Control or Caring? What is your motive for a safety conversation?

Most organizations that seek to achieve safety excellence realize that this performance level can only be attained with strong leadership.  When it comes to safety, there are two prevalent leadership philosophies. There is a stark contrast between the resulting safety cultures. We can better understand the differences by realizing that each is grounded in very different motives.  One approach emphasizes control, while the other starts with caring.

Control = Compliance

Some managers define “strong leadership” as carrying a big stick.  These managers believe that any time there is an injury or near miss, their principal responsibility is to hold people accountable.  In practice, this means that the primary reason they have any safety conversation is to exert more control.

These managers believe that if people would simply comply with the policies, rules, and procedures, then no one would get hurt.  Armed with this reasoning, they strive for greater control by criticizing actions that are inconsistent with established policies.  Safety conversations center on correcting errant behaviors through counseling or discipline.

Culture of ComplianceThis safety philosophy leads to a Culture of Compliance.

The graphic shown here demonstrates the actions which lead to this kind of safety culture, which is summarized in the following statement:

If the reason (Why) you have any safety conversation is to exert control, the approach will be to criticize (How) and seek compliance through correction (What).

A Culture of Compliance results in a false sense of improved safety performance, because many incidents are driven underground.  The official safety numbers may look good. However, the number of unreported near misses and unrecorded minor injuries are indicative of an insidious safety culture. Because the causes are never acknowledged and addressed, they accumulate until a significant event occurs. Continue reading

Spend Time on Others to Gain More Personal Time

spend timeWhich is a more valuable resource to you: time or money?

Before you answer, consider your personal life.  How do you spend your time?  Many of us feel time-constrained with all the things that we believe must be done throughout our busy days.  A survey from a few years ago showed that twice as many Americans would prefer two weeks of vacation over two weeks of extra pay!

According to noted psychologist Abraham Maslow, once we have satisfied our basic needs, we pursue the need for self-respect.  We also have the desire to be accepted and valued by others. Ironically, our efforts to achieve a certain level of esteem often results in a great deal of time spent on a daily “to-do” list.  This leaves us with the feeling that we do not have enough time for ourselves, let alone others.

However, a recent study by Cassie Mogilner and others suggests that our perception of how much time we have available is related to whether we spend time helping others.  I found this study fascinating because of its relevance to my personal and professional life.

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