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Safety Leadership: You Break It, You Buy It

Posted by Mark G. Gardner on September 7, 2018 in the category Training

 Safety Leadership You Break It You Buy It

This is a continuation of our blog series on Safety Leadership. In the first installment, I laid out key definitions for three very important foundational words safety, risk and leadership. We said:

  • Safety is freedom from risk
  • Risk is the potential of suffering harm or loss
  • A leader is someone who inspires others to embrace a common goal and work together to achieve that goal

But of course, leadership is more than simply being able to inspire others. And that brings us to a prerequisite for being a leader: ownership. Leaders are owners.

It’s a great way to look at ownership, especially as it relates to safety leadership. I was recently in a boutique gift shop with my wife looking at figurines and other pieces of art made of crystal. We were buying a wedding anniversary present for her parents. None of it provided any value beyond its artistic charm. However, it was very expensive.

Prominently displayed throughout the store were signs that said, “You break it, you buy it.” At first, I thought that these signs were a bit off-putting. After all, weren’t we the customer? Isn’t the customer always right? However, from a risk-management point of view, I guess I’d do the same thing if I were the store owner. After all, who should be responsible for broken merchandise in a store? The owner? Perhaps, but only if it’s precariously displayed. What about the clumsy or reckless customer who bumbles his way through the store and knocks something over. Shouldn’t he be responsible? The answer is probably yes.

Leadership is a lot like a crystal shop. It’s all about ownership. Leaders choose to own the responsibility for getting results. They choose to own the responsibility for their followers’ health, safety and welfare. For better or worse, they choose to own the whole shebang. Later, we’ll explore the concept of choice as it relates to not only leadership, but also accident causation.

"Sure, leaders inspire others to pursue a common goal and work hard to get there, but a true leader first defines the goal and owns it. More importantly, the leader has to assume responsibility for his or her followers."

When it comes to safety, a true safety leader accepts responsibility for the safety and well-being of his or her followers. And that’s a tall order. Many managers and supervisors focus their energy on achieving acceptable results in a few key categories such as productivity, load average or on time service. But how often do front-line leaders feel responsible for the elimination of unsafe behaviors and unsafe conditions. It’s easy to forget about safety until something goes wrong.

Note, I didn’t say leaders feel responsible for accidents, incidents, injuries or collisions. True safety leaders are focused on unsafe behaviors and eliminating them before they lead to an accident. It’s the premise behind the domino theory of accident causation 300:29:1.

So, going back to my comments in the first unit, if you’re not interested in reducing accidents and injuries, if you don’t really care about the health, safety and well-being of your people, or if you’re unwilling own the results, this blog series is not something you should waste your time on.

Safety leadership is not for everyone. Safety leadership is for caring and compassionate people who are willing to take ownership for the safety of others and who are also able to inspire others to pursue a common goal.