4 Common Safety Leadership mistakes to avoid

Across all industries safety leaders take different approaches to their roles. Some are done well and others not so.

Below are 4 common safety leadership mistakes to avoid in order to make the workplace, safer, happier and more harmonious.

1. Not providing constructive feedback including critique and/or praise and rewards.

Providing feedback to staff is essential to their ability to improve e.g. If a behaviour or practice an employee is displaying is unsafe and requires constructive feedback, failure to do so will limit their ability to improve or adjust.

Failing to praise and reward is a common leadership mistake in safety practices. Employees are often reprimanded for their mistakes but not “recognised or rewarded for their desired and required behaviour” Tania McMillan, Dreamworld WHS expert, says – leaders don’t often “catch employees being good”.

Recognising employee’s achievements improves moral, performance and loyalty.

2. Failing to define goals, make time for the team and making assumptions

If people do not have clear goals they will amble through their daily activities. People need to know what they are doing and why they are doing it in order for them to be productive and successful in completing what is required of them in a safe manner.

Safety leaders must ensure they make time for their staff. A good leader supports and guides their staff to ensure they know what is required. This allows the employee to feel they always have support when needed.  Good leaders never assuming.   Assuming that everyone has a good understanding of the underpinning knowledge and skills required to carry out any safety initiatives can be very dangerous and is a huge mistake that safety leaders make. Staff can be fearful of exposing what they don’t know, so quite often they could be under skilled, therefore increasing the likelihood of unsafe practices.

3. Lack of training for staff

Training staff is essential for every workplace to ensure a safe working environment. Training is not only limited to employees job roles or site safety but also change management, communication, conflict resolution and safety legislative requirements. It is essential for all staff to know how to carry out the requirements of their role, as well as understanding their work health safety obligations. The repercussions of not complying with the WHS legislation can lead to huge fines and jail time not to mention the damage and injury that could occur to the plant, products and people. WHS training should stem from the ground level all the way to upper management. A Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety is a great skill set for every worker to possess and a Certificate IV in Leadership and Management would be very advantageous for anyone in a management or leadership safety role.

4. Misunderstanding the Role, Staff or the Worksite requirements

Misunderstanding their role, their staff or the worksite requirements can be a multi-level issue for leaders in safety.

  • Take the case of a worker who has been promoted from the floor to a safety position. Sometimes this is a difficult transition for a number of reasons. Firstly, the skillset and responsibilities are very different from the role they previously held. Although they may know the job and have great technical skills, leading and managing their peers in regards to safety is a very different challenge. It is essential to train these key staff moving into safety and leadership roles in change management, communication and conflict resolution.
  • Secondly it can be difficult for those workers who now find themselves leading their peers to get the balance right between boss and friend. McMillan states leaders “need to set professional boundaries – drinking with the boys after work (excessively) etc, behaving to relaxed and matey with the employees” can make it hard for a safety leader to make tough decisions regarding the team. Some people may also take advantage if their leader is too friendly.
  • On the flip side there can be issues with a safety leader who is a specialist in safety but does not possess the technical skill set of the people they are leading. Without a clear understanding it can be very hard for a safety specialised to obtain buy in from the staff and to lead a team that possess greater technical skills than they for the job in progress, therefore, their staff may have more of a realistic idea of the WHS requirements of that particular job or site.
  • Lastly those safety leaders that misunderstand leadership for dictatorship. McMillan passionately states that some of the big mistakes safety leaders can make are “big noting oneself/chest beating, coming across as a know it all, operating with ego and self-proclaimed power – acting like a ‘safety cop’ and threatening behaviour such as ‘I will stop the job or I can have you fired.’”

The role of a safety leader is tough and unending. Successful safety leaders learn from the mistakes of others and constantly train and up-skill their staff and themselves.

Phoebe Lahey [email protected]