Actively Caring: The Starting Point, Not the Destination for Safety
By Eric Michrowski
A leader once told me their safety strategy focused on driving actively caring within their organization. In his words, “If we care for our people, safety will take care of itself.” While actively caring is integral to building a robust safety culture, I would caution that it’s insufficient on its own.
Actively caring means showing personal concern and appreciation for employees individually. When relationships with team members are firmly established, and employees feel appreciated, understood, and respected, they are more likely to demonstrate discretionary effort and go above and beyond to keep themselves and their coworkers safe.
Actively caring is not passive; it requires intentional vulnerability, listening and receptiveness, and empathy. Actively caring instills a sense of personal responsibility and accountability and empowers employees to be involved and engaged in safety programs. I’ve seen its impact on a team’s performance firsthand.
While this focus on actively caring should be commended and remain a critical strategic pillar, safety leadership requires a more robust and rounded approach. From a leadership standpoint, actively caring should be accompanied by a shared vision around safety. Team members need to understand where to invest their discretionary effort and that safety is a personal investment for their loved ones, their ‘why’ for prioritizing safe work.
Fostering Positive Accountability and Actively Caring
Leaders must drive positive accountability through coaching and straight talk. Safe choices need to be recognized, while opportunities for improvement need to be explored and coached. Actively caring cannot occur in the absence of improvement feedback.
Additionally, leaders need to foster a culture where people feel comfortable and encouraged to offer ideas and suggestions and to implement safety improvements. This requires active coaching to promote continuous improvement thinking and explore the broader system. Finally, leaders must walk the talk, role model safety, and demonstrate felt commitment to safety.
These leadership attributes primarily focus on driving safety ownership and shifting behaviors that contribute to a large number of incidents. However, focusing on the hard safety elements remains essential, including robust systems and procedures, a deep understanding of systemic factors, risk awareness, and mitigation.
As much as actively caring is essential to a well-rounded safety strategy, safety will not “take care of itself” just because of it.
Elevating Safety Culture and Safety Leadership Through the Five Core Leadership Competencies
Safety leadership competencies represent the observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal attributes that contribute to increased discretionary effort and improved organizational safety culture. Anchored in years of research and science, our team has identified five core competencies to optimize safety culture: Actively Care, Walk the Talk, Build & Live the Vision, Foster Positive Accountability, and Drive Thinking & Speaking. Leaders who master these skills more effectively spearhead safety improvement efforts and achieve greater safety success.
At Propulo, we help leaders go beyond actively caring to drive safe production culture and sustainable safety culture improvements by prioritizing safety leadership competencies.