Being a successful safety manager requires 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 committed 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.
Having a safety presence in the field is essential for an effective safety department. Workers need to know that the safety manager has a passion for their work and is available to provide advice and guidance in support of 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.
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, and they often have great ideas that will advance safety efforts, even if the ideas 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.
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 that they arrived, so that they may provide for their families and do what they enjoy doing outside of work.
An effective safety manager will engage employees and coach them on WHY it is important for them to work safely. To have influence in promoting a strong safety culture, a safety manager should have a rapport with employees and know what motivates the individuals in their workforce.
Communicating positive feedback is proven to be more effective in establishing good safety practices and a positive safety culture than merely providing punishment for 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. An employee who has been built up on positive reinforcement will not want to disappoint their safety manager and/or supervisor.
A safety manager should have a good understanding of the work process and the equipment being used by the workforce. Having 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 there are welding operations, the safety manager should understand the different welding processes (e.g., MIG, TIG, Oxy Acetylene) and how they are performed.
Employees will have a difficult time 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.
Brad Whitney, CSP has been a Loss Control Manager with The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. since 2012. He holds the designation of Certified Safety Professional from the BCSP. He is also an active member of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Brad received his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Oregon State University.
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.