Management commitment is a term frequently used by regulatory agencies—in forum discussions, training, and in conversations between peers and mentors. Despite its prevalence, management commitment is an often ill-defined or misunderstand phrase, especially in what it means to incorporate it into safety programs. In this context, having management commitment essentially means that all members of the management team share a unified way of thinking about safety and incorporate that way of thinking into their daily decisions. The following examples illustrate how a unified and committed management team might approach safety program decisions:
- Develop and Support a Clear Vision, Strategy, and Plan (VSP).
The path to success starts with being able to answer one simple question– “Why are we doing this?” The response will be the foundation for the organization’s vision statement. From there, specific strategies are developed along with plans to support those strategies, formulating how the vision will be carried out. Management commitment means participating in the development of the VSP, as well as evaluating and coaching to help improve each component. Without a VSP in place, it is nearly impossible to gauge success. This is largely due to the propensity for safety programs to focus primarily on failure metrics (e.g., incident rates). When the focus is placed singularly on negative targets, improvement can be difficult.
2. Support and Participate in Safety Initiatives.
Management should learn all they can about safety initiatives, asking questions so that they are knowledgeable enough to play an active role in meetings and discussions. When employees witness this kind of familiarity with initiatives, it motivates greater engagement. Seeing leadership include initiative-based discussion points in meetings, communications, and activities will add conviction to the stance that positive change is occurring. Additionally, hands-on participation with safety initiatives, such as senior management going onto the shop floor or in the field and “doing work,” benefits their understanding of how those initiatives affect workers and can help the managers build relationships with other employees.
3. Finance Safer Processes.
Companies are in business to make money. Some operations within a business may not have as immediately obvious benefits to the bottom line as sales or production, but the return on investment for safe processes cannot be ignored. Management must invest a portion of finances into the day-to-day safety of the business. When employees see management investing in the development of safer processes, they will be more inclined to take a vested interest in corporate-sponsored programs. The status of paint, machine guarding, equipment, and other such “good housekeeping” practices goes a long way toward communicating management commitment toward worker safety. Requiring workers to attend an organized safety training program, but not directly following a 12-hour shift, is an example of showing that education and safety are valued just as much as work productivity.
4. Lead By Example.
This is a regular part of supporting initiatives. Leaders should not hold themselves to less of a standard than what is expected from the employees that follow them. If a manager is giving a tour and there is an established requirement that all visitors submit to an orientation, that step should not be ignored for the sake of catering to a VIP who wants to see the shop floor. If a foreman is helping to write a JSA for an excavation and allows it to be completed without the required trench support, it sets the example that it is sometimes acceptable to circumvent safety procedures. Management commitment means that when questioned about their leaders, employees would respond that their managers personify the phrase “Walking the walk, not just talking the talk” as opposed to “Do as I say, not as I do.”
5. Practice Good Coaching and Give Feedback.
To be a “coach” for safety means observing employees at work and giving honest and respectful feedback to either help them improve or encourage continued safe work performance. The most constructive method for accomplishing this is for managers to physically go to the location where the tasks are being performed and converse with the employees about their work. This is an important aspect of management commitment to safer processes and helps avoid any speculation or confusion about the manager’s purpose and presence. Additionally, during this conversation, the manager has the opportunity to learn the key aspects of the work so that they can be objective in their assessment. The goal is to create an interactive, caring, and positive experience that builds worker-manager relationships and reinforces the importance of safety in the workplace.
6. Reward Success and Recognize Effort.
The adage “what gets tracked, gets done; what gets rewarded, gets done better” applies to management commitment. Even though it is an expected part of employment for jobs to be performed to a certain standard, it is a common part of the human condition to desire recognition. Rewarding employees for reaching a milestone or goal increases morale, and happier employees are generally more productive. Something as simple as a manager verbally recognizing the work of an employee reinforces the appreciation that a company should show for its employees. Additionally, this kind of small act can deter an employee from worrying about job security, which is especially important during times of market or labor instability.
In periods of profitability and high workloads or cases of an underdeveloped culture, it is easy to forget about the safety and well-being of employees and focus on the dollar. However, this mentality does not contribute to long-term success. Management commitment to safety programs when the temptation to cut corners to speed production is prevalent may be difficult, but it is achievable. In today’s working world, for a business to be successful and sustainable, the management team must place a strong emphasis on the people in the organization. It will make success in other areas of the business much easier and the reward, in the end, will be a more profitable, safer, and better place to work.
Cary comes to the SafetyStratus team as the Vice President of Operations with almost 30 years of experience in several different industries. He began his career in the United States Navy’s nuclear power program. From there he transitioned into the public sector as an Environmental, Health & Safety Manager in the utility industry. After almost thirteen years, he transitioned into the construction sector as a Safety Director at a large, international construction company. Most recently he held the position of Manager of Professional Services at a safety software company, overseeing the customer success, implementation, and process consulting aspects of the services team.
At SafetyStratus, he is focused on helping achieve the company’s vision of “Saving lives and the environment by successfully integrating knowledgeable people, sustainable processes, and unparalleled technology”.