Management and Leadership

Resources - Management Systems and Leadership

Top Management Leadership: Showing Your Commitment

Effective protection from occupational hazards takes commitment from top management.  That commitment is essential, and it must be visible.

In this chapter we will describe ways to provide visible leadership.  Ideally, this means involvement in a program that shows concern for every aspect of the safety and health of all workers throughout the site.  Therefore, we have included a description of a system for ensuring that contract workers are both protected from hazards and prevented from endangering employees of the owner-company.

Successful top managers use a variety of techniques that visibly involve them in the safety and health protection of their workers.  Look for methods that fit your style and your worksite.  These methods generally can be classified as:

  • Getting out where you can be seen,
  • Being accessible
  • Being an example, and
  • Taking charge.


In recent years, we often hear the phrase "management by walking around." This describes a manager who frequents all parts of the operation, getting to know the people who make it happen, and seeing firsthand what is working well and what isn’t.  This can succeed not only as a tool for management but also as a message to employees.  Employees who see the manager "walking around" likely will come to believe that he/she cares about what they are doing and how well they are doing it.  And when they see that certain areas -- like safety and health -- interest the top brass, they become more aware of these areas.

In the area of worker safety and health, this style of management can be demonstrated either informally or formally.

Informal Action.

A manager who stops to get hazardous conditions or practices corrected as he/she walks through operations areas impresses workers with the importance of health and safety.  As you conduct your walk-around be particularly aware of short cuts in safe work procedures that are being taken to speed production.  The involved manager knows that short cuts that cancel out safety and health precautions are a form of Russian roulette.  It is only a matter of time until an employee and the company get hurt.

No worker or supervisor wants to have the top manager stop the work until it can be done correctly.  Consequently, this kind of informal involvement is a strong inducement for your employees to do the job right the time.

If you also stop occasionally to compliment workers on how well they are following safe work procedures, you can expect your comments to have a strong positive influence on the desired behavior.

This type of involvement should be a fairly routine occurrence.  If it happens only "once in a blue moon," it will not have significant impact.  And it only works for managers who are out in operational areas several times a week (if not several times every day).  This informal style is particularly well-suited for the small business where the owner/manager, of necessity, spends considerable time in the operations areas.

To catch and correct hazards, you also must have a thorough knowledge of what is safe and healthful.  A top manager who lacks expertise or is unsure of his/her knowledge should not try to interfere with lower level managers and supervisors who do possess shop safety and health expertise.

Formal Inspections.

A more formal method of getting out where you can be seen is to conduct surprise inspections.  These inspections must occur often enough to make a difference.  Housekeeping inspections are the variety most commonly performed by top managers, possible because the plant or site manager need not be a safety or health expert to spot housekeeping violations or problems.  However, such inspections do not merely provide an opportunity for management visibility: good housekeeping contributes significantly to safe and healthful conditions.

Some managers give positive or negative points during these inspections and award prizes or a rotating trophy to the department that does the best.

A plant or site manager can accomplish much the same result by unexpectedly accompanying the safety committee or safety and health professional during a regularly scheduled inspection.  Again, the element of surprise and the frequency of the manager’s involvement are important.  For additional information and useful inspection tools, see OSHA Publication 2209 (Revised 1993), OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses.


If you can "manage by walking around," you will find many opportunities to listen and respond to employee questions and comments.  But even if your duties prevent you from spending a lot of time in the site’s operations areas, you still can make yourself available to your employees through more formal systems.  Take care, however, that your involvement does not undercut the authority of the managers and supervisors you have given primary responsibility for ensuring safety and health.  Being accessible means walking a careful line between encouraging employees to use that access and interfering with their normal relationships and responsibilities.

Informal "Instant" Access.

Once again, this informal method is well-suited to the small non-union business owner/manager.  If you get into operations areas frequently, encourage your employees to speak up about problems they see interfering with getting the work done in a safe and healthful manner.  (Obviously, you need not focus only on safety and health.) Take their concerns and questions seriously and make sure they get timely and appropriate responses.  In return, your employees will continue to let you know what is troubling them.

In an organized workplace, such employee concerns may first have to be presented to the exclusive bargaining representative.

Open Door Policy.

If your managerial work keeps you in your office, an "open door" policy might be a good choice for you.  Your office door must actually remain open, either continually or during regularly scheduled and well communicated time periods.  This technique may not work for managers who must have frequent private meetings.  Encourage employees to drop by and discuss their safety and health concerns, without fear of reprisal, if they have been unable to get satisfactory answers through normal supervisory channels. 

Employees should not be required to make an appointment.  That will discourage all but the most determined.  Remember, you want to make this a casual, informal tool so that everyone will feel comfortable with it.  Chances are once employees test your policy and work gets around that your door really is open, employees will not make frequent use of this access so long as your other systems are working well.  Consequently, you need not be concerned about frequent visits that could disrupt your other duties.

More Formalized Access

As top manager at your worksite, perhaps you cannot spend a lot of time in operations areas, and your need for private meetings may preclude an open door.  You may choose to schedule periodic meetings where you speak directly with hourly employees, skipping over mid-level management personnel.  These meetings are usually open for any questions, comments, or concerns that employees may have, but they are particularly useful as a forum for health and safety issues.  The size of the group probably should not exceed 200, so in larger businesses more than one meeting may be required to hear all employees.  Some top managers choose to hold a separate meeting with first-line supervisors and other managers with whom they do not regularly interact.  You may need to try various group sizes before finding the one that best fits your style.

The success of such meetings will depend on you, the top official at the worksite: whether you create a climate where employees feel free to speak up, and how you handle the questions they raise.  Treat all questions with respect, even if, from your perspective, the answer seems simple or the concern unwarranted.  Try to imagine how the situation looks to the employee.  Take the time to give a clear explanation.  When you don't know the answer to a question, or when you need to know more about the circumstances surrounding an issue, don't be afraid to say so.  Be sure, however, that you follow up thoroughly, and that all employees who attended the meeting see or hear your response.

The Birthday Lunch.

This is another, less formal version of the scheduled access meeting.  The plant or site manager provides a lunch for all employees with a birthday during a given time period.  This kind of meeting usually works best when you keep it small (approximately 20 participants), but you may want to experiment with size.  By grouping people by birthdate, you get a reasonably random selection of employees from all parts of the worksite.

Try to steer the conversation to questions or concern that your employees may have.  In a small group such as this some people may be frightened to speak up about perceived problems.  Aim for a warm atmosphere that encourages a frank exchange.  Otherwise, most of the suggestions for a successful formal access meeting also will hold true for the birthday lunch.


Providing a good example is one of the most important ways management can become visibly involved in safety and health.

Following the Rules.

Make sure you know all the rules that employees are expected to follow.  Then make sure you and your subordinate managers follow them scrupulously.  Your workplace may have some rules that apply only to people who will be working with specified equipment.  To the extent practical, you and your managers should follow these rules also, even if you are just visiting for a few minutes and will not be working directly with the equipment.

Setting an Example for Supervisors.

If you see an infraction of the rules or safe work practices, do not ever let it go uncollected.  Your insistence on working in a safe and healthful manner will be a model for your supervisors.


Make it clear to everyone that you are in charge of ensuring that your site is a safe and healthful place to work.  One technique widely used in the chemical industry is for the site manager to chair the central safety committee.  But taking charge of safety and health protection also means holding your subordinate managers and supervisors accountable.  And it means insisting that any contract work at your site be done in a safe and healthful manner.

Chairing the Central Safety and Health Committee.

In its usual form, the central committee is made up of the worksite executive staff.  At some sites, hourly employees occupy two or three positions.  Employee membership can be rotated throughout the hourly workforce to provide maximum training and awareness experience.

By chairing this committee, attending regularly and participating actively, you show your subordinate managers and employees that you are taking charge of safety and health protection.  The committee, of course, must have serious tasks to accomplish, and it should meet at least monthly.

You should not confuse the central safety and health committee with a joint employee-management committee.

Insisting on Accountability.

Regardless of your workplace’s formal system of accountability, your employees will watch you for clues to what is important.  If you never raise the subject of safety and health with your managers, they eventually will assume that you don’t care.  Therefore, it is particularly important for you to insist that managers and supervisors all up and down the line both carry out their own responsibilities and require employees to follow safe work practices.

Ensuring Safe and Healthful Contract Work.

The actions of contract workers can have an adverse impact on the safety and health of everyone at the site.  Where contact workers and your own employees are intermingled, any unsafe practices or conditions of contract work will jeopardize your own employees.  But even if contract workers are removed somewhat from your normal operations, your employees will benefit from knowing that you insist on good safety and health practices and protection for every worker at your worksite.

Bidding Process. You should insist that all potential contractors meet certain requirements as a qualification for bidding on your work:

  • The contractor must have an acceptable level of experience modifier rate (EMR), set by that company's insurer.  The lower the EMR, the better a company's past safety performance record.
  • The contractor must have an implemented safety and health program.

You or your agent should instruct all bidders to include in their costs any expenses necessary to meet OSHA standards and the rules of your worksite.  Make sure potential contractors understand that you intend these precautions to be fully met.

Take special care with the company with no known experience.  It may have gone by another name last year.  There usually is a good reason for a name change, and it probably does not bode well for the performance you can expect.

Contract Language. The contract you use should spell out precisely what you expect of the contractor’s safety and health program management.  If the contractor’s work involves potential hazards to your workers and/or the community, then the skill, education and experience requirements for the contractor’s employees should be specified.  If you expect them to go beyond OSHA standards in certain areas, such as fall protection on a construction contract, then the contract should so state.  The following requirements are frequently specified in contracts:

  • Employee safety and health orientation and periodic safety and health training/meetings.
  • A formally established relationship with a physician and contractor employees at the site who are trained in first aid;
  • Regular safety inspections and, where applicable, industrial hygiene monitoring, with discovered hazards to be corrected promptly; and
  • An appropriately trained safety and health coordinator.

There also should be specific language in the contract giving your agent the right to:

  • Monitor safety and health activities,
  • Investigate contractor accidents/incidents,
  • Require that any worker who continues to violate safe work practices be removed from the site, and
  • Remove the contract company from the site if the requirements of the contract are not being met.

Further, the contract should require that your agent be informed of all chemicals or other hazardous substances the contractor intends to bring onto the worksite.

Monitoring Contract Work.  Your routine general inspections should include those locations where contract work is being performed.  Unsafe work or work violating any part of the contract should be helped and corrected through the appropriate supervisor, if possible.  Your agent should check to make sure that contract employees are informed, not only about serious hazards to which their own company’s work may expose them.  Obviously, your own employees also will need to know about, and be prepared to protect themselves against, any hazards associated with the contracted work.

Arrange to include the contract employees in evacuation and other emergency drills.  (You should also make plans for handling vendor employees and visitors to the site.) For more information, see OSHA Publication 3088 (Revised 2001), How to Prepare for Workplace Emergencies.

Follow Through. Use the safeguards that you put into the contract.  If you discover inexperienced laborers being assigned to work that involves significant hazards, despite repeated warnings and the contract clause requiring training, cancel the work and reopen bids.  If, after being corrected and cautioned, certain workers continue to violate safe work practices, remove these workers from the site.  If a contract company continues to violate rules or refuses to make corrections, then close the contract.  Taking these actions may cost you some time, but that cost is insignificant compared to the potential loss of time, money, and lives if an unqualified contract worker makes the wrong moves.

You have the power and obligation to assure safe and healthful conditions at your worksite.  Let it be known throughout your community that, at your place of business, only safe and healthful work is acceptable.  In the long run, you will find that contract companies willing to insist on safe and healthful work also will be the most efficient and cost effective.


As the owner or top manager at a worksite, your visible commitment to safety and health can make a major difference in the quality of worker protection.  You can choose among a variety of formal and informal methods and styles for achieving this impact.  Small businesses are probably better suited for the more informal approaches.

Demonstrate to everyone in your company that you are vitally interested in worker safety and health.  Do this by making yourself accessible: encourage your employees to speak up about safety and health, listen carefully, and then follow through.  Set a good example: follow the rules, make time to carry out your safety and health responsibilities, and insist that your managers and supervisors do the same.  Make sure everyone understands that you are in charge of a business where safety and health will not be compromised and where hazard awareness and safe work practices are expected of everyone, including on-site contractors and their workers.

Source: Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

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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).