What Do Relationships Have To Do With Your Safety Culture?
By Eduardo Lan
When it comes to assessing an organization’s safety culture, we often look at the organization’s leaders, the behaviors of workers and employees, and the rules, policies and procedures. These are all important pieces of the puzzle, but they do not paint a full picture.
According to Michael D. Watkins (2013), “While there is universal agreement that (1) it [organizational culture] exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations, there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behavior and whether it is something leaders can change.”
When working with clients as part of the Safety Culture Transformation work we do at Propulo Consulting, I often define organizational culture as a network of relationships. The relationships we have with each other drive the actions we take and the results we produce. The quality of these relationships is based in large part on the values we hold, individually and collectively.
Our relationships are based on values
If you think of the relationships in your life, both personal and work-related, and you explore their basis, you’ll soon discover qualities like trust, respect, and honesty, which are at the heart of them. Qualities like these are the bedrock of good relationships, and without them our relationships falter. Other qualities that we have found essential to having good relationships are actively caring for people and being authentic. All of these qualities speak to our values.
We spend too much time talking about results and too little time talking about our values.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for results! It is just that results do not arise in a vacuum, but rather from the committed (another value) action of individuals and teams. Our assertion here is that the value-based quality of our relationships matters, and that intentional conversations and actions to grow these values will make a big difference in both our relationships and in our results.
Ultimately, the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our safety culture. When we have good relationships, we are able to:
- Think more creatively.
- Be more present and at ease.
- Speak more freely.
- Listen more deeply.
- Collaborate more fully.
- Influence more strongly.
- Achieve more collectively.
An extraordinary leader in the oil & gas industry I once worked with—we’ll call him David—spent countless hours out in the field building relationships with people. His conversations were about caring for each other, working and going home safely, growing together, and the importance of family. He was authentically (here is this value again) interested in people and really took the time to listen to them. He knew everyone’s name and something personal about them and their family. Unsurprisingly, people responded to him incredibly well, and they worked harder, smarter, and safer than they would have done otherwise.
You may or may not work in the oil & gas industry like David. In the end, your impact on safety culture will depend more on your ability to connect with people than on the industry to which you belong. Said another way, you are in the relationship industry.
Watkins, M. D. (2014, August 07). What is organizational culture? And why should we care? Retrieved May 12, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture