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Building a Resilient Safety Culture: Insights for Safety Professionals

In the world of safety leadership, the importance of culture cannot be overstated. Much like the metaphor of folding a sheet of paper, which grows exponentially stronger with each fold, a robust safety culture is built on layers of actions, interactions, and shared values. This intricate process isn't about piling actions haphazardly but rather aligning them towards a common goal with precision and intention. This leadership insight guides safety professionals in cultivating a culture that not only complies with safety protocols but thrives on them, transforming compliance into a shared purpose. This shared purpose is “ownership.”

Construction workers in a safety ownership culture

The Essence of Safety Culture

At the core of every organization's success is its culture, which validates past behaviors and influences future actions. Safety culture, specifically, is more than a segment of the organization's overall culture. Safe outcomes are the paramount goal. The strength of a safety culture lies in its capacity to prevent harm and promote well-being.


Beyond Compliance: Building the Culture

While compliance with safety regulations is a fundamental step, it barely scratches the surface of what a genuine safety ownership culture entails. Leaders in potentially hazardous industries must recognize that culture is the sum of what people do when no one is watching. It's the collective habits, norms, and values that guide behavior towards safe outcomes. Developing written safety programs is essential, but these documents alone cannot foster a culture of safe outcomes. They serve as a blueprint, which, without the commitment and understanding of every team member, remains just a piece of paper.


The Power of Shared Values and Actions

A safety ownership culture thrives on shared values and coordinated actions. It's about moving beyond the individual's goal of getting off the plane quickly, to use an analogy, to a collective effort that ensures everyone's safety and well-being. This shift from individual to shared purpose fosters cooperation and leads to safe outcomes which yield a more harmonious work environment.


The Role of Leadership in Shaping Safety Culture

Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the safety ownership culture of their organizations. It's their responsibility to not just create safety systems but to embody and promote the values these systems represent. A leader's actions, more than their words, signal what truly matters in an organization. Thus, to cultivate a safety ownership culture, leaders must not only commit to safety as a priority, but also communicate this commitment through their decisions and actions.


Principles Over Policies

While safety policies and procedures are necessary, they should be grounded in broader, universally shared principles that reflect right and wrong in human interactions. Principles such as fairness, respect, and responsibility transcend individual values and become the bedrock of a strong safety ownership culture. They guide behavior towards not just avoiding harm but actively promoting safe outcomes.


Cultivating a Culture of Ownership

The most resilient safety ownership cultures are those where safety is seen not just as a rule to follow but as a moral imperative, a collective responsibility where everyone is an owner. This ownership culture means that safety is everyone's business, and every individual is empowered and expected to contribute to it. Such cultures do not emerge by chance; they are carefully cultivated through leadership, shared values, and consistent actions.


Communicating Values Through Language

Language plays a crucial role in cementing a safety culture. It's not just about stating values but about embedding them in the organization's daily lexicon. When safety ownership is integrated into the language of the organization, it becomes a living, breathing part of everyday work life. Leaders who unequivocally prioritize safety over operational efficiency, embody how powerful language can be in transforming a culture.


Developing a resilient safety ownership culture is an ongoing process that requires dedication, leadership, and a commitment to shared values. For safety professionals, the challenge is not just to implement policies but to inspire a culture where safety is valued, practiced, and owned by everyone. By focusing on principles, communication, and the power of collective action, organizations can transcend mere compliance to foster an environment where safe outcomes are woven into the fabric of their culture. Safety, after all, is not just about avoiding accidents but about building a community of care, responsibility, and mutual respect.

Ken Chapman, PhD. and Tony Orlowski

Co-Authors, Safety Beyond the Numbers


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