I meet with safety groups around the globe. On occasion, translators are on hand to ensure that the message and teachings are clear. Along the way, I have identified some truisms that affect how I engage with people and what I can do to help them. Two of these truisms are:
• Most (not all) countries, companies and local leadership personnel care about the safety of their work force.
• There are two types of safety leaders: improvers and placeholders.
Improvers review concepts presented to them. They then actively engage in using what is a fit for their needs and local culture in an effort to get to a zero incident safety culture. These are the people I enjoy working with, and who I tend to give assistance to first.
Placeholders come in two varieties:
• Those who have very little knowledge of safety and are trying to help by addressing the latest injury realities. Although they don’t know much, they do provide care and some level one and level two condition improvements. Though this group wants a safer workplace, they do not know enough nor do they put forth the effort necessary to improve the skills and abilities of themselves and their work associates that in turn are needed to improve the safety culture. They tend to use a lot of safety buzz words, and often seem to try to solve safety issues by letting people know they actively care. Unfortunately, this approach is not nearly strong enough to make any lasting improvement to the (usually) predominate production culture, and the end result is status quo. A member of this group will ask for a business card, but are likely to never take the time nor put forth the effort to make a contact that might enable them to improve.
• Those who view themselves as extremely knowledgeable safety professionals who are truly experts in all that they do. When presented with new concepts, they focus on defending their policies and procedures, and then rip apart any new ideas that might be presented. This is classic WITOID RICSAS behavior (When In Trouble Or In Doubt, Run In Circles- Scream And Shout). Though it feels good to vent, this unproductive approach has no lasting effect on a strong production culture. This type of defensive safety leadership is very comfortable in analyzing the latest accident and then writing more procedures and/or condemning the perceived stupidity of the workforce and management. They are experts in justifying their own superiority in defending all that they do, and resolutely resisting any changes to the current system with which they are so contented. These placeholders seem unable to consider anything other than what got them to where they are, but will never get them to a zero incident safety culture. Again, the end result is status quo.
With so many potential organizations to work with, and so little time to do so, it is logical that I try to make a rapid evaluation as to whether I am engaging with an improver or placeholder. Though I hurt for the people who work under placeholder leadership, there is not a lot one can do to help those who will not do what it takes to extract themselves from the mire of status quo. I learned long ago what one of the previous blog articles, “Wrestling With Pigs,” taught about the futility of trying to deal with the woefully obstinate.
Why not give some thought to which group you fall into, and what you can do to fully embrace the concept of Continuous Improvement?