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Safety As a Value

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by John Austin in Behavior change, Leadership, Safety

Do you make safety a priority in your organization? The answer for most of us would be a resounding yes, but this week my friend Dom Perfetti shares with us how we as leaders need to shift our thinking and turn safety into a value, rather than just a priority.

I had the pleasure of working with Dom when he was a senior leader at a global manufacturer, and where he was known as a leader who had excellent people skills. 

The message below may seem like it just for my readers in manufacturing, industry or construction, but I think it applies to other areas like healthcare and human services too.

Below is a post that Dom has written for us this week on the topic of safety.

As leaders, I’m a firm believer that we shape the culture of our organizations every day, whether we realize it or not. We shape it by what we say and do, and we also shape it (many times in a stronger manner) by what we don’t say and do.

After over three decades in manufacturing leadership positions, when it comes to safety and developing a strong safety culture, it’s very clear that safety needs to be considered a value.

In the early years of my career, safety was always given (at least through words) top priority, but it wasn’t until many years into my career that the mindset shift occurred and I realized it must be regarded as a value for it to become ingrained in the minds of the workforce.

To stress this point, I would often use a simple example that typically resulted in some chuckles, raised eyebrows and grins; but always seemed to drive the point home. Whenever new employees started at the plant, I would meet them in the training room and ask them to name some values. They usually responded with words like – honesty, integrity, loyalty and a few others. I would then ask them the difference between a value and a priority.

A simple example would be planning the weekend work at home… My priority is to trim the hedges, but the forecast now calls for rain, and I decided to change my priority and clean out the garage. No harm, no foul! I reprioritized and opted for the next best thing I could do in light of the change in forecast.

Priorities change all the time, values do not!

To drive the point home further, I would then ask the new employees to imagine going home to their spouse or significant other, and having a conversation where they decided to “take a break” from their values.

For example, I would ask, “How do you think your spouse would react if you simply said, ‘I’ve been honest with you for twenty years, I’ve decided to take a break from that next month, it’s just been too much for me lately!’ ”

Sound a little odd?? Sure it does! But yet we take “breaks” from safety and deprioritize it to many other competitors like service, quality and cost just to name a few. I’m convinced that at least part of the reason that this happens is because we often view safety as a priority and not a value, and allow it to compete with other priorities, leading to the temptation of having something else become more important.

If we truly hold safety as a value, then the importance never changes, and it becomes part of every decision we make, just like any other timeless value that we hold in high regard.

There is a difference, it’s not just words, priorities often change – values do not! Taking the leadership steps to make safety a mutually shared value can lead to significant progress toward a stronger safety culture.

About Dom Perfetti:

  • 35+ years of manufacturing, primarily in leadership positions ranging from 1st Line Supervision to Director of Operations
  • Became a “student of the game” for safety culture change ~ 15 years ago when I began to understand the importance and impact leadership has on culture, and how the mindset and daily actions (hourly actions!!) of the front-line leadership team can make all the difference in the world with creating the right environment for work teams to thrive and prevent incidents and injuries
  • Have placed a strong emphasis on “leadership vs management” and how although management systems certainly support the sustainability of good safety programs, it’s safety leadership that creates the cultural change and drives the right mindset and behaviors.

I learned safety the “hard way” and it took me years into my career to realize just how much we as leaders can influence positive change and desired behaviors, and I still consider myself just at the beginning of the journey!  I’m motivated by helping others and adding value in any way I can.

Dom has retired as a operations leader, but still looks for ways to do work that matches up with his values. He can be reached here:

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