man using safety cone as a hearing aid; listening tours are a powerful tool for safety leadership

Listening Tours: A powerful leadership learning tool

By Eduardo Lan

Many of the clients we work with at Propulo Consulting ask us what it takes to create a robust Safety Culture where people work safely out of choice rather than obligation. Three critical elements of this are an organizational willingness to learn, an engaged workforce, and the leadership that creates such an environment.

Leaders set the cultural tone

Leaders are critical to this equation because they set the cultural tone of the organization. As Edgar H. Schein, former MIT professor and organizational culture guru, says: “Leaders reinforce an organization’s culture by what they pay attention to and how they choose to allocate their time and resources.”

This choice is evident for workers in what leaders consistently say and do. When leaders spend the majority of their time in their offices and boardrooms, and talk at instead of to/with people, workers get the message that leaders are not interested in their opinions and contribution. As a result, they disengage. On the other hand, when leaders show up often and talk with workers and really listen to them, workers feel seen and heard. They then willingly provide their best thinking and effort.

In my last blog post about leadership listening skills, I asserted that workers are closest to the work and thus know much more about it than leaders do. I also stated that the only way to get that knowledge is to shift our focus to other people instead of having it on ourselves. Unfortunately, leaders tend to forget that. Oftentimes, they distance themselves from workers and miss the wealth of knowledge that is available if they just listen and open themselves up to learn from them.

A powerful leadership learning tool we share with our clients is known as listening tours. They look just like safety walks, but have a completely different purpose and feel to them. During safety walks, leaders go out into the field to look for hazards, unsafe behaviors and conditions. These types of walks can be useful, but oftentimes they end up being mini audits and inspections that fix a few safety problems while at the same time further consolidating the distance and disengagement between leaders and workers.

A listening tour, on the other hand, is about just what the name implies: Listening. Sounds simple, right? But it is hard to do! During a listening tour, leaders go out into the field to connect with people. They do this by getting to know them as human beings as well as workers, asking them questions from a space of humility and curiosity, and really listening to them. Listening tours are useful to both gain critical insights from the field and support people in removing any obstacles they may have to safely and effectively do their job. Ultimately, listening tours represent an incredible opportunity for leaders to gain precious information and authentically demonstrate their care and concern for people.

At Propulo Consulting, we support leaders with the skills and tools required to powerfully show up and listen in ways that create robust safety cultures and unleash the discretionary effort of team members.


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