopt a tough-caring approach to leadership. A safety "coordinator" may be appointed to help all corporate functions "do" safety. This results in dramatic positive changes in corporate culture which is success-driven.

Although positive reinforcement is the primary strategy used to influence behaviors, tough-caring managers are not reluctant in administering disciplined when it's justified because they understand it to be a matter of leadership. But, before they discipline, managers will evaluate the fulfillment of their own accountabilities first. If they have failed in that effort, they will apologize and correct their own deficiency rather than discipline. What are you likely to hear from a tough-caring leader?

  • Positive reinforcement - "If you comply with safety rules, report injuries and hazards, I will personally recognize you."
  • Positive reinforcement - "If you get involved in the safety committee, you will be more promotable."
  • Positive reinforcement - "If you suggest and help make improvements, I will personally recognize and reward you."

You can imagine that in a tough-caring safety culture, trust between management and labor is promoted through mutual respect, involvement and ownership in all aspects of workplace safety.

So you're committed? Show me the time and money.

Top management may communicate their support for safety, but the real test for commitment is the degree to which management acts on their communication with serious investments in time and money. When management merely communicates their interest in safety, but does not follow-through with action, they are expressing moral support, not commitment.

Leaders get what they give

Real commitment is an expression of tough-caring leadership by example. Integrity, character, and discipline are values that all managers seek in their employees. Employees will demonstrate these important attributes when (and only when) they see management exhibiting these values first. Great leaders truly care about those they lead. What better way to demonstrate leadership then by providing a safe and healthful place of work for all employees.

Managers get what they design

They say "perception is reality." If you perceive a lack of top management commitment to safety and health, what can you do about it. First of all..think about fixing the system... not the blame. It's all about system design. If management is not demonstrating commitment through action, then you have an opportunity to become a key player to get things moving.

With the help of the safety committee you can "educate up" to help management gain the all-important vision and understanding needed positively affect attitudes and subsequent behaviors that give workplace safety the emphasis it deserves. Now let's take a look at what you can do.

We need to know who we are to be more effective at what we do

Your first step may be quite simple, yet it can have a major long-term impact on safety and health in the workplace. Propose that the company include the concept of safety in their vision statement and mission statement.

The vision statement let's the employee and customer know who you are by defining the role your company plays and what its basic values are. The vision statement reflects the corporate culture. One way to understand corporate culture is to think of it as the company's unique "personality" setting it apart from all others.

Sample Vision Statement - XYZ Widgets values its "relationship with customer" above all. To be successful we treat all employees as valued internal customers. We respect their ideas, value their work, and provide whatever is needed so that they may accomplish excellence in a safe-productive manner. Doing this empowers our employees so that they may manifest our values daily with our external customers.

The mission statement tells the world what you do -- why your company exists, by stating its intended purpose. The mission statement lets everyone know what your company's produce or service is; who its customers are; what its service territory is.

Sample Mission Statement - It is the mission of XYZ Widgets to safely manufacture and deliver the highest quality megalithic cyberwidgets to our valued customers throughout the Western United States.

If your company doesn't have a mission statement, try to develop one and convince management of the benefits that will result from a written mission statement. Now let's take a look at two basic approaches employers may adopt in safety and health program management.

Reactive vs. Proactive Safety Strategies

Don't just react to safety

It's sad but true - some companies have adopted an approach to safety and health that emphasizes a reactive strategy. A reactive approach assumes that accidents just happen, and there's not much that can be done about it. Consequently, the company places most of its effort reacting to accidents after they occur. A reactive response occurs after an injury or illness and usually has the purpose of minimizing the costs associated with the injury or illness. Reactive safety programs always cost much more than proactive programs...always...because they aren't implemented until an injury or illness has occurred. When management emphasizes a reactive approach to safety and health, it sends two negative messages to employees, (1) we don't care about you, and (2) it's all about money, not your safety.

Be business proactive

A proactive strategy emphasizes proaction: doing whatever it takes to make sure accidents never happen in the workplace. There are no excuses for an accident. A proactive response to safety and health in the workplace occurs before an accident has occurred. It anticipates and tries to prevent accidents. By emphasizing accident prevention, management sends a message of caring to all employees. Proactive strategies are always less expensive than reactive strategies because the company makes investments that result in potentially huge returns. Remember, proactive programs are implemented to prevent future injuries and illnesses.

Goals and objectives

So now you have a mission statement developed. The next step is to think of some proactive goals and objectives to improve your company's safety and health program.

Goals are easy to write. They're nothing more than wishes. However, operational objectives take a little more thought. Well written objectives should have the following elements present:

  • Starts with an action verb. (Decrease, increase, improve, etc.)
  • Specifies a single key result to be accomplished.
  • Is quantifiable. Uses numbers to measure a desired change. (i.e., 50% increase)
  • Specifies a target date for accomplishment.

For example, operational safety objectives might be written like this:

  • "Increase the number of safety suggestions to 25 a month by July 31st."
  • "Reduce the number of back injuries in the warehouse by 70% by the end of 1997."

Remember to work with the safety committee to share the goals and objectives with everyone in the company. By the end of this course you should be able to think of many more ways to increase management commitment.

Talk money... the bottom line

Have you ever proposed a recommendation to correct a hazard or improve a procedure, only to have it fall on what appears to be deaf ears? Odds are, management cares very much about safety and health in the workplace, but like you, they are very busy. When a busy manager receives a recommendation from the safety committee, and it's merely a vague one-liner like, "We need to install a new guardrail in the warehouse," the likely response might be to put it on the back burner.

Dan Petersen, Author of Safety Management: A Human Approach, states that, "Management is first of all interested in how the safety professional's ideas relate to the profits of the organization. That is, what will management get in return for the money it is being asked to spend? Thus, safety people ought to be dollar-oriented when talking to management. Even if management understands the language of frequency and severity rates, dollar indicators ought to be used instead."

Effective recommendations describe costs and benefits

According to the National Safety Council figures for 2003, when considering all industries nationally, the average direct and indirect claim cost for a non-lost-time injury is about $7,000. The average for a more serious lost-time injury is over $38,000, and a fatality averages $1,100,000.

Indirect costs, according to the NSC figures above, average 1.6x direct costs. However, it's important to understand that indirect costs may be much higher. Three things to remember in when estimating indirect costs:

  • The lower the direct cost, the higher the ratio between the direct and indirect costs. For instance, if someone suffers only minor injury requiring a few hundred dollars to close the claim, the indirect/direct costs ratio may be much higher than the NSC average.
  • Capital intensive operations, where large sums have been invested in facilities, realize higher and average indirect/direct cost ratios. For example, if someone is seriously or fatally injured on a oil-drilling rig, resulting in operations shutting down for a day or so, many thousands of dollars in lost production will result. In high capital intensive work processes, the expected ratio between direct and indirect costs may be 5x to 50x.
  • Labor intensive operations, where more investment is made in labor than capital assets, realize lower indirect/direct cost ratios. Someone may suffer a serious injury, but operations are not as likely to be significantly impacted. In labor intensive operations the expected ratio between direct and indirect costs may be 2x to 10x.

Take a look and download OSHA's Safety Pays software program that can be helpful in determining direct and indirect cost.

You can use these figures to demonstrate the benefits of taking corrective action.

Your supervisor may ask you what the Return on Investment (ROI) will be. If the investment in corrective actions is $1,000, and the potential accident could cost the company $38,000 sometime in the foreseeable future (let's say five years), just divide $38,000 by $1,000 and you come up with 3800 percent. Divide that total by 5 years and you come up with an ROI of over 760 percent a year! Whoah! Now that's a return!

Management may want to know how quickly the investment will be paid back: what the Payback Period is. Just divide $38,000 by 60 months and you come up with $633 per month in potential accident costs. Since the investment is $1,000, it will be paid back in a little under two months. After that, the corrective action may be considered as actually saving the company some big money. Now that's talking the bottom line!

Source: OSHAcademy

Management Leadership

Effective protection from occupational hazards takes leadership and commitment from top management. Management leadership provides the motivating force and the resources for organizing and controlling activities within an organization. In an effective program, management regards worker safety and health as a fundamental value of the organization. Ideally, this means that concern for every aspect of the safety and health of all workers throughout the facility is demonstrated.

Does your safety and health system incorporate:

  • Reasons for establishing a safety and health program (or the worksite policy),
  • Where you want to end up (or the goal), and
  • The path to your goal (objectives).

These are some of the actions recommended by OSHA to ensure that management leadership is in place.

Other recommended actions for management leadership include visible management involvement, assigning and communicating responsibility, authority and resources to responsible parties and holding those parties accountable. In addition, management should ensure that workers are encouraged to report hazards, symptoms, injuries and illnesses, and that there are no programs or policies which discourage this reporting.

Visible Leadership

Successful top managers use a variety of techniques that visibly involve them in the safety and health protection of their workers. Managers should look for methods that fit their style and workplace. Some methods include:

  • Getting out where you can be seen, informally or through formal inspections.
  • Being accessible.
  • being an example, by knowing and following the rules employees are expected to follow.
  • Being involved by participating on the workplace Safety and Health Committee.

Source: OSHA

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).