Safety and the Supervisor: Tips for Safety Success

by Matthew Philip for OHS online

In the business of safety, supervision involvement in the safety function is always a critical topic of discussion. In many ways, effective safety leadership is a critical skill that any current or would-be supervisor must master. A team’s supervisor, the most vital and critical link to safety on the job, can play a critical role in driving safety success among his/her team or, worse, can indirectly contribute to eroding the confidence of team members in the safety process overall when misalignment between safety expectations/goals and operational/production occur.

An effective supervisor can make a safety professional’s job extremely easy or incredibly hard, all based how they are perceived by the team members they direct when it comes to safety related issues. Senior leadership and safety professionals rely on supervisors to provide a consistent, knowledgeable and actionable message of safety in the field. After all, what is our goal? Quicker production? Getting the job done? Being right? Getting team members back to work because they are just trying to waste time? If these are your goals as a supervisor, then there is a much broader discussion that needs to happen! If these are not your goals and your goals are aligned with management in assuring that your top priority is the preservation of life and property, then you’ve come to the right place. This article is intended to provide advice and guidance for you the supervisor in becoming an effective ambassador for safety from the perspective of a safety professional in the field.

1. Do what you say you will do.
The question of whether or not you are committed to safety as a supervisor is not measured by what you say; it is measured by what you do. If your people perceive you to be a person of all words and no action, then they are less likely to believe that you are committed to safety and that two you are an unreliable ally in ensuring safety on the job. When personnel bring to you a concern or issue, the expectation is that you will act on it quickly: Not dismiss it, not ignore it or not immediately invalidate it. Having been involved in situations where the supervisor was perceived to have no interest in addressing a situation, many people have told me it was not so much a question of how unsafe the situation was, but that the supervisor “didn’t care” or “brushed it off.” Not every situation requires a definitive corrective action each time a situation is brought up. Some situations require use of skills that will be outlined shortly, but the first step for you as a supervisor to gain team members trust and respect in these situations is when an issue is presented and you commit to determine a resolution, follow through. Act quickly and do what you say you will do.

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