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How good leadership can create a culture for success – now and in the future

11 April 2019

Health and safety practitioners within organisations tend to be trying to be either a leader themselves, create leaders or develop their existing leaders by showing them what good leadership looks like. Whatever the case, good leaders have to be receptive to coaching and accept the responsibility that comes with their role.

This is according to Lawrence Waterman OBE, chair of the British Safety Council, who began his presentation to delegates in the BSC Conference Theatre this morning (Thursday) with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It is better to lead from behind and put others in front. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Lawrence elaborated: “Leadership is not about sticking to a position but looking into how to bring people together to support risk management. You want people to be willing volunteers. Simply imposing rules and compliance on them will lead to polarisation. But if you do things in a disciplined, organised way that is respectful of everyone, they will feel free because they understand that the organisation is looking after them and they are not at risk of being harmed.”

He explained that creating an organisational culture for success is a key responsibility of any leadership team: “Safety culture is the organisational culture. Leadership has got to be about creating the atmosphere and opportunities for everyone to contribute to managing risk. It also needs to focus on future-proofing the organisation – less shutting the stable door after something has happened and more crystal ball-gazing to anticipate the future.”

This means standing back and looking at how work is being done and anticipating its impact and future implications. By doing so, said Lawrence, leaders will be in a better position to help the workforce see how to protect themselves from both immediate and future threats. Referring to research by the British Safety Council on how work is changing technologically, demographically and contractually, he said leaders need to think about ways of protecting and managing for the future.

He went on to explain how the actions and activities of leaders are very important in this respect. He said: “They have to be clear about objectives, which act as navigational tools for people. They need to create followers – there is no movement without the first follower. They must demonstrate model behaviours and listen as well as speak. They should aim to surprise and do things differently, where possible. And they must motivate, encourage and praise.”

Referring to that last activity, Lawrence emphasised the importance of focusing on excellence rather than failure. He said: “Rewarding and thanking people is so much more effective than criticising them, or simply monitoring compliance. Talk to people about things that are being done right and which you would like to see more of. Reward and recognise, which you can do in the most trivial, inexpensive ways.”