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Everybody talks about the importance of leadership to drive Safety Performance. In this must-listen to episode, we explore tangibly how leaders need to show up to drive safety outcomes. To be a great safety leader, you need to care deeply about your people, understand your personal WHY for safety and regularly demonstrate the value of safety through your actions. Michelle Brown shares her insights about transformational safety leadership and actions to shape, develop and improve these skills to become better safety leaders.
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Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Michelle Brown, who is a chief operating officer at Pinsight, one of the leading and most sophisticated platforms for leadership assessments and development that delivers a lot of great leadership essentials for organizations that want to make sure they’ve got really their top talent in the organization. The reason I’ve got Michelle here, she was probably one of the most influential thinkers around safety leadership that I’ve come across over the years in terms of what she’s thinking, how she’s influencing a lot of leaders.
And I wanted to have a conversation with Michelle around leadership and the role of leaders in shaping safety and safety culture. So, Michelle. Welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me. Eric, it’s absolutely delightful to be back talking with you and about a topic I have so much passion for.
So, tell me a little bit about that passion because you got into the safety space a long time ago, touched a lot of leaders across that journey. Tell me about your passion for leaders and for safety.
You know, it’s a bit of a funny path and probably not a linear one. My first career was as a clinical psychologist. I was working in health care settings. I was working mostly with children and families and certainly nothing to do with safety at that point. But what became really clear for me is that incredible relationship, that dynamic between a parent and child, is incredibly transformative things that the parents do. They say the way they act has a huge impact on how children behave, grow and develop, think and feel.
And over the course of my career in clinical psychology, I had the chance to transition into working in workplaces, bringing a lot of the same fundamentals of psychology and decision making and job relationship dynamics. And I just sort of landed, if you will, in working with safety. And what I thought was not a hugely taught connection, in the beginning, was an 11-year incredible career, working with some extraordinary organizations and absolutely inspiring leaders, and had the opportunity to blend that passion for psychology with my absolute fascination in the way of leadership and team member dynamic that’s phenomenal.
So, you’ve worked with a lot of leaders globally, seen some phenomenal safety leaders. What are some of the key themes that were consistently visible across all those amazing leaders?
You know, the amazing ones, the ones that stand out, the ones that I would sort of leave a day of work with and just think, wow, you know, they really get it. You know, I think the thing that I observed with leaders that could have a really incredible impact that could really, you know, shape a culture that could really move people to think differently and feel differently and behave differently. These are the leaders that were incredibly self-aware, you know, when I say they got it, but they really understood that their role mattered, that it wasn’t just that they had a position of authority or that with the boss.
But I think they really kind of got the awesome power and responsibility of being in a position of leadership. And they took it very seriously. You know, they had colleagues that I used to work with that would tell leaders, you know, the good news is, is that you have more power than you think. And the bad news is that you have more power than you think. And I think it’s the leaders that were really incredible for me to watch was the ones that really understood that power and that responsibility for people and their safety.
That’s amazing. So were there any other themes like one of the parts that I’ve noticed and I know we’ve talked about this before, is the importance of there’s a desire to leave a legacy, there’s a desire to do something with that power, that ability that I’ve got to shape other people’s lives with. Was there something there as well?
Yeah, we often, you know, we come together and. You know, when we work together and talk about those leaders that were really, we just had such optimism for their journey and their ability to create change often because they would start at the core of people, you know, I have you know, I can list off some extraordinary leaders that I’ve had the ability to sit with and work with and support. And it’s always talked about their love of people that they really understood that that safety, the people’s ability to work, to go to work, to do good work, to feel productive, feel engaged and to be harmed free at the end of it was really starting at their desk that that, you know, safety, leadership and safety management was very rarely done with a pen or a policy, but it was their words and their actions.
And, you know, when they got that and they could really understand that their words and actions were going to make a big difference. You know, many of them really wanted to harness that power. They wanted to do good with that power. And some of those leaders were coming from positions where they really had been confronted with either a terrible workplace event or they saw the tears in children’s and spouse’s eyes when they had to tell a spouse that know somebody that wasn’t coming home from work or that were critically maimed, that they felt that serious impact of their actions.
And I had often called them legacy leaders, that they were really conscious of wanting to leave that legacy and do good and make the company better and safer through that leadership.
Interesting. And so, the ultimate question is, can that leader be made, or is that somebody who comes that way? So, can you harness some of those skills in those capabilities and a leader, or are you better off finding somebody that you’re recruiting for that skill set?
Well, that’s such a good question. You know, this is at the heart of I think most organizations struggle when they’re trying to create change in safety, culture, and safety outcomes is, you know, who takes the lead on doing this? Where are those leaders, not managers? So, I use that term deliberately. And how do we build them and cross them? And I kind of have a bit of a theory about the effectiveness of safety leaders, that it’s sort of you know, if you sort of an equation of the effectiveness of safety leadership is that that passion and that why multiplied by the skill.
And so, I think you have to have both to be most effective. I think some of the most effective leaders have really got that clear. Why I’m clear in their head, they understand the awesome power and responsibility of their words and actions. They have a deep passion to do well for people that have a deep passion to never have to bring news to a family. They have a deep desire to make people’s lives better, and they know that they can do that with leadership.
So, I think that’s part of the equation. The other part of the equation is absolutely skill, that leadership skills like riding a bike, learning a language, learning a musical instrument is a set of skills, things that we can all learn with focus and practice. I think the big difference is, is that if you don’t have a driving long and a deep desire to be included, to be an effective leader, you’re probably less likely to invest in developing those skills.
But I, I certainly can be effective if I really focus on developing the skills. But that does the multiplying effect of that passion and desire as well.
Hmm, interesting. So, the other element you’ve often talked about is this concept of transformational leadership. Can you talk a little bit more about what that is in a safety context?
Yeah, I think that this is where this notion of skills really comes to the fore. And the debate I’ve had so often with organizations when thinking about, you know, they have a desire to create change in safety. They’re unhappy or unhappy with their lost time injuries. They’re disappointed with the number of people that are getting hurt or harmed in their workplace. And, you know, they want to at first bring in more groups. They want to manage safety well; they want to manage injuries, or they want to manage risk.
And they first want to do that through policies and consequences and harm and. Training and telling, and, you know, they desire to manage a ride like that where a lot of people stop, but then that’ll get you a little bit of the way, but not all the way into a sustainably strong, self-sustaining, strong and positive safety culture. And I think this is why, you know, my background in working with families and that through did between parent and child was a natural blend for me to be jumping into Sipi leadership.
Because what I think those leaders struggle to contend with is that relationship between the leader and the team members that died in itself is also transformative. There’s a wide array of literature out there that says that the parent-child relationship, that dynamic in itself, is transformative for both the parent and the child, the way they interact, talk, and behave with one another. But the same is true for leaders and team members. You know, next to our parent’s relationship, the relationship I have with my managers and my leaders is probably the second most important relationship and the transformative relationship we have to have in our lives.
And I think we all have a story or two about, you know, a bad boss, but also a great boss that helped us with our esteem that we you know, we’ve opened up our opportunities. We grew new skills, we developed empathy. We you know, we grew as humans inside the you know, the leader member, the boss subordinate relationship. And so, if we want people to grow and make great choices and to manage risks and to speak up when they’re unsure, you know, all the behaviors that we want team members to employ, you know, those behaviors come out of safe and productive and trusting relationships with these leaders.
And I think, you know, that’s kind of when I come back to that, the notion that legacy leaders, those leaders that really get the awesome power that exists in that did, they’re the ones that want to harness that. They’re the ones that are paying attention that sure you can’t manage safety just with a handful of policies that you pop in a bonder and hope people read and follow it. It’s not how it’s done. It’s done through leading.
And if I can deviate just for a moment here, I think that the current circumstance for whenever folks are listening to this session today, we’re talking about a time in the middle of a global pandemic where the hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. And I think while the debate has been this has been a pandemic about science, I think that this is a pandemic about leadership. Sure. I think we felt the impact of leadership, you know, how leaders’ message and what they message about how they communicate, what they role model, what they pay attention to, what they know, what they measure, what they don’t.
This, I think for all of us, we’re seeing, you know, the impact of leadership in how it transforms our perceptions, our decisions, our choices, our feelings, what we do in our lives and in our backyards and our in our decisions is impacted by leaders and the health outcomes follow. This is sort of a meta-study for what goes on with safety inside organizations, what leaders talk about, what they don’t talk about, how they talk about it, what they pay attention to, what they measure, what their role model.
These are the transformative elements of safety, leadership, and in leadership literature. We call these transformational leadership behaviors transformational safety, leadership behaviors because they are the things that transform other people’s actions. Ways that people can really change the way that their team members and their organization think about things, feel about things and then behave and the choices they make interesting.
And when you bring up the pandemic, it brings up two thoughts to mind. One of them is a number of leaders I’ve spoken to talked about how in the span of six months, they did more to empower or they had more impact, more positive impact in terms of their safety culture than they could have probably imagined in six years because they had to demonstrate active care. They did all the right things versus others who threw their hands in the air and thinking, oh, this is all happening to me.
And the other piece was really interesting. I was reviewing some work with one organization, and it was really interesting is despite the pandemic, those leaders who spent a lot of time on the floor connecting with team members, interacting with them, those who previously spent a lot of time continue to find ways to spend a lot of time connecting with their team members. But the interesting piece is those who spent less than 40 percent of the time doing it, that drop; they found excuses not to be able to do it.
It’s a choice that you’re making.
And I think they set it right; there is the choice you’re making about where you invest your time as a leader. And I think that there’s some interesting, you know, other research similar to what you’re saying, that, you know, great leaders produce great outcomes, poor leaders that don’t do a lot of this investment in these skills of transformational leadership has poor safety outcomes, but even mediocre kind of wishy-washy leaders that sort of dabble in a little bit of safety leadership, but not consistency.
We very frequently they don’t have mediocre outcomes. They also have poor outcomes because people find them inconsistent and in genuine ways there. With your guidance and I think this a talking with some other colleagues in this space recently where they’ve said, you know, this pandemic has been a real macrocosm, if you will, of how much leadership influences health and safety outcomes, that this is not a medical crisis. This is like a leadership issue. And yeah, I’d say it’s I think we can all study this one from a how do you make a change in safety performance?
You pay attention to the leaders that have got it right here and around the world and in leading to this pandemic.
Absolutely. So, what are some of the things that leaders can do to become better safety leaders if they want to take action the way they want to make a difference? What are some of the things that you’ve seen really work in that space?
Yeah, I think the first thing is if leaders, I think you should do a little self-reflection on why they want to do this. And this comes back to this notion of those leaders who have consistently, through their career, really worked hard and struggled through even when it’s tough and to get in touch with building a legacy and having a positive impact on people. And so, I think it’s it can be a useful exercise for leaders to tap into a Y for the Saudi leadership.
Why do I want to do this? And obviously, I’m going to say that motivations like bonuses and pension and getting fired probably are not going to be massively sustainable for you. But it should sort of, you know, tap something meaningful for you. Sure. For me personally, when I started working in safety leadership, it was because I saw an ad in the newspaper back in the day when ads where I was running the newspaper, and it said, you know, to travel the world while you’re changing it.
And I said, yes, I want to change the world. I want to have an impact on people. And I have this you know, I wanted to finish every day seeing someone have an aha moment and or hearing the stories of people saying, you know, that story you told all that research you did or that thing that you mentioned really made a difference for me. And I always thought, you know, if I can change the trajectory of someone by one percent, you know, you know, in terms of vectors, that can be a big difference down the line.
So, I think leaders should probably start with getting in touch with why is safety leadership important for them? How does it along with their personal values and what they want to bring to the world? So, I think that’s a starting point.
I think it’s a phenomenal starting point. And I’ve certainly done it with a lot of leaders. And it just struck me that everybody good at this always had an incredibly. Wider to surface, there was always some motivation, sometimes it was around Soviet leadership attributes. I was around a great father, mother that had this lasting legacy, or if you said it was somebody got injured in the traumatic event and they would never want to see that again and they realized the role they had as a leader and.
Absolutely. Do you in your experience, or do you think that that is also required? Do you think that that is a foundation piece to effective safety leadership with the leaders you’ve worked with?
I personally have not found a leader that didn’t have a strong why that was able to communicate generally their desire. In theory. I’m not sure if you could fake it like an actor or learn a script and create your way. But I think the problem is you wouldn’t have the passion behind it. You may be able to have the words in in your messages, but you wouldn’t be able to truly have the drive behind your actions because it’s unique that the leader is I’ve seen that have this why it’s incredibly powerful and they can relive it like there was one there was one zero I was talking to you and his wife had to do with when he was an early supervisor in his career, and somebody had passed away on his shift and he could relive it moment by moment, the drive.
And it was the longest drive of his life to see that supervisor that person’s that employee’s wife. And then he can recount 20, 30 years later walking down the path, and then his wife coming, running towards him, thinking that he had arrived for there to congratulate them on their newborn. But instead, he was there to deliver a horrible message that the husband was never coming back. So that ingrained in him. And he could relive that moment basically step by step, like a movie.
And it could mean it was such passion, and it shaped all his actions. But the thing is, you can’t make that up unless you’re Hollywood. But the problem is you still need the drive to take action to do something with it, which you can’t script.
And I think that’s I think it’s a really good point about not being able to script. And I think it’s when you are really operating from that position of personal values and personal mission and legacy, that it sorts of fuels you consistently, that you’re not sort of a fair-weather safety leader of, you know, I only show up to the safety meetings and, you know, that’s like stand down. And, you know, after an event or, you know, I’m the only kind of vocal about it on Safety Week or, you know, I think that it’s the consistency of folks that have really tapped they’re why that keeps them going and keeps them faithful even when maybe it’s not a good run, or there’s been an injury and, you know, they’re not going to throw in the towel and say, well, this isn’t working.
This is a journey. It’s like safety is like health. You don’t just jump on the treadmill once a year and say, well, that’s it, I’m good, I’m healthy. Now, you don’t eat one salad, and the rice is run on your health. It’s a daily activity of activities. And, you know, I think it’s important for the safety leaders that are listening in to this instance is, you know, you don’t have to be confronted with a traumatic event to find out why.
You know, I think there are plenty of leaders that have unfortunately walked through those fires metaphorical and literal, and have come out with a deep understanding and a deep desire to never do that again. Desires and their values are never to repeat that situation. But there’s also leaders there that also have a tremendous amount of fuel and passion because of the opportunity they want to harness that it isn’t that they’re trying to avoid an injury. They’re also really invested in saying, you know, like great safety.
Leadership also has some remarkable byproducts that, you know, this is spillover. A great safety leadership is, you know, employees tend to perform better, and they’re more productive, and their quality of work is higher and their well-being is better. They’re more engaged. They stay in their roles longer. You know, all of those sort of business outcomes aside, that people are happier and do better work great. And that’s great for, you know, our communities and our workplaces and our society at large.
And leaders, just with their words and actions, can and do so afterward. Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that’s the first thing that that leader, if you want to do this well, you can really sit with this to get in touch with their own. Why does safety matter to me? Why does my safety matter to my team, and what does it mean in the alignment of values? So, I think that’s the first journey for leaders to start to walk.
Yeah, I would completely echo that. I think it’s a personal reflection. Like you said, it doesn’t need to be a traumatic event. There could be just a deep desire to make the world a better place to change people’s lives, whatever that drive is. But there’s got to be something that’s there in your thoughts, in terms of leaders, in terms of once they’ve got defined their way and they clear on it, what would be the next step then?
I think it’s a process of looking at the things you could do, you know, like the actions one can take, you know, the why and the purposes is really going to be the few, you know, the energy and then the actions are what turns that energy into an impact vector and thrust, if you will, like, you know, like you got to do something with that passion. And I think your story about even just being observant of how much time you are spending with your employees, it’s very difficult to have an impact on them if you never see them, never talk to them.
I don’t really, you know, like I said, a great email. And I hope that really change the world. It doesn’t get like that. It’s all right. Leadership invites human to human, not email to email or not, you know, of speech to the audience. It’s very human interaction and so requires an investment of time. And so, from a really very practical level, like check your calendar every week, like being conscious of how much leading opportunities you have and they can sneak up on you like a leading opportunity can be in a meeting.
There’s an opportunity to role model there to see some impactful things there to show care. You know, you might just be in a meeting, but that’s an opportunity for Sipi leadership. You might be doing some task reviews. Well, there’s great opportunities there. So, check your calendar in. How much time are you putting aside for investing in safety, leadership, and being cognizant of how you want to show up to each of those opportunities? So, you’re actively planning your behaviors ahead of time, and rather than getting caught short at the end of the week and thinking, oh, golly, I’ve got to go do a quick safety walk, hand out a couple of like safety pats on the back.
And then I’ve done Friday for the very best. Go and do a quick take five out there, and then I can take off my safety leadership activities, and it’s now probably not going to get it done. So maybe intentional with their time. And then I think, you know, it’s as easy as really looking at the transformational leadership skills. And I keep coming back to that one because it’s a great model for redirecting leader’s attention away from the tasks that really do feel like our responsibilities.
Check these schedules, budgets, all you know, the management of projects and productivity, transformational leadership really says, you know, you have an impact by just doing something role-modeling, just being the person that wears the PPE consistently just by being the person that wears their mask consistently, by being the person that does a range of things. That’s plenty of stories. When I was in the field with so many employees, and they could say, you know, a lot of things about their safety leaders just by watching them, you know what I’d say?
You know, describe the safety leadership around here. So many of them were full of stories of this person, spoke at a meeting about safety. But then I saw them blow the stopwatch up. You know, as I was reading through the stop sign, leaving the office. And so, everything they say is B.S., you know, it being consistent with your words and actions that really can make a huge difference. And so just role modeling, those behaviors that you would want for people even above and beyond, and even when nobody’s watching, even on the weekend, when you crossing across work, making it part of who you are is pretty important.
So, role modeling is, I think, really key. Its people see the actions of leaders, and if they’re not aligned with their words, it can tip over quite quickly.
It’s an interesting comment you make is in conversation. Recently, I was talking to somebody who had interacted with a leader that had worked with the late Paul O’Neill when Alcoa is going through his great transformation in terms of safety and safety culture. And the part that struck me as one of the stories of that person, I have met this person personally, but. So, it’s secondhand knowledge, but one of the stories that was shared that was the most impactful to them that Polonia was real at, that safety was real for him, is they had heard early on in his career, apparently there was a fatality at the site and a CEO.
He pulled everything out of his calendar, and he was there not to yell at people, not to be angry, but to learn how we fail. He was asking people to understand why we are failing, really role modeling, the learning organization. Well, what’s interesting is we’re probably talking now 20, 20, 25 years ago. And that’s the story that stuck to that person’s mind. It’s how they prioritize that safety was real to them. And as a CEO of a huge company, I’m willing to put everything to put my mind where it matters.
Absolutely. You know, I think that folks that have had the opportunity to work alongside or around great safety leaders have those real stories about those moments that matter when, you know, those leaders made a tough choice in the instance when they didn’t sort of follow the traditional path of how things might get managed. But they’re prepared to be vulnerable and here uncomfortable things and to have uncomfortable conversations in the effort to get them to acknowledge that this isn’t a journey, it’s not a race we’re going to win.
We never get to declare victory over safety. So, we have to continue to be vigilant about it and be tough about it and to examine ourselves and be rigorous and uncomfortable and I think yeah, I think for those people who have had the opportunity to work alongside great leaders like Paul O’Neill would certainly have boatloads of those great stories.
Great. And I’d love to share. Finally, in terms of communicating, how does those leaders communicate? Is there a common theme around how they communicate, the stories they share, the insights they share with their groups?
Yeah, you know, I think this is a lovely one to think about, you know, being that we’re chatting in a podcast here that, you know, a fundamental form of human communication, the way that we transmit knowledge and meaning, more importantly, how we transmit meaning to one another is through great storytelling skills that, you know, I can think of very few PowerPoint presentations that have really struck me. You know, I’m not going to be on my deathbed telling my grandkids about an extraordinary spreadsheet that really felt like, you know, we don’t have those kinds of experiences.
But, you know, humans communicate with one another when they’re mindful that they’re communicating with other humans and how human brains work, that we are inherently social human to human beings, that we are people that care about being safe and care about meaning and purpose, and that we are filled with a range of needs and desires and complexities. And I guess that when people communicate with the idea, first of all, in mind that they’re communicating with other people, other humans.
And so, I think, you know, one thing that great safety leaders can work on is there I’m going to say communication skills, but sort of more their storytelling skills here, the way they craft a narrative, the way they build a you know, a message that has impact, a message that can land for individuals. You know, I think there’s some great people that have distilled this into some to some easy points and thinking of Senex Golden Circle and says, you know, when you’re trying to tell people about what it is you’re trying to tell them, start with why and not necessarily the why for you, but why.
Then why would someone want to listen to this thing that I’m talking to them about? And, you know, what should they remember that’s important and what should they do with this information? So, it’s important that, you know, I often think where leaders can go wrong is that they believe that their job is to sort of be the voice-over track to a corporate message. You know, they’re the voice over to a spreadsheet, or they’re you know, they’re just adding a couple of additional words to a document that they don’t really understand the again, the awesome power they have within them to change people’s minds about things that with a good message, a good story, people can say.
Oh, yeah, I’m going to do something different today. Oh, yeah, I think I’m going to take a different approach to that. And so, I think the ability for leaders to be really thoughtful on how they communicate the message they want to communicate but to just really hold this idea in mind that those humans communicate through stories, really through graphs or stacks or, you know, the corporate words and PowerPoint presentations that, you know, things that we’ve relied on to look like we’re getting the job done.
But at the end of the day, that’s good management work. Leading work is when the message that I have sent is landed for someone, they’re nodding their head. We’ve had a connection. We’re meeting the minds. We have a shared idea about an experience, or there’s an emotional reaction where someone will sign Ops is in their brain who connected together. And they will quite a little bit different, like quite literally, that they are a little bit different because of the message that they’ve that I received.
I think that that’s really where leaders can craft some incredible power and love that message because the power of stories is so, so important. I think it also links back to the way if you’ve got a strong line, you can articulate and it’s a story or even if there’s a few different stories around it, I think it also makes it much more powerful. But how do you make that long-lasting? How do you make it beyond that one experience at one moment where I had a great story, great example, no disrespect to Tony Robbins, phenomenal speaker, but I went to a presentation?
It’s life-changing. It’s amazing. And then you walk away. It’s the same thing next day. How do you make that stick?
Yeah, I you know, I am so glad you asked that because I know I’ve been to plenty of safety conferences and had some great inspirational speakers. And you think, oh, well, we did see you guys later. What do I do with that? And, you know, in my own leadership practice, some of the values we have is about taking care of customers, deep customer care in a number of levels. And so, we have a cultural practice in at the beginning of every meeting about customers.
We take a couple of minutes to acknowledge to one another a moment that we’ve seen, however small or large, where we’ve been demonstrating that value. And it serves as a moment for some storytelling, not presenting like a chart of how this might have improved our input. You know, I’m saying, you know, I talked with Kelly and we had this conversation. She said this and I did that. And this is what happened. And, you know, so we tell a true story.
We get a chance at that time to reinforce small behaviors, small attitudes. And, you know, we’re not talking about hitting targets and goals. What we’re talking about the attitudes that we bring to our interactions and the behaviors that we express. I went above and beyond. So, I you know, I went just did this additional layer of risk. So, it’s our chance to, again, sort of notice and pays attention to the types of behaviors that are important that contribute to our ultimate goal.
It’s a time where we pat each other on the back and get some social support and active care and check in with one another to need help with that. And well done. What a great example. You know, what became, you know, what was a bit of pulling teeth in the first months, probably even a year, maybe even 18 months of me doing this now has become a habit, a habit inside our team and our companies where we tell stories about what’s important to us.
And that’s, I think, turning that leadership passion and those transformational activities into organizational habits. And they look small, and they can look geeky and kind of funny. But we couldn’t have a meeting that it just feels off. If we don’t start without burdens of storytelling, celebration, pats on the back, sometimes calling out ourselves and tooting our own where we did something well, but ultimately living our values in the things that are important. So that’s I think with communication and communicating, the impact can become so sustainable when it becomes part of your habits, not just this once-a-year safety meeting.
Yeah, I think that’s incredibly powerful story. And I think that’s also the element of the safety moment when you start a meeting in a lot of organizations is you have known. But what I love is what you’re sharing is really about stories, not some random safety moment that you just pop through. You’re really getting much more into thinking of how did I show up? How did it? It back the customer in that instance or so forth, so really checking into your attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets around safety.
Absolutely. And it’s the less of the moment of, you know, what I caught someone doing wrong or an issue I have fixed, which I’ve had plenty of safety moments where like, well, I saw this problem and I fix it. And there’s some great stories. There were opportunities where people have closed the gaps, but they also should be moments of celebration that we want to sort of pat each other on the back and say, hey, well done, your part of who we are and what we do and how we do things around here.
And, um, but it becomes part of the fabric of the organization then, not just an event that happens. And we get used to noticing when we’re doing great things, paying attention to one another, caring for one another, rewarding and recognizing people for the great things they do. It’s a great opportunity to start an upward spiral of safety, leadership and strong safety culture.
So, I think it’s really good design. I mean, it’s really the elements of even appreciative inquiry we’re back into as an organizational change vehicle is all about how do you get those the stories to start surfacing? I think what you’re sharing is how do you get into a daily, weekly ritual where you’re reflecting. You can even follow in with some powerful questions, I think, to see how your leaders are showing up in a particular way, not an interrogation, but through stories.
So instead of one of the questions was, I often prefer asking is rather than saying when was your last observation, which is a binary response, you say, what have you seen from your last observations? What concerns you? Where do you think, the next potential incident is going to happen next injury? Because it pushes people to actually observe, to think. And at first you might stare, but eventually people are going to have to do something with what they see.
Absolutely. I love that idea of being thoughtful about the questions that we’re asking that binary like how many safety observations would be done? When was your last year? OK, those are just numbers, right? There’s a simple thing you can put on a spreadsheet for sure. But this is I think the point you’re making is leaders have the opportunity with their questions to engage, thinking, to actually engage the neural networks that people have in their brain that are in charge of decision making in analyzing information and making good decisions and solving problems.
And if you get people thinking this is the old adage, you know, sign-ups as a firing, sign-ups as wiring, the more you are having of those conversations on a repeated basis, the more that becomes the way you are. You’re inadvertently wiring people’s brains for risk awareness and for safety problems. And that’s just so cool by changing one word of how many safety observations to what were your safety observations? What did you observe?
A small change in the way we ask questions.
What concerns do? Exactly what positive change have you noticed over the last month in your observations? I think there’s a quote that somebody shared with me, which I think is phenomenal. This is what interests my boss fascinates me. So, if it’s interesting to me to ask those questions and it’s going to be fascinating for me, and then I think that’s how you cascade your message around safety and safety culture.
Absolutely. That’s very true.
Well, thank you so much, Michelle. It’s been a phenomenal conversation. I think your passion for safety, leadership and now passion for leadership in general in terms of how do you get the best talent and organization, had your influence, how they lead and how they shop is so powerful. I’ve definitely influenced me in terms of safety, leadership and my thinking around it. So, thank you for coming.
Thank you very much, Eric. And it’s just such a great joy to be thinking about and talking about such an exciting topic like what we do here.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Michelle Brown is the COO of Pinsight, a HR software solution providing businesses with critical insights into their current and future leaders. Michelle is also a professor at the University of Denver, specializing in organizational behavior and leadership. Michelle has degrees in both psychology and business, and uses this perspective to ensure the scientific methods used at Pinsight are translated to practical and effective solutions for HR professionals, businesses and their leaders.