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December 30, 2020

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Is there a difference between leadership and safety leadership, Q&A

Following our recent Leadership webinar, part of the SHP Webinar Wednesdays series, we put your unanswered questions to panellists Malcolm Staves, Luiz Montenegro and Steve Hough.

If you missed the webinar itself, featuring Alastair Davey, Global Vice President HSE, Sodexo, Malcolm Staves, Corporate Health & Safety Director, L’Oréal, Luiz Montenegro, outgoing VP Group Health & Safety, Carlsberg Group and Steve Hough, President, SoloProtect UK & EU, you can listen back on demand here.

The session covered:

  • What is the difference between leadership and safety leadership?
  • How do you create leaders within:
    • Field employees, technicians and operators
    • First line supervisors
    • Senior line leadership team;
  • What is the role of the OSH leader in developing this?
  • How can leaders use the ‘opportunity’ presented by the pandemic to their advantage?
  • Is it harder to lead remotely, as opposed to face-to-face?
  • How can leaders adapt to the current social distancing and travel restrictions?
  • What do you see as being the future of the OSH profession and its leaders? How do they get there?


How do you influence leaders who don’t actively engage in relation to H&S, who see it as an annoying add on?

Malcolm Staves (MS): “I have two main approaches.

“1) I get to know them and what motivates them (not always easy). I then make them my personal project. I pick those senior managers that have greatest influence. Its hard work at times.

“2)  On a more mass scale I try to understand the profession of the group of people and try again to understand where they are coming from and adapt my safety language to try and connect with them.”

What is the panel’s experience of the unintended consequences they have seen with regards to safety leadership?

(MS): “Firstly, safety leadership for me is nonsense as, to quote Luiz, its more safety through leadership. Target/objective zero is a dream and not realistic or SMART. I prefer incremental targets based on good leading indicators that drive the performance in a company.

“Back to the question when leaders get involved in health & safety, I see only positives. If there is a potential negative it’s that they then start to tell our professionals what to do – safety is easy, I get it now, I will tell you what to do!!!!

“However, I see this as positive and when I can I work them building on their ideas to create a solution together. We don’t know everything, and we need to have diverse views if we are going to have value added tools and methods that are supported by the line leadership.”

Can and should you measure leadership and safety leadership? if yes, how did you measure both aspects and what did learn from so doing?

 (MS): “I believe you can, but this can be different for each company. In L’Oréal we have a Line Leadership safety visit initiative when managers in pairs go and talk to an employee about their health & safety with a focus on at-risk actions. We have to follow the number of visits done per month per site and the number of actions closed by the management.

“We also have a hazard reporting initiative that requires the managers to project manage this hazard reported to closure including employee feedback. We measure this activity as well.

“For both we set a global objective of 90%+ closure of action items in a 12-month period. These are our leading indicators of visible felt leadership. What have we learnt?

“1) Visible leadership is key to health & safety performance and culture.

“2) having the right indicators, adapted to your company, to drive this is vital.

“3) don’t buy off the shelf – develop these programs yourself to meet your needs.

Is leadership through safety and being a thought leader in safety the same thing?

(MS): “Good question and the simple answer is NO (and that’s a big NO). There are too many people out there that come up with theories and methods that they sell to companies that may work for a while (new programme effect) but eventually fail.

“Doing academic research is also important as it pushes the boundaries, but it comes down to the OSH professional to decide based on his intimate understanding of their company to determine how to adapt so that it is a success. I am a great believer of made in L’Oréal, for L’Oréal by L’Oréal.  This approach has worked for me in the many companies where I have worked.”

Do the panel think the term leader / leadership is misunderstood by the general population as things will be taken care off?

Luiz Montenegro (LM): “It depends on the organizational culture. Organisations with a typical command and control type of culture would likely have a passive attitude towards problem solving. But I have experienced changes in such type of culture as organizations genuinely decide to progressively empower and engage their workers. But it all starts with a change in leadership style.”

Can the panel provide a view of what platforms they use to show Safety Leadership at a corporate level and expectations they place on their management teams including how this is measured?

(LM): “It certainly requires a combination of tools to measure it, and it depends on where the organization is concerning the safety culture. You can use surveys (either in separate or as part of the organizational climate survey), measure the participation of leaders in safety processes such as management walks or safety observations, or even use a third party to assess the various aspects of safety leadership and management.”

Has the panel seen the leadership of wellbeing move from the HR team to the H&S team and are we prepared for that change?

(LM): “In my previous experiences, I haven’t. And I believe that this should be a partnership instead of one of the parties taking over. What I’ve seen is that a successful employee wellbeing program was only possible when well-coordinated together by HR and H&S, with strong support from the operational leaders. If the organization’s senior leadership is not convinced that this is an important matter, it doesn’t fly.”

What do you believe to be the key values and ethics that a leader should demonstrate?

Steve Hough (SH): “It can be a cliché, but walk the talk and lead from the front. If you don’t believe it and don’t show through your actions that you believe it, others won’t buy into it / you either. Be unswerving in your determination and passion to make something happen (whatever it is you are trying to achieve). Others will see the authenticity of your actions.”

Absolutely agree that managers understanding accountability and what they need to do is key. In the academic environment this can be challenging as safety professionals are looking to lead and influence those who they don’t manage and instead act to advise. Any advice on how to build these relationships and have the chance to be heard by those in such roles?

(SH): “I have always found credibility to be really helpful here. Consider your audience and what is important to them and adapt your delivery to link to what matters to them. Evidence is always a great credibility factor so do your research. For some people it may be the welfare of their people, to others their primary goal may be productivity or profitability. There are health & safety elements to all of these goals, even when some managers aren’t seeing their people as their first most valuable asset. If you can convey what you are trying to say in terms that resonate for that person, you will stand a much better chance of influencing them.”

How possible it is to have the same level of compliance experience with the COVID-19 pandemic guidelines into safety compliance at workplace?

(SH): “My personal experience with this is that it is entirely possible – its more challenging, but possible. It really comes down to re-evaluating the new environments that people will be in and then setting the support structured in place to ensure compliance. We have implemented this and have regular check in’s with managers to look at how measures are working and adapt if they are not.

“Remote working is always harder but again, with regular staff check in’s you can achieve this not to mention the added benefit that regular contact has on people’s mental wellbeing. Technological solutions are also very helpful in ensuring that staff are safe and well in remote locations. We see this in our industry of lone working for sure and have had significant uptake in our solutions as a result of this during the pandemic.”

Looking at COVID and how countries with female leaders have the best responses. What traits that might come more naturally to females due to upbringing that make a good safety leader?

(SH): “Honestly, I’ve not seen this difference in my business. I have managers both male and female that have exhibited truly excellent leadership in respect of safety of our remote workers during this time and I have come across the same when speaking with our customers.”

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