Maximising Your Safety Leadership: Techniques and Best Practices

Even when Safety attempts to discuss humanizing it does so through the lens of Technique (Ellul). The focus is rarely on persons but rather the safety program and safety outcomes.

What a shame that when Safety endeavours to do something it can’t imagine outside of its own safety box!

A good example of this was published recently in EHS Today: Humanizing Safety: The 7 Traits that Define Successful Safety Professionals

You need to read this article carefully as it uses the language of ‘humanising’ to mask safety agenda about performance.

Humanizing safety is not about Technique (Ellul). Humanising safety involves a re-orientation in disposition.

How are you disposed and oriented towards persons in what you do? This is the critical starting question.

If your assumption and focus is on safety performance and safety outcomes, it’s not likely that anything humanising will eventuate regardless of the traits one seeks to emulate.

So, let’s have a look at this attempt to humanise safety in this article.

The first thing we notice is the graphic/semiotic of 3 people facing in one direction and NOT in conversation with each other. If one wants to be successful in safety the first place to start is in conversation, listening and helping skills. Humanising safety is NOT just about traits but about the social relational space one creates through listening, conversation and ethical orientation.

The focus of the article is on ‘humanising your safety program’ NOT humanising relationships with persons. Indeed, there is no focus on personhood in this article.

The next thing we notice is that this article commences with a focus on ‘enterprise’, ‘operations’ and ‘productivity’. See how hard it is for Safety to leave its fixations behind even when it attempts to be ‘human’.

The then notice that the article asserts this:

‘While focusing on peer-to-peer safety practices that predated the current focus on data and analytics, safety leaders have been able to balance technology and information with worker engagement, motivation and communication.’

Really? Where is the education and learning or evidence for this in safety? Where in the safety curriculum is there any space given to motivation, engagement and effective communication? It’s not there! So how can these skills be asserted by the article?

Then we get this:

‘Whether your immediate focus is to improve employee engagement, introduce new processes, or completely transform the safety culture of your organization, embracing the following characteristics can help you achieve results faster, easier and with the added benefit of sustainability.’

One doesn’t improve or humanise safety through process nor, is humanising safety about achieving results! So, here we see the same old favourites of safety behaviourism, measuring performance and engineering. Poor olde Safety simply cannot get away from these fixations.

So, at point one we start with a focus on the ‘safety program’ not persons or relationships. The article starts with a focus on the self, not a focus on others. This kind of individualism is what we come to expect from orthodox safety. When the article speaks of others it’s about they and being influential tied to relationship. The purpose of developing relationships is NOT to be influential. You can’t develop relationships if this is your agenda and, Safety always has an agenda. This agenda shines throughout this article.

It is no surprise that both authors are safety people, in the safety world, with a safety focus on safety. The best way to learn about relationships, conversations, listening and persons is by NOT asking Safety anything. The pathway to humanising how persons tackle risk is not through a focus on safety.

How interesting that there is only one mention of listening in this article and it comes at the end of the article in relation to ‘taking action’. So, the purpose of listening to people is to take action, this is typical Safety.

We are still on point one to ‘Be Authentic’ and it is good to see the advice to get out and walk but with Gemba Walks? Really? This links a walk to productivity gains and more Technique NOT to the development of relations to persons.

Then of course, you have to count the number of Gemba Walks done! And the emphasis is ‘talking to’ your team, not listening to them. The word ‘listening’ is not used, even though the word ‘empathy’ is. I wonder what kind of empathy is being spoken about within the context of safety agenda? The emphasis to ‘talk with your team’ is typical Safety. How about listening to your team!

The second trait is ‘Become Influential’. No, this is neither the cause or reason to be person-centric and humanising in relationships. And with such a focus, one will never be authentic. The first step in authenticity is to suspend your safety agenda, something safety is taught NOT to do.

Whilst it is great advice to ‘be yourself’ where is the discussion about re-orientation or disposition towards persons? Where is the discussion of moral responsibility, ethical relations and the relinquishing of power? There is no such discussion yet these are essential if one wants to engage others and humanise safety.

We learn in the next paragraph that being present is about ‘taking advantage of opportunities’. Here we have more Safety agenda. Developing relationships is NOT about looking for opportunities! Opportunities for what? More focus on safety, ‘recruiting a safety influencing team’ and expanding influence. No thanks.

The next paragraph is pure behaviourism.

The next trait is to ‘Be a Servant Leader’. Yet, this is situated in a Gemba Walk??? So, what is the nature of this ‘servant leadership’? You guessed it. To make ‘teams perform in their highest-impact work’. So, here we are again at the Safety agenda – performance!

You can be sure that if any safety agenda is framed by performance, one is not speaking anything other than traditional safety language. The purpose of building and developing relationships is NOT for performance, measurement or influence.

This section has another semiotic. Again, with a focus on an object NOT on conversation. We also have the trendy use of the word ‘tribe’, a sure giveaway of inauthentic speak with no connection to the real meaning of the word. I find such language as ‘safety tribe’ simply offensive.

There is nothing in this second point on servanthood or what it truly means. I would suggest reading De Pree or Greenleaf instead of this goop. Apparently, you appreciate your ‘safety tribe’ because ‘they are critical to your safety initiative’! More Safety agenda with nothing to dop with humanising.

The next trait is to ‘Focus on Long-Term Results’. NO! This is NOT the purpose of humanising risk.

Here we see yet again the focus on performance. Poor old Safety cannot take a breath without a fixation on this language and its preoccupation with measurement. The purpose of helping, listening and engaging with others is NOT performance and NOT to measure anything. Authentic relationships have no such agenda!

And what is the agenda? The ‘overall safety program’!

I can just see the safety leader in relationships with their partner endeavouring to measure performance. Now there’s a recipe for disaster!

Then next paragraph says it all. Count your engagements because the outcome is to focus on productivity, performance, incident reduction and achieving long term safety objectives!

Yep, this article has nothing to do with humanising safety.

The best way to humanise safety is to dump safety agenda and focus on persons.

The next trait is to ‘Be Courageous’ which is of course code for ‘speak up’, the olde Safety favourite. This is because the agenda is to ‘improve safety and performance’. Whenever I see the word ‘performance’ associated with safet,y I know that toxicity and brutalism will follow.

But we get this all confirmed with the next trait ‘Become a data ‘Beast’. Yes, you read it right, in comes the metaphor of the ‘beast’ to confirm what this is all about. I wonder how the language of ‘beasts’ and ‘data’ helps humanise safety?

And we see more agenda on the purpose of all of this. The ‘safety initiative’!

How on earth does a focus on ‘data like a beast’ even make a discussion on humanising safety???

I think a read of this might help: or perhaps read this: Data Ethics of Power
A Human Approach in the Big Data and AI Era
by Gry Hasselbalch.

The best way to humanise safety is to NOT focus on data!

Then we read this:

‘Use the data you get from hazard assessments, coaching interactions and follow-up to training. Across your operations, the comfort level with your safety program will increase when workers at all levels realize the focus on safety is primarily for the benefit of each individual worker rather than solely to support the company’s profit objectives.’

This is the kind of stuff that make me puke about safety. It’s all the same old safety stuff about utility not persons. This is what Safety Differently does when it says: ‘people are not problems to control but resources to harness’! The second part of the statement is actually worse than the first. People are NOT a utility to be harnessed. Envisioning persons as a ‘resource’ or something to be ‘used’ for a safety outcome is NOT about humanising risk. The last thing I am motivated by is someone who wants to ‘harness’ me!

The final trait of this article is ‘Take Action’. And what is this action for? To ‘participate in the safety program’ of course. Again, we get this language of ‘safety tribe’. What offensive discourse. And what is the outcome?

‘As a result, you’ll see material changes in your safety program, including more robust and timely safety inspections and investigations of incidents and near misses.’

And this:

‘When that happens, you’ll see material changes in your safety program, including fewer incidents and near misses, better productivity, greater employee satisfaction, and continuous improvement in overall safety performance.’

All of this has little to do with humanising a method to help persons tackle risk. The agenda of safety actually stifles relationships and demonstrates that the real and hidden agenda is NOT an ethical approach to persons but really a subversive tactic to get safety results and measure performance. This is repeated throughout the article.

All this article does is mask ‘safety speak’ and safety propaganda similarly as we saw in the Safemode report.

There is no real focus on persons, relationships or the meaning of engagement. There is no mention of ethics, power, personhood or risk. Indeed, the article holds an undercurrent of moral usability that is offensive and manipulative. These are NOT the traits one needs to humanise safety.

The best way to humanise safety is to jettison the safety agenda, take a focus away from performance and, envision the process of tackling risk without all the safety agenda.


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