Changing leadership behaviours to improve safety performance

Steven Law, HSSEQ Director - UK & Africa, shares his views on how placing a more significant focus on changing leadership behaviours can help drive continual improvements in safety performance.

Human factors, such as lapses in concentration, mistakes and violations, are frequently cited as the root cause of incidents in the energy industry. Changing these behaviours has therefore been identified as key to reducing recordable incidents and improving overall safety performance.

However, the success of changing behaviours of the individuals and teams at the ‘sharp end’ of operations has varied greatly, from dramatic reductions in incident rates to no change and/or worker disillusionment. This approach essentially tells the wider business that improvements in safety performance can only be influenced at an operative level.

This has led to Stork placing a more significant focus on changing leadership behaviours which will, in turn, influence the safety beliefs of the operative workforce and positively impact on onsite behaviours.

For example, if an operative believes that leadership and management value production over safety, they may take a shortcut on a workscope which could endanger their wellbeing and the wider asset. Conversely, if an operative believes that management see safety as the priority, they will stop a job safe in the mind that they have full support to do so.

The first step to influencing and eventually changing the beliefs of those at the ‘sharp end’ is through demonstrating clear leadership behaviours and commitment to safety by action. This has to be about more than just investing sums of money in short-term safety initiatives and programmes when safety performance offshore reaches unacceptable levels; it has to be a visible leadership commitment.

Supervisors are increasingly being positioned as ‘leaders’, individuals that can have significant positive impact on improving offshore safety performance. For this to be effective, supervisors must be empowered with the necessary tools (such as safety campaigns, posters, interactive lessons learned) and training, as well as the belief that safety is, unequivocally, the number one priority of senior management. This will allow them to become leaders and demonstrate positive safety behaviours that will be carried through into their teams.

The root of all poor performance lies with weak management. The process to drive sustainable improvements in safety performance must start by challenging the behavior, norms and performance of senior management. A step change in leadership will act as a catalyst for changing the beliefs of supervisors and, in turn, operatives in the field.

REACH Beyond Zero has created an employee led safety culture which is driven by clear leadership beliefs and behaviours. Operatives believe safety is the number one priority of leadership and management, which results in positive safety behaviours and an excellent safety performance.

Steven Law, HSSEQ Director - UK & Africa