Safety Leadership: The Importance of Starting with Why

Posted by
Cody Reeves
on Dec 31, 2013

One of the most common challenges our clients report is how to motivate their employees to follow safety rules and create a company culture where safety is ingrained and not negotiable.  I recently came accross a TED talk by Simon Sinek that inspired me to think about safety leadership a little bit differently.  In his talk, which I highly recommend everyone watch, Sinek lays out The Golden Circle:

safety leadership starts with why

Sinek believes that when we communicate the what and how of what we do, people understand these things intellectually, but it is usually does not change their behavior.  However, when we communicate from inside the circle, starting with why, we connect with the part of the brain that controls behavior.   It is the why that inspires action and changes in behavior.

In safety leadership we have policies that tell us what to do, and procedures that tell us how to do it.  But, few safety mangers focus on why.  As I recall the thousands of safety meetings and training sessions I have held over my career, I wonder how many of them actually changed employee behavior and I suspect the answer is not many.   I have been focusing on the what and  the how for my entire career.   

As a safety leader, you need to figure out your why  and communicate it to your entire team. This is the hard work of leadership.  It is not enough to have a robust safety management system with well written programs, leadership at the company needs to inspire employees to behave safely and Sinek suggests one way to get at the hearts of minds of your team members is by clearly comminicating the why of your safety program.

What is the why? The why is your cause, purpose or belief.  It is the fundamental reason your safety program exists and the underlying reason you want to promote a safety culture in the first place.  The why is not a result, such as a clean safety record.  The why is deeper than that. The most inspiring leaders understand their why and know how to communicate it from the inside out, by starting with the why and then moving on to the how and what.  The why is what drives all of the small decisions you make each day, and if your why resonates with your team, they will listen to your how and what.

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Tags: Safety Management

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