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Inspiring Safety Leadership in Frontline Supervisors: Part Two

- December 7, 2016 by Brian Piñon, CSP (View all posts by Brian)

In part-one of this blog series, I made the point that one cannot effectively manage a risk they do not understand. Once supervisors are made aware of the risk, they are in a better position to guide workers in changing their behavior and elevate the culture of safety within your organization. However, there is still one more obstacle to inspiring safety leadership from your frontline supervisors: Leaders will not lead unless they believe they personally can make an impact.

In this blog, I will address why, and how, your supervisors can have an impact on your culture of safety.

Accidents happen, right? How much influence and control do your supervisors really have? Studies indicate that upwards of 80% of workplace injuries are caused ultimately by unsafe behaviors. It then follows that the vast majority of occupational accidents are preventable – and that there is clearly an extraordinary opportunity to reduce injury rates by positively influencing employee behaviors. Do your supervisors know this?

As I mentioned in part-one of this blog series, due to their frequency of interaction with workers and the authority they have been given, there is no one else in a more strategic position to influence worker behaviors and drive culture change.

Leaders Need to Understand Not Only That They Are Capable of Having an Impact; They Must Also Understand HOW They Can Have an Impact.

I will now identify and review two key safety leadership activities that your front-line supervisors should be engaged in. Think about whether these below tools/opportunities are effectively being utilized by your supervisors. If you identify an area you would like to focus on, I would encourage you to use the linked resources to learn more and facilitate dialogue with your leadership team.


Great leaders primarily influence others by inspiring commitment to their vision. This vision must first be communicated and that’s what we call training. Too often safety training is used to merely disseminate information that most workers already know, which explains why most workers view safety training as boring. 

Safety training that truly impacts worker behaviors inspires them to see and feel, in a real way, why the training topic is important and encourages them to come up with their own personal reason for following safe work practices. If you want an in-depth discussion of how to apply this principle to your safety training program, with concrete examples, read a recent blog I wrote entitled “Training Techniques: Inspiring Commitment Rather than Compliance”.

Coaching and Recognition

While the ideal would be for workers to be personally committed to all safe work practices, the reality is that supervisors need to actively manage employee behaviors through coaching and recognition. If frontline supervisors are not expected to manage safety behaviors, they usually won’t. They typically already have plenty of production concerns to focus on – and who actually enjoys calling someone out on something they did wrong?

Is this a basic expectation for your supervisors? Is their job performance in this area evaluated in their annual review? Stay tuned to our blog for future posts about managing supervisor expectations.