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Leadership, Leadership and More Leadership

17th March 2014

Martin Barnard, Director of Health and Safety, examines leadership...

The traditional view is that certain people are “born to be leaders”.  Whilst I can accept that there is an element of truth in that, it is also true to say that leadership is not the exclusive domain of the chosen few, whose genetics make it easy for them to lead from the front.

Whilst we cannot all be ‘the leader’ we can all demonstrate leadership skills which can be put to good effect in our day to day roles as senior people within a business. We all have leadership built into us – often what we need is a strategy to help us release those attributes and put them into effective and consistent practice.
Most people have traditionally ‘managed health and safety’, working to a well-defined regime built around tried and tested procedures.  If we have a ‘near miss’ incident, we create another procedure as a means of managing the risk.

Many organisations, and the individuals within, have reached a point where they have a very presentable performance in health and safety – what I call the “plateau effect”.  To get past that plateau is often difficult, with a succession of niggly, minor, incidents which cause increasing frustration, often with a noticeable lowering of performance i.e., the accident or incident rate rises.

People often ask me as to how to build and maintain a positive health and safety culture.  You do it by applying two basic, but hugely important principles within your leadership strategy, namely ‘little but often’ and ‘celebrate success’.  The latter, in particular, is the antidote to where it all goes wrong.  Indeed, many will acknowledge that they spent a huge amount of time after what is often described as an unforeseen incident, thought that is often not the case.  It is infinitely better to replace that lost time by investing in a leadership strategy which avoids it going wrong in the first place.

Some sections within a business can be rightly identified as being excellent in health and safety.  It is uncanny how those sections are usually led by an individual who sets out a clear expectation, and will accept no half measure.  It is also somewhat ironic to note that many of the above have, somewhere in the past, been touched by tragedy themselves, either someone close to them, or in circumstances where they felt responsible.  The smart move is to recognise that you achieve a positive safety culture, and skip the disaster bit.

The solution to the problem is not more management and process – it is leadership and culture.  By developing some simple, but effective, leadership skills, individuals can rise above the plateau, and leave behind the frustration that micro-management brings.  It is the ideal opportunity to take health and safety in a new direction.

We have all heard terms such as “lead from the front”, and “making it personal”, but have perhaps seen it as for someone else to do. You can be a leader, and you can be it now.  In fact you might enjoy it!

Martin will be hosting a Behavioural Safety and Safety Leadership course in London on 13th May. For details contact michelle.tindale@capita.co.uk

This article first appeared in Health and Safety Practitionner magazine

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