Speak to health and safety professionals and they will tell you that leadership visibility and engagement with the frontline is fundamental to improving safety culture and performance. But the same professionals also tell us that their leaders don’t spend enough time in the field focussing on safety, and they aren’t as effective as they could be when they do.
When we speak to business leaders in safety focused organisations they unanimously agree that they have a key role to play in setting the precedent for a strong safety culture. They also agree they could do more safety walks and frontline engagements, but that they often don’t because they don’t have the confidence to do it well.
The challenge is that while organisations have established safety walk or tour programmes, they are often very programmatic in nature. Walks are scheduled in and leaders are measured on the numbers of walks and observations they make, not on the quality of the conversations they have.
Leaders often don’t have the knowledge to have confident and meaningful conversations with operators. The scheduled nature means operators know leaders are out and about looking at safety and it feels engineered. Operators can feel observed and judged and just a little bit uncomfortable.