Good leadership can transform a job-site, improving the safety, efficiency, and overall attitude of the employees. This is part two of a conversation with leadership expert Andrew Baird, ARM, CRM, CBIA, Senior Risk Technical Consultant at Builders Mutual, about how strong leaders can create a culture of safety. Here, Andrew provides valuable takeaways for site supervisors, crew chiefs, GCs, and anyone who wants to become a more effective leader.

To review part 1 of this article, click here.

How can a job-site leader assist in error elimination?

A good leader knows which conditions cause errors and tries to eliminate them. If elimination is not possible, the leader must alert workers to the conditions and how these conditions could lead to errors. Here are some examples that are typical of construction job-sites:

  • Time pressure. Whether real or self-imposed, deadlines can create lack of attention and lead to unsafe action to just “get the job done.” A leader needs to communicate with the workers prior to work starting, reminding them to focus on doing the job right and safely.
  • Overconfidence. The first few times we do something, we’re usually very careful. Getting onto a roof is a great example. We pay very close attention to staying safe and doing the job well the first time. But the more we do the task, the less careful we tend to become—and the more risks we take. Be sure to address this human tendency with your team, reminding them to focus on safety like it was their first day on the job.
  • Distractions. Noise, temperature, the phone in your pocket—distractions on the job-site can take a worker’s attention away from the task just long enough for an accident to take place. Warn your team about work-area distractions. Once you call out these dangers, you minimize their power of distraction.
  • Multitasking. Let’s face it. We live in a multitasking world. We’ve got to get more done in less time. But, it’s actually impossible to mentally focus on more than one thing at a time—especially on the job-site. Leaders must reiterate the importance of singular focus for a job well done.
  • Peer pressure. It isn’t just for middle-schoolers. Peer pressure is real, even on the job-site, and it can be either positive or negative. An effective leader creates a culture of positive peer pressure, one where safety is respected, and mutual support is the norm.
  • Physical environment. Construction job-sites are loud, hot (or cold), and filled with environmental challenges. As a leader, you need to acknowledge these stressors and then train and empower your crew to effectively deal with them. (See our blogs on dealing with heat and trenching safety.)
  • Mental stress. Whether it’s the current pace of life, financial woes, or a relationship strain—or a combination of them all—mental stress impacts the job-site. Unfortunately, safety is one of the first things to be compromised when stress affects work. So, increase safety meetings and toolbox talks. And maintain open communication all the time to increase the likelihood of your team reaching out to you when the pressure is too much.

What 5 things can job-site leaders do today that will cultivate a culture of safety?

  1. Be prepared. Ultimately, this is the key. Be completely prepared for the job at hand. Consider the knowns and unknowns. What can go wrong? Ask yourself, “What does a home run look like today?” Then, dissect that. What will make it happen, and what could get in the way? Nothing’s worse than a leader who’s not prepared. If you’re not prepared, you’ll lose the trust of your team.
  2. Reward success, and discipline failure. Treat everyone with respect and fairness. Remember that management tries to catch people doing things wrong, but good leaders must catch people doing things right. Reinforcing positive action enhances performance. If you’re constantly critical, you’ll lose people. And when you show genuine concern and discipline with the purpose of seeing your people succeed, your team will trust you and respond positively.
  3. Put your team first. This means you need to show care and concern, have their backs, and take the blame. This is one of the most critical aspects of leadership. In fact, those who take credit for success and blame the team for failures actually define bad leadership. When someone on your team does something wrong, you are to blame because it was ultimately your leadership that led that person to do or not do the action resulting in failure.
  4. Facilitate open communication. When you communicate openly and often, you encourage employees to bring problems—and solutions—to you without intimidation. If they don’t think you’ll listen, you’ll miss opportunities and lose good people. In terms of maintaining a culture of safety, communication is imperative. Without strong communication skills, there will always be a gap for interpretation. And vague guidance is a leading cause for error. Also, remember that employees are typically the closest to the work, so they can provide early warning of problems and provide really good solutions.
  5. Lead by example. Correct any mistakes or issues immediately and do so with a focus on instilling learning and improvement. And be open and honest with your team when you make a mistake as well. Supervisors have so many responsibilities and have multiple people pulling on them from every direction, so it’s easy to intentionally overlook a “minor” issue on the job-site if you are in a hurry or feeling your own stress. But this is a grave error. Instead, stop and address issues right away. For example, if you see an employee not wearing safety goggles, but you walk by and ignore it because you’re in a rush, you’re teaching that person that it’s OK to let that rule slip. And when you make an excuse, they’ll make the same excuse. Consistently demonstrate what you want from your employees.

You’ve heard it throughout your life, but it’s certainly true: Actions always speak louder than words. So, in the quest to create a culture of safety on your job-site, lead well. Your team will thrive, and you’ll end each day with a job well done.