Boost Your Safety Culture Today with Leadership Listening Tours
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
Leaders demonstrate true safety ownership by spending time in the field asking safety questions with employees. This practice should be formalized across leadership groups, from supervisors to the C-Suite. These “listening tours” involve two-way dialogue to better understand employees’ safety suggestions, concerns, and opinions. The purpose is to bolster relationships and actively listen. It is not an enforcement activity or traditional safety audit.
When done effectively, these tours create more frequent and higher quality leader-field engagement. This leads to better relationships with workers, improved overall communication, better decision making with safety, higher morale, and additional discretionary effort with less division between the office and field.
Here are some key considerations during these tours:
- Active Caring: Show authentic caring for the employee beyond just safety and production requirements.
- Psychological Safety: Foster an open environment where the employee is comfortable raising issues and asking questions.
- Interactive Discussions: Ask open-ended questions to promote in-depth, collaborative discussions.
- Active Listening: Demonstrate effective listening skills. There should be more emphasis on employee’s feedback than leader comments.
- Responsiveness: Actively solicit, and respond to, suggestions from the employee to promote safe work behaviors.
- Confirmation of Engagement: Encourage employee ownership of safety improvement efforts. Discuss how they can contribute to an improved safety culture.
- Promote Helpful Thinking: Ask employee about why safety matters (e.g., go home safe to your families) and the target condition of no serious injuries and fatalities. Ask employee about his/her specific role in contributing to this goal.
- Follow Up: Capture all learnings from leader-field discussions, act on them, and report back to the workers.
- Appreciation: When wrapping up conversations, thank employees and express genuine appreciation for their openness and input.
Listening Tours: Implementation Guidelines
A brief form should be created to guide discussions and capture key thoughts from employees (see example below). Establish expectations for the number of listening tours done each month. This should be examined internally but is not a quota or performance management metric (to avoid “pencil whipping”). The focus is on the quality of discussions and not the total number of cards completed.
Leaders hold themselves accountable for process success by checking in with each other in regular meetings and asking questions like, “What did you find out this month?” and “Are there any safety issues we need to address?” Also, supervisors should escalate key issues to senior leaders and share system improvements with employees when they occur.
Why it matters
There are many advantages to observing front-line operations first-hand and getting testimonials directly from workers. Through conversations with employees, you can identify key issues and concerns, as well as best practices that could potentially be standardized across operations. Also, listening tours show that leaders genuinely care about people’s safety and well-being. It demonstrates a willingness to learn and adapt.
By increasing the frequency and quality of leader-field engagement, you boost morale and increase discretionary effort for safety.
At Propulo, we work with leaders to implement successful leadership listening tours to improve organizational safety culture.