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Crossing Over the Gap Between Intent and Actions
IWords only go so far for inciting a safety culture. You need to act.
’m fortunate to know some strong safety proponents who all questioning intent here. I believe think—and then act—outside the prescribed circles and that most leaders who message this boxes. Two are operational leaders that I have helped blazed do want the best and believe in the new safety trails in their domains. There’s a lot to learn from importance of safety.
their successes.
If you read some of my articles, you’ll recognize that I’ve written
before about one of them: Anil Mathur. Anil is an incisive thinker and passionate person—and a widely esteemed and recognized safety leader. He’s the CEO and President of Alaska Tanker Compa- ny (and formerly a long-term senior manager with BP). He is also currently a board member of the American Society of Safety Pro- fessionals (ASSP). Most important to me, he’s a wonderful friend.
At lunch this week, one of the things our discussion gravitated towards was the often-wide gap between intent and actions.
No question, we agree that strategizing, planning and preparing are all vital to success. And without a doubt, these are driven by in- tent—deeply held values and beliefs that direct our attentions, per- spectives, judgments and mindsets. These acts are also connected to envisioning future possibilities.
Of course, leadership intent can run the gamut from high-level, productive and safety-oriented towards the not-so-great. For ex- ample, you’ve likely seen leaders exhibiting these intents:
Control for control’s sake. It sure seems to me that some lead- ers appear more interested in being “the boss” or “the authority” or “important” or “smarter than everyone else” than they do making positive change happen. These tend to screen out or disregard any data that doesn’t jive with their self-view the job. Due to this, they miss a lot of important information, and they ratchet down the tap of potential creativity and self-motivation/buy-in from others.
Keeping people in their place/undercutting them. Where the high-controllers are focused on propping themselves up, these leaders’ main intent seems to diminish and keep people down. Perhaps this stems from undercutters seeing others as incapable. Alternately (and ironically), they may value certain workers to the extent that they fear treating them well, where praising or promot- ing them might “give them ideas” of boosting their worth—and they’d either demand promotions or leave for greener pastures. In essence, the intent of leaders in these cases is to retain select people in their current place by reducing the latter’s self-worth in order to create dependency. Alternately, such leaders are making pre-emp- tive mental strikes so others don’t challenge the leader in the future.
A variation of this is sending messages that the leader distrusts others (like saying, “Clearly, you don’t care about your own safety.”) as a weapon for control.
Being absent. This means not getting back to people in a timely manner, not attending safety meetings or trainings, being difficult to reach, not responding directly to questions, not providing clear directions, or doing the minimum needed and nothing more to support workers’ performance and well-being.
Good intent? We hear it a lot. We hear people proclaiming how important safety is, that the company cares about each per- son, that we have a mission statement that is laudable. I’m not at
But good intent is not good
enough. I’ve found that this is some-
thing that typically frustrates or even
stymies many safety leaders. I’ve heard the desire of so many lead- ers, often expressed as, “I want, more than anything, for people to act safe, to eliminate or avoid risks, to go home in the same condi- tion as when they started work, to be able to retire safe and sound, to protect themselves/friends/family.” I’m not at all questioning these positive thoughts or hopes, but hope is not a strategy.
The bottom line is always action. Sure, intent drives actions, but alone does not replace it. Sort of like revving a car’s engine may get it ready to perform, but without putting it into gear, the auto won’t actually move forward, no matter how high its RPM’s.
Anil Mathur takes action in many ways. He holds his direct reports (senior managers) responsible for safety performance and culture—through the time that they spend and the structures they come up with and follow. He expects leading indicators be formed and monitored and reported on—with any actions modi- fied based on this.
Now take David Emilio Ledesma, another perceptive and vigorous safety leader who’s also in the operations arena as Plant Manager of the DuPont Yerkes Site in Buffalo, NY. David, like Anil Mathur, similarly sees safety as more than just “Number One” where other priorities are ranked below.
And like Anil, David leads with action. One way he moves from intent to action is by simultaneously boosting safety, productivity and engagement by his bringing in innovative approaches that both elevate safety performance and culture. Furthermore, he does so by actively participating in safety training, both as a trainee and as a presenter. David exemplifies that where he spends his time sends messages that are far more powerful than just verbalizing positive intent about safety.
Additionally, both Anil and David also work on broader plains than just within their own sphere of influence by educating safe- ty professionals within their own organizations to broaden their perspectives on the ways that high-level safety is inseparable from other critical company goals.
Ultimately, even the best talk only goes so far—even in safety. Intent is a good first step, but action, both what leaders are actually doing and not doing, is what counts when they want to make a true operational difference.
Robert Pater is Managing Director and creator of the MoveSMART system for preventing strains/sprains, slips/trips/falls, hand injuries implemented in over 60 countries. Their emphasis is on “Energiz- ing, Engaging Expertise” to simultaneously elevate safety perfor- mance, leadership and culture. Robert writes an ongoing column for Occupational Health & Safety.
50 Occupational Health & Safety | MAY 2020
Ultimately, even the best talk only goes so far—even in safety.

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