Did you know that, at first, George Washington was completely opposed to the colonies declaring independence from the British crown? Let’s take a quick look back at one of America’s great visionary leaders.
Washington demonstrated strong leadership qualities early in his life. He quickly moved up the military ranks during the French and Indian War, and despite setbacks, scored major victories for the British. Jumping ahead a few years, while a land owner and local politician, Washington became increasingly irritated by the restrictive Acts implemented by the monarchy to maintain control over the colonies. He responded by calling for a boycott of British goods, and was an integral player in organizing the First Continental Congress in 1775. War ensued, and although it seemed crazy to take on the world’s most powerful nation, the colonies held off the British forces under Washington’s leadership. One key to victory was his understanding of the political nature of war, specifically keeping the resistance alive. The colonists began to believe that they could achieve their independence without defeating the British army, and this strategy proved successful.
Washington was again called to service as the first President of the United States. He was unhappy with how the newly formed government was coming together, and by conveying his ideals for the budding nation, he was a critical figure in amending the Articles of Confederation at the Constitutional Convention of 1876. As a leader with a strong vision, Washington helped form and develop the foundation for the government of the United States. Similarly, it is important for leaders in organizations today to establish a shared vision for safety. That is why the ability to Lay Out a Vision is one of the key skills of safety leadership.
As we discussed in our blog last week, that vision must be delivered in a way that is heartfelt and motivating. However, it must also provide a crystal clear picture of what the goals are, how they will be accomplished, and what is expected of everyone. This includes safety objectives such as identifying risks proactively at all levels and taking specific actions to reduce exposure, with the ultimate goal of zero harm. This conveys to employees that their safety is important to management, and forms the foundation for a strong organizational safety culture. As leaders implement their vision, it is critical that they effectively influence employees to gain commitment on safety goals and initiatives through a variety of efforts such as:
- Setting a good example of safe behavior to employees
- Emphasizing top management’s support of the vision
- Displaying a positive attitude even in tough situations
- Reminding them that above all, what matters most is that everyone goes home in one piece at the end of the workday.
Just like Washington’s ability to galvanize the colonial citizens to fight for their independence, managers must persuade employees to believe that they can improve their SafetyDNATM through consistency in safe individual behaviors. Motivating employees to prioritize safety and reduce their risk exposure can at times seem to be a daunting task. However, leaders who are able to effectively communicate their vision for safety are much more likely to elicit a buy-in for safety initiatives and approach their zero-incident goal.
Our Guest Blogger this week is Craig White, a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has six years of research experience at Tier-One universities (Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Rice University), and has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX. He is also a contract safety services consultant for Select International.