Effective Safety Leadership ... Practices That Safety Coordinators Will Find Useful in Getting The Job Done

By Joe Mlynek, Progressive Safety Services

I recently spent time with an employee who was awarded the role of safety coordinator. 

He asked me how he could be effective in his new role. 

I was somewhat overwhelmed by the question. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head. 

After reflecting on the question, I came up with the following suggestions that have served me well over the years.

Internal Customers

As a consultant, I have many customers. 

It is important that my company’s services provide value. 

The same is true for anyone leading the safety effort at his or her company.  

Consider employees in the various levels of the organization as internal customers. 

Customer service is paramount in business and in safety. 

The safety leader should act as an internal consultant with the goal of providing value to the customer. 

This requires customer interaction, working to ensure that customer needs are met, providing pertinent safety information and resources, and offering routine guidance on the safety effort. 

Never Stop Learning

Leading the safety effort requires knowledge in many areas including compliance, human behavior, industrial hygiene, and business, to name a few. 

Consider setting aside time each day or week to read a pertinent article, participate in a webinar, or research a safety-related topic. 

Also consider attending external safety-related symposiums, conferences, and applicable third-party training on an ongoing basis.

Teach

A CEO that I worked for once said, “If you want to be an expert at something, teach it.” 

When someone is required to instruct others on a subject, he or she must develop expertise on the subject matter. 

Embrace opportunities to write safety-related articles, routine safety tips, present information on a safety topic at a meeting or seminar, or teach internal safety classes. 

These activities require extensive research, knowledge, and expertise.

Having expertise on safety-related subject matter establishes credibility with internal customers.

Questions = Opportunities

The ability to answer questions from internal customers provides a level of satisfaction. 

It reinforces that the safety leader has knowledge and expertise.

Safety is a vast field. 

It is impossible to answer every question that someone may ask. 

Rather than getting frustrated about not knowing the answer, look at the question as an opportunity to gain knowledge and expertise. 

It is common for customers to ask me questions that I do not have a good answer for. 

Rather than coming up with something that sounds good, I commonly reply, “great question. Let me do a little research and get back to you. I want to make sure I give you the information you need.”

Responses to questions must be well-developed and provided in a timely manner. 

Listen

Developing relationships with internal customers is a vital component of success. 

This requires spending time in the trenches observing conditions and listening to the internal customer’s needs.

There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing simply happens. 

A person must choose to listen. 

Listening requires concentration, so that comprehension can be achieved. 

Listening to internal customers and working as a team to address safety concerns is an effective way to develop relationships.

Take a Stand

There are times when safety leaders must be firm in their stance. 

Consider a situation where addressing a safety concern may require an investment of time or resources. 

These situations can be met with resistance. 

When these circumstances arise, ask the following question: “Would I allow either myself or a family member to perform that task or be involved in that process?” 

If your unconscious intuition, or “gut feel” as some refer to it, says no, take a stance. 

Internal customers will respect you for it. 

Find Two Positives for Every Negative

Safety leaders routinely identify exposure in the workplace. 

While identifying exposure is not a negative concept, it can be taken that way. 

Safety assessment reports are filled with inadequacies that often reflect negatively on the facility, manager, and employees. 

It is important to balance this perceived negativity by shedding light on positive observations.

Try to find two positives for every negative. 

Formally recognize positive behaviors, improvements made to the facility, and compliance with company requirements. 

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is no playbook for becoming a safety leader. 

While it is important to have the required knowledge, this is only part of the equation. 

Focusing on the concepts in this article may help the effort. 

Implementing these concepts is challenging and requires ongoing effort. 

Being an effective safety leader is not a destination; it is a never-ending journey. 

Joe Mlynek is president and safety and loss control consultant for Progressive Safety Services LLC, Gates Mills, OH; 216-403-9669; and content creation expert for Safety Made Simple, Olathe, KS.