An Open Letter to Leaders

Please don’t be a seagull…

Lets just dispense with the pleasantries

There are two things rolling around in my head right now. The first is the realization that this is my 50th post on Relentless Safety. For some reason that number is one that feels significant. A hill that has been intimidating to climb. This blog has been has been an introspective journey to be sure, and I’ve put more than a little bit of pressure on myself to keep making it better. In any case, it’s been a surprising roller coaster so far. There’s a lot more to come. If you want celebrate it with me, pre-order a copy of my book.

The second is the thought that we safety pros deserve a little grace. Not a lot, but at least a little reprieve. I wrote A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession because our vocation is tired, misguided, and elitist. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up before workers won’t loathe the arrival of the “safety guy.” But we also have the deck stacked against us in many ways. Part of that is our doing, mind you, but a good chunk of the blame rests on the shoulders of those who support us (check out THIS POST for more on that… or pre-order my book… seriously you’re going to love it).

The executives and managers who hire and continue to employ safety professionals owe us some serious latitude to do our jobs. It’s an allowance very few are given. In my experience two of the things they give the least of are two of the most important: Support & Freedom.

How ’bout a little support over here?

I was going to use a bra for this visual, but this is funnier and less sexist. I think…

One of the first posts I made on this site was a two part story about one of the best leader’s I’ve had the privilege to work for (follow these links to Part 1 and Part 2). The story details the epitome of what I believe support means. As you’ll read in that story, it’s not easy. In fact, supporting your people is often the hardest thing you can do, because it means taking risks (potentially career ending ones). But that’s what your safety professionals need.

Assuming you hired a decent professional who actually understands what it takes to make a safety program work (and knows how to make a good business case for it), your unwavering support will mean the difference between their success or failure. But that support isn’t words, it’s action. It’s following the counsel and guidance of your professional even when it it means sacrificing money, time, or production to do it.

Think of it like this: Your safety professional should try to find ways to make safety work within the constructs of your business. He or she will weigh risks and make recommendations that hopefully allow you to both achieve the level of safety your people deserve and the level of production that will keep you in business. But when you’re faced with those hard, sticky issues that require choosing one of those options, your support will mean taking the safe road. Sometimes compromises aren’t an option.

Maybe you could consider removing the handcuffs?

You’d be amazed how hard it is to find a picture of handcuffs that doesn’t have a naked person in it…

I would almost consider this second issue to be an offshoot of support. But I think it’s worth separating for emphasis. It’s a simple idea: You hired us, why won’t you let us do stuff?

There are too many great safety professionals who are hamstrung in their roles because their bosses won’t let them do what they do best. Maybe it’s an initiative, maybe it’s a piece of equipment, maybe it’s budget to hire more staff. Whatever the case, their success depends almost entirely on your willingness to push the cause forward.

This is something that deserves it’s own post, and something I’ll certainly address in the future, but every leader needs to understand it. Safety is not accomplished by safety professionals. It is accomplished by you and your staff. So give them the grace I mentioned at the beginning. Buy them that piece of equipment and support their initiatives. But don’t bother wasting your breath if that’s all you’re willing to put into it. Make it known that it’s your safety program and be the one who drives it. Your safety professional is just the navigator.