Is safety leadership the foundation of workplace solidarity?


Safety leadership isn’t just a buzzword to float around to promote a progressive workplace culture. When approached correctly, it has the potential to be the foundation for sustainable employee engagement and empowerment, whilst also serving as a powerful tool for preventing workplace injuries and improving overall workplace safety.

This is a win-win for businesses, individual workers and for the economy. The Human Capital Institute found that fully engaged workers return 120% of their salary through consistently high productivity. And with Safe Work Australia estimating that workplace injuries and illness cost the economy $61.8 billion, or 4.1% of GDP it’s easy to see why safety leadership is important.

A serious commitment to safety performance across all levels of an organisation will not only boost business growth through enhanced productivity but will also help diminish the losses that result from preventable workplace injuries and other workplace accidents.

In order for safety leadership to truly work and for the benefits to be seen, management from across all levels of the organisation must be involved. It is a collective leadership model that can drive results – one that is non-hierarchical and collaborative, that makes employees at every level feel valued, trusted, and motivated.

Succeed at this, and you aren’t just looking at a safer workplace and reduced costs. Your business will be one step closer to achieving the gold standard of organisational culture: solidarity. An environment where all individuals within the group take ownership for the wellbeing of themselves, their fellow colleagues and the group as a whole. Nothing inspires lasting engagement like knowing the people you work with and for have your back.

Defining authentic safety leadership

True safety leadership goes far beyond good intentions. It is more than developing a program and safety policies and expecting your employees to follow it. This is safety management, not leadership.

Real leadership rests upon the relationship between those leading and those following. Organisational expert Warren Bennis describes it as a practice of motivating and engaging through the ability to “translate vision into reality.”

With the heavy importance of reducing risk exposure, this is something that can’t be comprehensively done with a top-down approach from a handful of executives deemed as ‘safety leaders.’ A multi-level, collaborative approach, where safety leadership is a collective undertaking and individuals at every level are actively involved, is the secret to successful safety leadership.

As a manager or employer who wants to create a positive safety culture, what steps can be taken to cultivate collective leadership?

Ways to inspire safety leadership behaviours in the workplace

These are some of the methods that you can use in your organisation today to start taking steps towards risk reduction, injury prevention and robust collective safety leadership:

  1. Maintain a visible presence

Regularly stepping out into the field, spending time with employees and discussing health and safety will go a long way in proving that you are serious about safety.

  1. Listen to your team

Your team, the people at the coalface, are the ones that will generally have the answers to the problems. Take time to listen to what they have to say and get them involved in safety decisions.

  1. Make financial decisions surrounding safety transparent

Show that safety is a priority by setting a budget for safety programs and initiatives. When you put financial value on the wellbeing of your employees, you’re letting them know you are taking action to create a safer working environment for them.

  1. React quickly to safety issues

Complacency on the part of management is demoralising. When issues or concerns arise, respond immediately to resolve the problem.

  1. Take a preventative approach

There is always room for improvement when it comes to safety. Take a proactive approach and have a safety expert regularly assess workplace practices, equipment, layout, and standards to make sure everything is optimised for safety.

Resources to enhance safety leadership skills

There are plenty of resources available if you want to brush up on safety leadership.

  • Queensland Government’s Safety Leadership at Work Program offers courses, workshops and masterclasses. You can join the program for free to access tools, keep up-to-date on industry practices and to network with other business leaders.
  • Safe Work Australia has an excellent Virtual Seminar Series, which includes videos on safety leadership and culture.

It’s time to take safety leadership more seriously. The belief that injuries are an inevitable cost of doing business is outdated and is holding back Australia’s businesses. When you commit to a dynamic, collective and effective safety leadership program, you are planting the seeds for a risk adverse, engaged and empowered organisational culture.