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The evolving role of safety leaders, Dom O’Brien

Discover how leaders not only embrace, but also set themselves up for success in a landscape that is constantly changing.

Good day, everyone I'm Chris Bombolos, I'm your MC for today.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I'd like to extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples watching today.

I'd also like to thank our Safe Work Month short talks sponsors No More Pain Ergonomics. No More Pain Ergonomics is one of Australia's leading suppliers of ergonomic equipment and solutions. They work with a wide range of business customers to assist them with the ergonomic needs. No More Pain Ergonomics has an extensive range of ergonomic equipment to support any ergonomic related issue.

Of course, Safe Work Month is held every October, and is all about raising awareness of work health and safety. Last year's program looked a little different with virtual sessions replacing our usual in-person events. While we've been able to return to running in-person events again in 2021 last year showed us there's a great appetite for online events.

So we're excited to bring you three online events as part of our Safe Work Month online series. Today is the first of our four events. And our speaker is Dom O'Brien. Dom has more than five years experience in project management, facilitation and solution development. He has managed and executed large scale culture change projects with clients across a range of industries, including mining, healthcare, manufacturing, defence, and infrastructure. Dom is passionate about improving his client's business and safety performance. And enjoys working with executive leaders to drive positive and sustainable change for their people.

Today, Dom will be sharing his knowledge and expertise as he explores the evolving role of safety leaders. As I mentioned, Dom is very passionate about what he does and I'm sure you will learn a lot from today's session. Before I hand over to Dom, there will be an opportunity at the end of today's session, to ask Dom some questions.

To submit your question, or even just give us a comment and some feedback, please use the Q and A box that you can see on your screen over the course of today's presentation. During the presentation, the Dom will be running a poll. If you'd like to get involved, go to and use the code 3490 1202, that's 3490 1202. To visit the link now so you're all ready to go when Dom asks his question. But don't get trigger happy, don't rushing just yet. You'll wait till he actually asks the question to be able to provide that feedback. All right, it's time now to welcome in Dom, over to you.

All right, good morning, everyone on the call. It's great to be joining you virtually this morning. My name is Dom O'Brien from Sentis. And thank you, Chris, for the introduction. Thank you Workplace Health Safety Queensland, for the opportunity to share with you. A little bit of the insights that we've learned along the way, working with organisations on their safety culture. And in particular, getting to understand that evolving role of safety leaders, which proves to be ever more complex and challenging as time goes on.

A little bit about who is Dom O'Brien and who is Sentis. Sentis is an organisation based in Brisbane. We've worked globally with organisations to help them improve their safety culture and to help their people get home safely at the end of each day. And the name Sentis itself comes from a couple of Latin words, securus mens mentis, which means safe mind. And that's a cue to essentially our approach.

We take ideas from psychology and neuroscience, and we apply them to helping organisations and their people get home each shift. Our mission is to change the lives of individuals and organisations for the better every day. Now that might sound like a bit of a lofty kind of ambitious goal. In sharing these ideas, we've found that they really do have big impacts for people beyond the sphere of safety, to taking greater control of the choices that they make in their lives, safety or otherwise. And we'd suggest this is what it's really about.

You might see in the image there it's about at the end of the day, the ability to keep enjoying the things that make life meaningful. And we'd suggest that's what safety is fundamentally about. So a little bit about me. I have been working for Sentis for a number of years. I've had some really excellent experiences working both here and internationally with different organisations to meet some of those challenges.

Safety often is one of those things people tend to do the process side of things quite well, and the physical side of safety, all the visible parts, but it's often the people and the leaders that is the more tricky part, if you like. And that's where we help organisations to develop that side of their business. So a bit of a lineup for today's session, an overview of what we're going to be covering. The first is that we'll share with you a model for effective safety leadership. So this is drawing on both our research and also what we've found in the literature around what does good look like when it comes to safety leadership?

As I said, a lot of our work is anchored in psychology and neuroscience. So we'll share you some interesting facts about the brain and in particular, how that relates to trust and change. And it is an ever-changing environment for not only safety leaders, but leaders in all organisations in 2021. We'll also share with you four safety leadership strategies.

So taking something of a situational leadership approach and sharing about how it's not a one size fits all approach, we do need to meet people where they're at, and these strategies will help to set you up well as a safety leader, to be able to engage with people in a way that's more likely to get a great outcome. And finally, some next steps. So where might you go from here? And we'll do some Q and A, as Chris mentioned to wrap up the session.

So you'll see on screen, there's a bit of an image there, and probably all of us can relate to this in 2021, this feeling of kind of being overwhelmed at times, just dealing with the sheer amount of change and information and unpredictability that the COVID world has thrown up for us. We also need to be aware for safety leaders too, there's an increasing expectation with relation to public relations and the visibility of organisations in a social media era, there's legislative and regulatory requirements, which seem to put every increasing pressure on safety leaders. And expectation to do with more with less coupled with the fact of a labour market often in many industries we work with, which is proving increasingly difficult to get skilled labour and good talent. There's also the approach around total worker health.

So a new concept where rather than perhaps an older view of workplace health and safety whereby it was strictly on the physical safety for higher risk industries. Now there's the idea that we might be also needing to look after our people's mental health and psychological wellbeing as well. So taking a more holistic view of health and safety for our people. More safety professionals, we talk to will tell you that there is ever increasing paperwork and office-based administrative things that need to be done as well, which can put a huge burden on people's availability to do the more infield transformational part of the safety leader role. There's also been that sort of shifted to our way from a technical capability to more of an interpersonal leadership capability that's expected from people.

So no longer good enough to just be great at your role or the technical aspects of the job, also need those interpersonal leadership skills that support it. And that shifts to particularly in a lot of heavy industry away from that reel acrotic or sorry, autocratic command and control style leadership through to a more transformational, inspiring style of leadership that's gonna drive greater employee engagement, which is what's needed in this competitive world.

So pretty intense expectations that are out there for leaders and the suggestion being that perhaps the way that we've gone about leadership to date, isn't the model that's gonna get us to where we need to be in 2021. Fundamentally though, if we look at what are the expectations around safety leadership in organisations, there's some baseline things we need to get right.

We need to ensure that the safe work environment is provided and maintained. We need to ensure people are adequately trained, equipped, and ready to do the job. And we need to ensure that the work's done safely and expectations are met. Now, interestingly though, when it comes to safety, if that's our baseline expectations, what do you think we're most likely to realise as an outcome of that? We'd suggest that you're probably best case scenario in an organisation likely to achieve a culture of compliance.

So we'll share with you this maturity model here, which talks a little bit about the journey that organisations go through in maturing their safety culture. At its highest level, we describe a maturity of safety culture called safety citizenship. So this draws from the idea of organisational citizenship, whereby if I'm subscribed to the values and beliefs and the goals of the organisation I work in, I have a high degree of trust with my peers, my leaders, and I'm really bought into out of the place I work and what it's trying to do. I'm more likely to exhibit those discretionary effort, go above and beyond type behaviours as part of my day to day work.

I probably also see that the culture here is safety is everybody's responsibility, it's not just the safety team's job to do safety. And as a result, we all contribute, we all recognize the role that we have towards creating that safety culture. And the last piece is really that continuous improvement mindset.

So when errors and incidents occur in my organisation, how do we react, and how do the leaders react? Do we see them as a learning opportunity and something we can improve from, or do we drive a punitive type culture where we might actually seek to suppress those things.

At the other end of the model, we can describe a fairly low degree of safety culture maturity we would call counter productive or counter productivity. And you'll see on each of these stages of maturity, there's a little soundbite that sort of captures the average attitude you might hear from somebody in an organisation at that level. And at counter productivity, really, we feel, hey, the organisation doesn't care too much about me. I'm just here to get a pay check essentially. And you can anticipate then the kind of safety results that happen in an organisation like this effectively safety gets in the way, if there's a way to get around it, we absolutely will.

And a classic example of counter productive safety culture would be if there's a safety mechanism or warning on a piece of equipment machinery, people will find out a way to disable it so that they can keep working with the machine. So that's what we'd see as counterproductive safety culture. And you can see across the bottom of the model, there's also a spectrum there of the kind of outcomes we see from a safety culture standpoint, from a discretionary effort standpoint, and also quality and efficiency.

So all of those things being quite linked. From counterproductive productivity, we can move to public compliance. At a public compliance, I will comply, I will follow the rules when I'm being observed, when I'm in public. And as much as we might relegate that to the world of say, heavy industry where it is a lot of rules and regulations, we can all adopt a pro public compliance mindset. For example, what's our motivation for following the speed limit on the highway. For most of us, it will be because we want to avoid getting a speeding ticket. So that's one motivation.

And what we'd suggest is there could be different other motivations for following the speed limit. You might choose to follow the speed limit and drive to conditions to get home to see your family safely that day. And this is the big shift for both individuals and organisations in mindset is away from the idea that I follow the rules to avoid punishment, to be seen to be doing the right thing. I choose to follow the rules, I choose to engage with the safety practices and environmental controls that are there for me, because if nothing else, for selfish reasons, I wanna go home to keep enjoying the things that make life meaningful for me. And so this being the challenge is that if we take this kind of compliance mindset, the best we can hope for is say a level of private compliance whereby people will follow the rules because they recognize, hey, if nothing else, they're there to protect me. And from private compliance, we can move to mateship.

So this is recognising beyond me needing to look out for my own safety, I also need to have the support of my peer group, my teammates in order to help me get work safely as well. Recognizing that this is not mateship being misconstrued of covering up for a mate, this is about being willing to have the difficult conversation as well. So because I do care for my peers and genuinely care about their safety, I'm willing to have that difficult conversation where maybe I might need to say, is there a better insightful way of going about that task? So that's a bit of a model of how organisations move through safety, culture, maturity, and why we're kind of arriving at this level of outcome that we see.

So where to from here, how could we improve towards a maturity of safety citizenship, and what would our leaders need to be doing? So they need to be creating and maintaining a work culture, which is based on trust. They need to be inspiring teams to go above and beyond 'cause they want to, and not just because they have to so the less of a transactional approach to it. And we'd need leaders who are willing to challenge teams to think differently about safety and contribute to an improvement culture. That idea of, never being satisfied with the status quo.

Specifically what skills are required. So as mentioned up front, we're going to share with you this model, this is a Sentis's model of eight safety leadership competencies. It draws on the literature that we've learned from industry and from safety around, what are the things that leaders do well in positive safety cultures. And these are those eight particular areas. So it's comprised of both transactional skills, but also those more inspiring transformational skills as well. And you can see that sort of differentiated in the model.

Those transactional skills are the more of that sort of give something and get something type approach, which leaders do still need that competency of being able to provide reward and recognition for leaders, and also to support their people with the resources they need to work well. But then also we've got these transformational skills. And as we mentioned before, there is a tendency we've found in industry where the people who get to be the leaders tend to be the people who are really good at doing the job, may not actually be the people who are well equipped or given development to become successful in that more transformational leadership space.

So I'd like to put a poll to the group, really interested to hear your experiences in your organisations. And the question is, in your organisation, what percentage of leaders do you think demonstrate strong safety leadership? So in your organisation, what percentage of leaders do you think demonstrate strong safety leadership? And you might use that model as a reference to say, okay, well, if they were doing those kinds of things, that would be what good looks like. So how will people doing that? And the options are, option one is less than 20% of leaders, option two being 20 to 40% of leaders, option three 60 to 80% of leaders, option four over 80%. So I'll give people some time.

Well people jump onto Menti and use that code to register your vote on the poll, and we can start to see some coming through, interesting spread, that's good. So keep your votes coming through on that. Also invite you to consider too, which of those eight skills do you think leaders struggle with the most? Which of those eight competencies do you think leaders really find difficult to get right? Okay, so that polls kind of moving through. Now, we can say interesting.

So the majority of people 31 votes so far putting leaders in that 20 to 40% range in their experience. Okay, quite a good spread. We've got some really strong leaders, people voted more than 80%, which is fantastic. Love to work in those organisations where leaders are really doing that sort of things well. And a bit of a bell curve distribution for the rest. And two we can see 28 votes for that 40 to 60%, 22 saying that 60 to 80, okay, excellent.

So we'll let that roll through a little bit longer. And just that second question for you to consider no, you don't need to answer in the poll, but just for your own reflection, which of those eight competencies do you think leaders find the most challenging, or which are the ones that they are rated a lower step. While we wait for those poll numbers to come through. Certainly it looks at this stage to be aligning fairly well with Sentis's research and what we found in the diagnostics that we do with our client organisations, in particular what we find here that informs this is we ask people to rate their direct leader in terms of those eight competencies.

And then also for leaders to rate themselves against those eight competencies, how they think they perform in those areas. Another reflection point for you too, instinctively what you know of leaders, who do you think rates themselves, rate higher, leaders rating themselves, or people rating their leader, that one's probably fairly intuitive, I think for most people, the answer to that question.

Great so we're still seeing a few more votes come through. We'll just give that another 30 seconds or so. I can see that pretty strongly at in front is that 20 to 40% ranges that where most people say the percentage of leaders in their organisation are getting it right, 20 to 40%. Awesome work. 40 to 60%, 36 people voted, 60 to 80, 30. So it's not actually a huge gap between those numbers, but clearly out in front is that at 20 to 40% range. Great so we might call the pole there. Thanks to the team for running that. And interesting clearly out in front was that 20 to 40% of leaders people feel in their organisation are effective at those competencies of leadership. Which I think the case is pretty strong then for the opportunity for improvement, right? We've got a fair way to go in terms of building capability for our leaders.

In Sentis's research, we've found that only 24% of leaders demonstrate strong safety leadership. So you're pretty aligned in your experiences on the call today. Most people have seen that kind of level of leadership capability in our research as well. Where did the sample come from? So our diagnostics has spoken to 8,212 participants. And the question was, how do I view my direct leaders ability against those eight areas? And then it was also self perceptions of safety leadership. So how do I view my own ability? We did that across nine industries and across a range of geographic locations too. So five different countries. If you're interested in finding out a bit more and reading the report in full, you can find it on the Sentis's website too. It's available for free download, it's called the state of safety leadership is the report.

Might be interested too, I'm conscious that there are gonna be a range of people from different industries on the call. And this is a bit of a comparison of breakdown by industry. So you can see some industries overall, their average are a little bit lower, some a little bit higher like industrial services. But clearly the greatest opportunity area, if you like, is that competency of recognizing. So people's perception that they get rewarded for positive safety behaviours is a huge improvement area. Often when we talk to leaders in industry and say, or talk to work as an industry and say, what do you get recognized for safety around here? People struggle to name anything often. So huge opportunity area for improvement in that space.

So in order to help them drive more stronger safety leadership, we said it's about creating and maintaining a work culture based on trust, inspiring teams to go above and beyond because they want to not because they have to, and challenging teams to think differently. The challenge being when you couple all of those demands on leaders time, and you put it in the perspective of safety, culture, maturity, 86% of organisations we've benchmarked are in that counter productive, public compliance type culture. Which makes it makes it hugely challenging to influence change in organisations that are operating from that negative space.

So what can we talk about it? Well, we're gonna share with you a little bit of insight from psychology and neuroscience here about what can an effective safety leader do that's gonna help drive and influence change in the safety culture of their organisation? And what's particularly useful to understand is the brain in relation to trust and the brain in relation to change. So a brain fact that's useful to you to know, and if anyone's familiar with the work of David Rock, really interesting insights into how the brain works in a social setting, we're very social animals. It's the same neural pathways that we use for physical pain and pleasure are activated when we experience a threatening or rewarding social interaction with somebody else.

So our brain is kind of geared in that same way to be highly aware of how we fit into the social group and any potential threats or rewards to that. So what are some factors that impact trust then? So things like knowing I belong to a group, all of these factors will drive reward responses in the brain and make us feel like we are in the in-group we're part of the tribe, if you like. The other benefit from a safety standpoint of being in this reward state is that the conscious part of our brain is better able to perceive risk 'cause we don't feel like we're in survival mode, just trying to fit in. So knowing I belong to a group, knowing what's the accepted behaviours, being treated with respect and fairness, feeling like I've got a choice or a say in how I go about the things I do or important decisions that impact me, and knowing what to expect, our brain loves predictability and certainty. We're still operating off a 60,000 year old piece of hardware that was always in survival mode.

So having a clear direction and a clear sense of what's coming is a great way to drive a reward response. Conversely, feeling rejected from the group, excluded, not part of the in-group can actually lead to a toxic work environment. Absolutely inconsistency with what's being said to what's being done. The huge learning for leaders is your people will always be watching as to whether or not the deeds match the words. So really important we are consistent. It's a huge way of driving a threat response in people when we don't. Any perceived unfairness, being given no opportunity to influence the choices or things that impact me and changing goalposts.

So if we're not given the why if we're not sure why this change is happening to us, we're probably less likely to engage well with it. The other challenge that we're up against in terms of safety leaders and the context that we operate in in 2021 is that there's a lot of change and change takes a significant amount of brain energy paying conscious attention. Using our conscious brain is very energy intensive. And as a result, we've got this brilliant subconscious that drives most of our day to day activities through learned behaviours and habits. So where we're asked to move away from those learned behaviours and habits and do something new, there's a natural resistance from our brain, which is always trying to conserve energy as a survival instinct, to try to continue doing things the way that we've always done them. But the brutal fact is change happens. It's going to be a reality of our days.

So how important then that leaders are effective in managing change and being able to engage reward responses in the brains of the people around them to help support that change. We'll share with you too, a model here, which explains a lot about why change is difficult in organisations and it's called the trans theoretical stages of change model. We just call it stages of change. It actually draws from addiction studies, but it has been applied in a range of other settings, sports, psychology, business. And what it suggests is for somebody to go through a change process, something maybe fundamental about what they do and they move through these five areas.

And we might start, for example, at a state of pre-contemplation. Pre-contemplation is essentially, hey, life's good, don't need to change, I like things the way that they are. As we said, this started with addiction study. So if I was a smoker, for example, and you came and I'm in a state of pre-contemplation, someone approached me and said, you know that's really bad for you, you probably should give it away. I'm likely to tell them where to go, I'm not interested in change. From pre-contemplation we can move to a state of contemplation, which is where I might start to actually consider change.

And often a lot of smokers, for example, will be in that state of contemplation and could spend many years there, which is like, I probably do need to give this away, but I'm not sure how, or I don't think I can. So contemplation is a state that we can move to once we've got a bit of new information or a driver, a reason for maybe thinking about change. From contemplation, we can move to preparation, which is where we need the tools, we need to know how.

So if I was a smoker, I might go talk to my GP, get some advice and make a plan about how I'm going to quit. And from there I can take action. And of course, anytime a smoker's gone to quit smoking, they succeed first time every time, of course not. So changing these long-held habits and behaviours takes maintenance. And this is often where organisations struggle is the having the support and the context in the workplace that's going to sustain a change in behaviour. And so, unfortunately, most organisations, when they want change, go to action. And the huge missed opportunity is many of their people will be still in pre-contemplation. They haven't considered change.

And as a result are probably likely to resist it. We tend to communicate in the what and how of what needs to be done and may not consider the why. So giving people a reason or identifying for themselves, what's in it for me, why should I get on board with this change or in the incidents so a safety leader, maybe what do we need to do things differently around safety?

So we're gonna share with you here then what are the leavers that a safety leader could use to help meet people where they're at. In that model, you're gonna have people who are at pre-contemplation. You're gonna have people who are maybe more on board, they're ready for action, they're there with you. And they want to build this more positive safety culture. And so there's four strategies out there that we can operate as a guide, we can operate as a coach an empowerer or an advocate. And it does sort of go across both the spectrum of safety, culture, maturity, but also the two axes of time and skill, trust, and wills. So you might be familiar with that kind of simple model, but suggesting that over time we developed skill, we developed capability and then also that trust and will increases accordingly.

And so across an organisation, safety culture maturity journey, you'll see different opportunities to take those different approaches. And then sort of surrounding all of it is the opportunity to be the advocate. And many safety leaders will see themselves in that advocate role that they're passionate, they do wanna see things improve. So what are some of the skills that go with that? Being the advocate means that consistent, active care, being passionate about it, listening to what a team needs, helping them get what they need, role modelling, expectations and behaviours consistently, promoting the organisation's goals, or even challenging them if we feel that they're not aligned with what good looks like, or even what the team needs. Being willingness to promote that up the line to a senior leadership.

And address challenges up and down the line. So being that kind of conduit for communication in the organisation. How can you do that? Some tips here, if you wanted to build your capability as the advocate in that sort of situational leadership approach ramp up your emotional intelligence. So be aware of that social brain context that people can very easily have their brains in a threat or reward response if they feel excluded or out of the group. So helping people feel engaged and in a more reward response is likely to help support that role of being an advocate. Ramping up your diplomacy skills.

So considering about how do I communicate. What's more likely to also get a reward response from my leaders, not just from my peers. Knowing the safety vision well and finding your pitch. Again, huge opportunity, most organisations don't have a well articulated safety vision, and we know that the brain loves certainty, we know the brain loves direction. Without a vision, we really don't know where the ship's going. And so being able to articulate that, and if there isn't a clear one at an organisational level, even just know your own pitch, you might've heard the idea of an elevator pitch. You've got 20 or 30 seconds in that elevator journey to tell someone why you do what you do. What's your pitch for safety as a safety leader? How do you convey that to people. And become a poster child for psychological safety.

So huge amounts of content written in the last couple of years around psychological safety. It's a real focus area for organisations at the moment. But by tapping into that emotional intelligence and the reward response in people's brains, you will help people feel more psychologically safe and able to contribute. We can also be a safety leader as a guide. So this is in lower maturities. You may need to be a bit more directive. You may need to sort of tell people a bit more about what good looks like. And there's some skills there that help articulate.

When we say guide, what do we mean? This is around the safety vision, role modelling, effective behaviour, supporting the team with their skills development. If you see there's gaps or that they've identified for themselves, how are you supporting them to develop that. Active listening, reward and recognition again, that hugely under appreciated and under utilised opportunity or competency. Promoting self reflection and addressing challenges and finding solutions, which means finding the time. So often the objection or the challenge we see with leaders in visible leadership in safety is being in field. People simply are too busy. Now we challenged that a little bit and said, it's not a question of time, it's a question of priorities, right? Where things are important, we will find the time. Help people join the dots.

They may not have made the connection say between what's in it for investing in safety, and perhaps that idea of going home to the things that are meaningful to me, they might've always seen safety as just a compliance thing to keep the boss happy. So joining the dots, giving people just enough rope, giving people some autonomy to go and maybe, not set them up for failure, set them up for success so that they're likely to do well with a challenge or a task and holding them to account as well. So setting standards around behaviour. we can also take the approach of being a coach.

So at higher levels of maturity where people are a little more open and likely to own that sort of compliance without having to be reminded as such. They're open then to being challenged, to think differently as well. So we can ask effective questions, encourage workers to discuss and resolve safety issues, suggest sources of inspiration to solve the safety challenge and provide ongoing feedback about safety decisions. So again, often underutilised is that feedback loop.

So where people have raised safety concerns and issues that they're being addressed effectively in the organisation. We can become a master of questions. So questions can be used to switch on the brain and engage people effectively. So coaches know how to ask a really really effective questions of their people. They can apply appreciative inquiry skills. So this is where leaders may have a tendency to tell. Appreciative inquiry is actually approaching the situation with, I may not be right. So taking a genuine interest in other people's perspective. Knowing what inspires your people, get to know those things that they wanna go home to at the end of each day, it's a great way to engage on a personal level and build psychological safety at the same time. Hold your ground and help people resolve their own challenges too.

And finally, there's the idea of the leader as the empowerer. So they can tailor the safety vision to target specific growth areas within the team. And this is at higher level of maturity where teams can operate fairly autonomously. They can strategically share info about safety on site to increase individual's sense of personal responsibility. Provide opportunities for the team to own it themselves and encourage them to reward and recognize each other. It's that peer recognition that can be quite powerful. So how can we do that? Become a master of effective recognition. Considered what are the things that get your attention.

Often we do recognition by exception. So when things go wrong, how powerful, if we were to start recognising when things go right. We can learn to foster collaboration. And we can also give over the keys to the car. So that willingness to not have to be in control as a leader, that we can actually provide opportunities for our people. So next steps, some questions for you to reflect on. What could you be doing to build a foundation based on trust with your team as a leader? What stages of change do you need to manage?

Recognising that everyone may not be at that action orientation. They might be just considering even what's in it for me. And how equipped are your leaders to guide coach, empower and manage up? Folks if you'd like to get in touch with me I'd welcome your feedback, any other thoughts, reflections that you've got in your experiences as leaders or safety leaders in your organisations, very welcome, my contact details are there. And love to have some Q and A with Chris. So we'll wrap up the presentation there.

Come over, Dom, join us in the Q and A area. And I did see, we had comments from far and wide, including one from Newcastle, viewer joined us in Newcastle. So we're not just in Queensland, we're going throughout Australia. I have one quick question, just from a generic point of view, and this is without notice.


We all have different levels of confidence in our leadership, and we all learn at various paces. How do you deal when you're dealing with a number of leaders who are at different stages of their leadership capability?

Yeah, that's a good question. So, 'cause do you mean in terms of, if I'm a leader and I have leaders with me.

You have leaders, you've got leaders underneath you who then need to lead their people, but they're all at different levels of leadership and confidence levels as well. It's not just about being equipped as a leader. You need to have confidence that you have that ability to lead 'cause a lot of us don't really know we're leaders. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, yeah, no, that's a really good point. I think it talks to the need for understanding where people are at. And by doing that, I would take an approach that kind of meets them and meets their needs. So there's no point for example, having a person who's fairly inexperienced and giving them full autonomy, 'cause you effectively may set them up for failure.

And so by taking, for example, at that lower experience, lower maturity, more of a guiding directive approach, you're helping people kind of see what good looks like so that they can develop skills for autonomy later.

'Cause the last thing you need is a one box fits all solution that we all get put into the one box, 'cause we're not in that one box really

Yeah, yeah, that's it. And I think, at the other end, the quickest way to disengage one of your really capable people is to be really micromanaging and directive with them. That'll just switch them off to the feeling that their brains got control over the choices that they make, so.

Now we've got a number of questions and a little bit of feedback coming through.

Right, throw it away.

If you do have a question you'd like to refer to Dom, remember go to the Q and A box that's on your screen and get to those, we'll get to as many as we can over the next few minutes, Dom. Question one is from Lisa, she says, hi, Dom, how would an organisation assess where they sat on your safety continuum?

Great, thanks Lisa, there's a range of ways. Formerly you can do it through a process of focus groups interviews and observations that we run as an organisation with clients. It's really the only way to understand kind of the underlying attitudes and beliefs of people in a culture is to talk to them. And so that's a methodology we use to benchmark organisational cultures on that maturity. We do have a simple tool that you can use for free on our website.

Again, it's not as rigorous, but it certainly give you an indication or a rough benchmark of what that looks like. And you may even want to ask your peers or some of the leaders in the organisation. It can prompt a really good discussion as to, oh, okay, well, if we feel like we're at private compliance, but we went and talked to our people and they actually say, oh no, we're squarely lower than that, or perhaps higher than that, it can offer really good perspective. I think that's one of the best aspects of a model like this is it offers insight to leaders about where's their areas of improvement.

We've had a few people ask questions along this line, any insights into converting the 24% of leadership to be safety visionaries to go to that next level.

Yeah, the vision part is really difficult. I think leaders just find it a challenge to articulate something in an inspiring way. Often they respond with something that's really wordy and we just need something that's quite bite size and articulates what does good look like, what do we wanna achieve in this organisation? So there isn't necessarily a one size fits all approach, but I'd encourage leaders rarely spend the time I think thinking about that stuff, especially at the top of the organisation. So often if they do have a vision, it doesn't have safety in it anywhere. And people, when you talk to them at a frontline level, can't tell you what that vision is.

So I think not only spending the time to get it right, get it concise, but then communicate it enough that everybody in the organisation knows it. And not only knows it, but sees value in it for themselves. So what does that mean for me? You know, it's great that you've got the poster on the wall that says zero harm, but how has that been brought to life for the way I go about doing my job, yeah.

Communication is key in a lot of areas. And I would imagine you need to communicate it concisely and to the point so that people understand it so that it's not gobbledygook and not too technical, and that you need various forms of communication. 'Cause again, one box doesn't fit all 'cause lots of people have different ways of communicating.

Yeah, yeah and I think it's a grossly underestimated need from leaders and organisations in general is communicate more. You've gotta say the message a lot of times and a lot of ways to connect with people, so.

Different versions of it, it could be emails, it could be, you know, a podcast, it could be anything, it could be a video conference, whatever it is, you need various forms to reinforce that message here.

Yeah, yeah. And leaders who can communicate it interpersonally clearly with people and understand it well and believe in it.

Ryan says, thanks, Dom, what approach is best to start with a group who are entrenched in a, we don't change a situation. We as humans, don't like change at all and we will resist at all costs.

Yeah, yeah that's a great question, Ryan. And I feel for you with that challenge. Fundamentally, I think questions are a really great starting point. If you wanna start influencing, people's thinking, asking really powerful and effective questions is a great way to start. Particularly consequential ones. So the kind of, what if type questions, and also that future state, so could we type questions that invite people to consider what different or better might look like?

Here is one and I've read this question so I know what's coming up. So I've got an advantage to you. This is about the changing of the guide. And, you know, we have different forms of leadership and management these days. Some quite often young people leading all the people who've been entrenched in an organisation for a long time.

Nick says, hi, Dom, how would you approach gaining that respect and safety leadership from your team as a young safety leader? All of a sudden, you're the safety leader, you're the youngest member of the crew, and now you've got to lead all these people who've been around for a long, long time.

Yep, it's a significant challenge. I think, there is an aging workforce in a lot of those trade and technical skilled roles. And as a young safety professional coming through, it could be really intimidating. I'll worry about getting sledged by the guys when I come out and try and do a safety discussion with the crew, for example. And so really I think what people tend to respond to is feeling understood.

So I'd recommend investing as much time as you can in the field with those roles, talking to them, asking them questions, trying to get to understand what they do. It's a sure fire way to build respect with people 'cause they feel understood.

So again, it's communication and it's a two way street.

Yeah, yeah it is.

'Cause quite often those experience, people got a lot of information, a lot of knowledge that you can also gain from.

Yeah, and I think it's the courage to do that often, that can seem really intimidating, but I'd recommend it as the best way that I've seen to build rapport and respect from those type roles is that you've taken the time to get to know what they do 'cause most of them are very experienced. So they'll have learnings to share with you.

Again, if you've got a question please into the Q and A box, keep them coming, we've got plenty more. This one Dom is from Andre. He says, hi, Dom, do you have any tips or approaches for gaining additional safety tools, funding, and resources for management?

Yep, I think again, questions is a really powerful one. There's a heap of great stuff online that again, it depends what we feel they're at in that change journey and what their drivers or motivators might be. So often, unfortunately you what can be effective with leaders is as like senior leaders is to show them some of like the legislative implications, even the industrial manslaughter is a bit of a heavy topic to bring forward, but it is unfortunately a driver, a lot of the time for engagement, with safety at a management or an executive level.

But as an individual, again, I'd just recommend to you lots of questions considering about ways that you might influence towards different ways of thinking. There's plenty of info out there online that can support you with that as well. Industry data, that sort of stuff that shows it might not have happened for us, but this is what's going on out there. And we need to take a risk based approach to prevention rather than, thinking it'll never happen to us.

Move on to our next question. And I say, thanks to Bridget and Jordan for joining us and everybody who's online for this very special event. And Bridget and Jordan asked a pretty important question, any ideas, examples of how to reward and recognize staff, doing a great job at safety. So they are really humming, it's working. How can you reward and recognize them?

Yeah, great question, Bridget and Jordan. There are formal recognition processes organisations can put in place. Often in industry it looks like a sausage sizzle or some sort of extrinsic reward like that or vouchers. That's great, but probably invite you to reflect on what gives you a sense of reward and recognition from your leaders?

Typically people underestimate the fact that it's simply just that time and attention with a leader. We described them as being tokens at Sentis. So the token is simply a recognition of acknowledgement. It could just be a pat on the back job well done. But also getting to know what motivates you. Some people will absolutely hate being a center of attention at a meeting and getting the certificate. Other people will absolutely love that, they thrive on it. So getting to know for their social brain, do they like reward in a public setting or a private setting and consider about, yeah, what are the kinds of things that are getting acknowledged? Because chances are people have experienced safety historically, as being, we hear about it, when things go wrong, what if we were recognizing a job well done when things go right.

So again, that's another part that you touched on about knowing your people so that if you've got Joe and Jack, Joe loves the recognition, so you can get him in front of the whole staff, be it a sausage sizzle or a safety talk, whatever it might be and give him recognition. And he is then honoured by his peers and recognized by his peers, which then that pumps him up a bit. But Jack he'd preferred just a handshake and a pat on the back and maybe, recognition in front of just his crew, his four man crew. So working out who's who in the zoo.

Exactly, it's just another example of the, have the investment in getting to build trust through getting to know your people and interpersonal relationships, can service that goal of say recognizing safety behaviours, 'cause the more we do that, the more likely people are to continue those behaviours.

All right, what would be a couple of ideal ways to engage upper leadership in the safety journey, both financially and role modelling?

Yeah again, I think that that question is probably a little bit similar to before. Depending on the maturity of that group, you may have to take some of the doom and gloom stuff to them that's gonna motivate their interest. A lot of at the executive level, senior management level, like they tend to take a risk-based approach to safety, and showing them that there is a risk to them or the organisation can be a motivator.

But another approach you might take is the more people centered one, which is, often organisations invest a lot of time and energy into the processes and systems, into the physical workplace, and that's how we do safety, invite them to consider about what are they doing for the people and the leaders, because fundamentally those practices and systems and the physical environmental controls are only as good as the people using them.

And if the culture is well, that stuff's just a waste of time, or it's just here to cover management's backside if something goes wrong. People aren't really gonna use them for what they're intended. So I think helping leaders become aware of what are we doing in those spaces. We do need to invest in people and leadership, just as much as we do our practices in the more traditional aspects of safety.

We've got a comment from Aaron who says role modelling is a real challenge. People follow what they see rather than what they read or hear. What's your thoughts on that, Dom?

I absolutely agree, I think one of the most interesting aspects of culture is we often write down in organisations what we believe the culture to be, and we induct people into it, but where do they actually learn the culture? They learn it from watching the people around them. And in particular, they learn it from watching what the leaders do. S

o how critical then that the leaders are role modelling those behaviours. And I think we mentioned in the presentation, the need for word and deed to match because often that's the really hard part for committing to safety in an organisation is the willingness to make business decisions that might have a financial implication in order to really honour what you say, your values are about safety, for example. So I'd continue asking questions that challenge that thinking and saying, well, we say that safety is one of our number one priorities, what are we actually doing that honours that, that principal?

All right, let's change tactic a little bit. How do organisations ensure leader consistency and accountability? We're all different in our leadership styles. There's no two ways about it. You've got the micro managers, you've got the draconians, you've got the soft touch, you've got all different kinds of leadership styles, but in the end, how are we accountable? You know, you might say, oh, well, I'm the laconic laid back leader and he's that guy or whatever. So how do we get build that into an organisation?

Yeah, it's a complicated question, but I think to provide just a foundational fundamental response to it. There isn't necessarily any challenge with having different leadership styles in an organisation provided that there's a clear alignment among that group to a particular goal or a particular set of agreed behaviours. And again, I think it speaks to that vision.

Vision can be a great way to kinda coalesce and align a leadership on an agreed way forward. Really recommend if any organisation wants to have safety as a focus consider what's the governance around that, what are the channels to drive accountability? And it absolutely must come from the most senior leaders in the organisation. And it can't be passive, it absolutely has to be active.

Now often again, yet executives are really busy, how are we gonna find time to be out there doing safety walks. It may not manifest in that way, but it absolutely does need the endorsement and support actively of the most senior leaders, I think. And that's how you drive accountability and a structure around that some sort of governance that does that I think is what's needed.

Thanks everyone for joining us, we're getting close to the end of our Q and A session. But keep them coming in. And Carol asks, is it important that safety leadership is actively rewarded via visible KPIs and management roles having demonstrated safety performance in their role descriptions?

Yeah, that's a good question, Carol. So I think in the journey of safety culture, maturity that we were describing before we said that at that lower level, it may be more of a directive sort of guide approach and at low maturity to get people into that way of thinking and behaving, it can be useful to use things like, KPIs or targets that people are trying to do. And often organisations thrive on competition and that sort of thing. So you can sort of gameify it, to some extent.

I think as we mature though, it becomes more discretionary because one of the challenges with KPIs we often find is let's say there's a KPI around doing a site visit or a safety walk once a month. What do we see the leaders all out there doing at the end of the month, trying to hit their KPI. And so you've never seen so many managers running around a job site, for example. So again, it can manifest in unhelpful ways. I think as you build that maturity and consider more transformational ways, you can move away from the more transactional ticket box, got to hit my KPI type thinking.

Some feedback, thanks, Dom from a Winnie and Harvey so very well done.

You're very welcome.

Thanks for joining us.

Thank you.

And a question from Andrew. Dom, you spoke about the leader as the advocate, the guide, the coach, the empowerer, Andrew would like to know which is your preference, does one work better than another.

No, it's a good question. I think again, it's situational. So getting to recognize where are the times and where people are at that each will suit better. For me, the exciting part is working in that high maturity empower stage, but it can be just as rewarding to help to give people real insights, like a change in their thinking. Often a lot of people have only ever thought of safety in terms of the carrot and stick kind of approach.

It's about getting in trouble when something goes wrong. What if safety was about something else? What if it was about me getting to keep enjoying the stuff that really brings meaning for my life that could totally change how I approach it and my motivation for safety. So operating in each of those different levels of maturity has its own rewards, I think, yeah.

Here's a curly one for you. How do you approach leaders that have a, my way or the high way approach?

That's a great question. We would describe, and this is drawing a little bit on transactional analysis, that style of approach as being parental, like an authoritarians parent it's my way or the high way. And often that style of leadership can invite childlike responses, as in, dad's gonna yell at me if I don't do the right thing. And so the response would suggest to that is to maintain an adult approach, which is recognise that we always have a choice in any given situation, that we do have a portion of responsibility in any given situation, and that we're open to learning and feedback. And so someone can behave in that my way or the high way, but it's not gonna dictate how I choose to respond, yeah.

Well, if you are confronted by that as a worker, do you have avenues to perhaps circumvent that person or is that seen as being insubordinate? Can you challenge that? Can you go to other managers? Should the pathway be open in a good organisation?

Yeah ideally, and again, each situation will be different, I think, remaining in control and using effective questions in response to that. So someone could be yelling and ranting and telling you what's what. You could take an approach of just asking, well, that's interesting you say that, can you help me understand where you're coming from?

Or my perspective is this, I was wondering how you've arrived at that. So just being open to learning and feedback and not maybe taking the rope they want, which is you to push back and then you end up in an argument.

Look, we've had a lot of thank you. So great work, Dom.

Yeah, very welcome, thanks.

We appreciate it. Carrie gives us one final piece of feedback. Carrie says this has been so informative, and have gained a lot from the session hearing about other perspectives and approaches. I'll give you some homework that you can give for us.


A lesson that we need to take. Give me three things that you'd like us to take home or to take back to our organisations today as we wrap up.

Great well, I think probably the key thing, I'm not even just focused on the one, which would be, yeah, often safety gets misconstrued, it becomes this compliance-based thing where it's about being seen to do the right thing, or often it's about blaming someone when an incident happens. And I think the fundamental shift we can make in organisations is for people to see safety as a vehicle for them getting to keep enjoying the things that are important in life.

When people are injured or killed at work, it's a statistic, it's a number, but it has huge impacts for the people in their lives. And it's often the thing that people think about after being in an incident. So the opportunity is all of those beautiful things around us to protect, the opportunities to think about them before we go about a task, before we take a shortcut, before we take a risk. And to challenge our leaders, to start talking about safety in that way, that it's not about protecting you from something it's about protecting you for something.

Thanks very much great food for thought, Dom. We will take that message back to our organisations. And to you for joining us, thank you very much, we appreciate it. What a great way to start our Safe Work month online series. Today's presentation recording will be available through the portal until the 20th of December, 2021. So keep an eye out for it in the next week or so.

Don't forget we have three more presentations as part of the online series. One from Dr. Sarah Pazell, where she explores, what are we doing in our working lives as leaders, colleagues, and designers to encourage diversity in her presentation designed for workplace diversity. And one from professor Sharon Parker that addresses the changes in work during COVID 19 and beyond. And I reckon that's a pretty relevant presentation for our working lives right at this point. If you haven't already registered for these and the other one, it's not too late, you can reserve your online seat by visiting our website for more information. That website is

While you're there, you can also access a full range of industry and topic specific video case studies, podcasts, speaker recordings, and webinars, and films to help you take action to improve your WHS and return to work outcomes. These resources are free to download and share. So I encourage you to share them with your staff and your networks. Thanks again for supporting Safe Work Month. And remember work safe, home safe. Have a great day everyone. And we'll leave you now with a word from our event sponsor No More Pain Ergonomics.

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