Successful safety managers require regulatory knowledge, support from all levels of the company, and numerous hard and soft skills. A safety manager must get buy-in for ideas and earn respect from employees to gain their commitment to “doing the right thing”. They need to be motivators, influencers and inspire workers to understand the critical importance of safety.
Here are five things that employees want from their safety manager, which will help that individual establish credibility and respect from the workforce to support their efforts and meet the above expectations.
1. Employees want to communicate with their safety manager out in the field.
A safety presence in the field is essential for an effective safety department. Workers need to know that the safety manager is passionate about their work and can provide advice and guidance to support their daily labor activities. Communication is the key to any successful safety program and being accessible to meet with, and coach employees is critical for the success of a safety manager.
Where operations are spread out across multiple sites, or even across the country, the safety manager should have daily communications with their safety supervisors or field safety specialists established at those locations. Safety managers should schedule time each day to observe and coach workers in the field.
2. Employees want their safety manager to help solve problems, not just point them out.
An effective safety manager identifies hazards and deficiencies, and in a collaborative effort, provides corrective actions and feasible solutions. Be open to new ideas and listen to employee suggestions for improvements. Your employees are the boots on the ground performing the work. They often have great ideas to advance safety efforts, even if they are not firmly based on standard industry safety practices. An effective safety manager will listen to employee concerns and suggestions and then act on them.
3. Employees want to feel that their safety manager sincerely cares about their safety and well-being.
The foundation of every company’s safety program is an assembly of safety policies, rules and procedures. State and federal safety governing agencies also mandate safety and health regulations that must be followed. The real goal, however, is for employees to return home from work in the same condition they arrived, so that they may provide for their families and do what they enjoy outside of work.
An effective safety manager will engage employees and coach them on WHY it is important for them to work safely. To influence and promote a strong safety culture, a safety manager should have a rapport with employees and know what motivates the individuals in their workforce.
4. Employees want their safety manager to give positive feedback.
Communicating positive feedback is proven more effective in establishing good safety practices and a positive safety culture than merely punishing bad behaviors. Positive reinforcement increases a worker’s self-esteem and motivation and helps them understand that safety is a core value to the company. Then, when it is appropriate to apply disciplinary actions for an unsafe act or safety violation, the disciplinary actions will be more effective. Employees built up on positive reinforcement will not want to disappoint their safety manager and/or supervisor.
5. Employees want their safety manager to have practical knowledge of the trades/work processes they are evaluating.
A safety manager should have a good understanding of the work process and the equipment being used by the workforce. Hands-on experience with the tools, terminology, and operating procedures will help establish trust and credibility. If there is a machine shop, the safety manager should know the shop equipment (e.g., lathes, shears, mills) and how it works. If welding operations exist, the safety manager should understand the different welding processes (e.g., MIG, TIG, Oxy Acetylene) and how they are performed.
Employees will have difficulty respecting a safety manager who has not taken the time to learn how each department operates. It is not difficult to walk into a machine shop and notice a guard missing from a piece of equipment, but knowing how the equipment works and the language associated will help a safety manager improve communications and influence when advising on safety.
As a safety manager, if you see an opportunity to strengthen one of these areas, then make a personal goal for improvement. Employee involvement and support is essential for a high-performing safety program. Meeting their “wants” will improve the teamwork and collaboration needed for success.
- https://www.ehstoday.com/news/ehs_imp_32823 - Habits of Effective Safety Managers
- https://safestart.com/news/6-qualities-make-safety-leader/ - 6 Qualities That Make a Safety Leader
- AEU LEAD - Supervisor Workshop Series Materials
- Goleman, D. (2006). Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
This article was originally published in the Longshore Insider on March 11, 2019.