In our regular column, the experts from NEBOSH answer your safety questions. On this month’s agenda, is improving health and safety through leadership.
“I’m a Director with no health and safety experience. How can I support my teams and contribute towards improving health and safety in my organisation?”
Having a supportive leadership team can make a real difference to the health and safety culture of an organisation. Staff tend to focus on whatever the directors highlight as key priorities, so for health and safety to be effective it has to be positioned as a core value by the heads of the organisation.
To drive this ‘top-down’ engagement in health and safety, Great Britain’s health and safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), has identified five key values that business leaders need to demonstrate.
Shared vision for health and safety
Firstly, there needs to be a shared vision for health and safety running throughout an organisation. The vision needs to focus on ‘where’ and ‘what’. Ideally the vision will be simple and succinct and aim towards long-term goals. A vision may build on what an organisation is good at; if the vision is positive it can help build momentum.
Be considerate and responsive
Emotional intelligence is very important in health and safety leadership because people respond well to empathetic leaders. A positive health and safety culture is about listening and responding to others and encouraging constructive debate.
Provide support and recognition
People respond positively if they feel valued, so it’s important that leaders recognise those who are working hard towards achieving success in health and safety. A big part of doing that is getting out and talking to people about what they have achieved and any issues they have. Good health and safety management requires a constant dialogue, so talking to people is vital.
Promote fairness and trust
Leaders are ambassadors, so they need to demonstrate the attitudes they are asking other people in the organisation to foster. They also need to earn people’s trust by responding fairly to incidents. By doing this, they will encourage others to act in the same way.
A listening organisation is a learning organisation, and to set the tone for this leaders need to get out from behind their desks and be seen to be taking an active interest in health and safety. They should talk to people at all levels to understand what they are thinking and then take their learning and apply it to the wider organisation.
Jassim Darwish, Safety, Security, Health and Environment Manager at Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC), agrees wholeheartedly with this approach.
He said: “Inspiring and leading change is vital in developing a strong safety culture in any organisation. In the same way as it is important for me to understand other vital aspects of my organisation, such as marketing, finance and HR, it is also crucial that other leaders have an understanding of health and safety and how they can have a positive influence and support better overall performance.”
Jassim was a member of the development panel for a new qualification designed to equip leaders with these skills: the NEBOSH HSE Certificate in Health and Safety Leadership Excellence. This one-day qualification is designed specifically for leaders and aspiring leaders. It focuses on the key competencies and behaviours associated with leadership excellence so that delegates can become better advocates and influencers of health and safety.
For more information about NEBOSH and the HSE’s new qualification for business leaders, visit www.nebosh.org.uk