In previous columns, we have looked at the first four of ten actions that help leaders establish safety as a strategic objective. These steps have focused on building a foundation for the change required, starting with developing the knowledge and emotional commitment of the organization's leaders up through a communications and governance structure.

Once these are established, the stage is set for defining the change itself: developing an implementation plan that bridges the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.

DESIGNING THE BLUEPRINT

Making safety a strategic objective usually entails considerable change in an organization, both structurally and culturally. In an ideal world, the outcome of such an initiative would create an organization where:

  • Safety holds a prominent position among an organization's strategic objectives;

  • Safety projects routinely appear in the business plan and budget;

  • Safety performance is central in decisions about hiring, compensation and advancement;

  • Safety plays a prominent role in all operational decisions; and

  • All employees, from the board of directors to the shop floor workers, understand that safety is part of their job — and they have the resources to accomplish it, know how do it and actively work it.

A vision provides an organization with a concrete picture of the desired future state. However, it cannot determine the steps to getting there.

The barriers to creating desired state qualities will vary depending on the unique configuration, history and culture of each organization. Leaders must develop an intervention plan that starts from where the organization currently is (not where we hope it is) and that prescribes specific, real-world changes that optimize available resources.

Step Five. Gain an understanding of the “current state” of safety within the organization and identify the gaps between the desired state and the current state of safety.

Before an organization can define the implementation plan, the steering team and the CEO must develop an understanding of the current state of safety and identify gaps between the “as is” and the desired future state. That is, they define “the state of the state” and the challenges immediately ahead. An important element of this analysis is an assessment of the organization's culture and its alignment with safety values and objectives. Research shows at least nine dimensions of organizational culture that are predictive of safety outcomes and which can be measured and compared to a norms database of other organizations. Research also shows that organizations scoring higher on these dimensions, such as management credibility, procedural justice and leader-member exchange, experience a statistically significant lower rate of injuries than organizations with low culture scores.

Step Six. Oversee the development and deployment of the implementation plan.

Given the gaps between the current state and the desired state that the assessment has revealed, the organization now can craft an intervention plan. Organizations do this in different ways. Some use their own internal resources, while others use outside resources, or a combination.


Psychologist Thomas Krause, Ph.D., is chairman of the board of BST, a global safety performance consulting firm. Krause has conducted research and interventions in the use of performance improvement methods for accident prevention, culture change, leadership development and other targeted applications. He has authored several books and articles on safety and leadership.