Featured image depicting Developing a safety and leadership culture in major capital projects

Developing a safety and leadership culture in major capital projects

JMJ interviewed David Wilson, a leader in the energy industry about the impact a safe and productive culture has on workers’ health and well-being.

By JMJ  |  December 4, 2021

JMJ spoke to Dave Wilson, Liquefaction Operations Supervisor for Freeport LNG (USA), about how fostering a safe and productive culture impacts workers’ morale and mental health.

JMJ: Tell us a bit about your work history and how you came to the conclusions you want to share today.

DW: Working for energy companies worldwide, I’ve had the opportunity to build a wealth of knowledge across the operating aspect of facilities. The different leaders, and leadership styles I have encountered inspired me to delve deeper into the area of leadership and sustainability.

JMJ: Given your international experience, I’m excited to hear more about the cultural differences you’ve noticed.

DW: What fuels my passion to study leadership and sustainability is the great, diverse, leadership I’ve seen in different cultures. For example, when I worked in Qatar the facility had 64 different nationalities, I saw a lot of best practices from different cultures being applied, which was really intriguing.

JMJ: Why is it important for companies, particularly energy companies, to focus on developing and sustaining a safe and productive culture?

DW: A company must produce or perish, but pressure to operate with high outputs under stringent environmental and safety laws present new challenges. Companies need to find different ways to produce safely, productively and efficiently to minimize their environmental impact because if regulators don’t like the way you’re producing, they can shut you down until you fix the problems. Gone are the days when you can release gas into the atmosphere or restart a big machine that shut down. There’s more to it now. Companies must hold personnel and process safety above all else, including productivity.

JMJ: What impact does it have on workers’ morale and mental health when leadership focus on developing/sustaining a safe, productive culture?

DW: Nowadays, employers realize their scarcest commodity is human talent. Companies look to retain that talent by listening to, training, and developing employees, and paying attention to their mental and physical well-being.

In the energy industry, work schedules can be punishing. Companies have to work with their employees to find out what schedule they want and design something that gives them the best opportunity to be successful at work. For morale, the organization can give employees a voice, actively listen to their concerns/suggestions, and act on them. This kind of two-way communication makes employees feel they’re part of something bigger and worth more than ‘ just a job’.

JMJ: Let’s talk about organizational values and how they impact the operations culture.

DW: Values are ethical guidelines and principles that guide internal conduct and interaction with the external world. They are basically a reflection of the company’s personality. The main values companies focus on these days are:

Integrity, teamwork, safety, health and environment, operational excellence, and corporate citizenship.

In every company I’ve worked at, teamwork is paramount. Diverse departments all have to work together to make the company successful. I’ve seen new jobs and startups of facilities where subject matter experts from each department are brought in to have their say say on how the job is going to be done. Once the decision is made, they go back to their respective teams and explain it. That kind of communication is a way for a company to create a safe and productive culture.

JMJ: how do organizational leadership, values and structure either positively or negatively affect the culture?

Leadership affects culture from the top down. If leaders work on creating a strong culture within their organization, they will reap the benefits in terms of morale. If they ignore it and think it’s something they don’t need to work on, they will see the negative effects. It’s important we understand what leadership is and that isn’t just a position or title; it’s a responsibility. While management deals with the status quo, leadership deals with change and with all the technological advances and innovations the energy sector is facing, leaders must become skilled at creating ways to inspire people.

JMJ: Based on your experience, what actions can a company take to shift its culture and promote a safer, more productive environment?

DW: The things I would recommend are:

  1. Get the right leaders in place and develop a succession plan that continues in the direction you want to follow, people who relate to others in your department, and create a structure to move them up.
  • Develop strong core values and live by them from the top down.
  • Constantly evaluate the structure of the organization and how each team and part relates to the other as the company evolves.
  • Recruit and retain talent. Develop people, train them, listen to them and reward them. This is a great way to maintain morale.
  • Give back to the community. Develop strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) and help the community you are involved in. People want to be part of something bigger than them, it’s not just about a paycheck.

JMJ: Do you think this phenomenon of people wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves is new or has it always been the case?

DW: I think it’s always been the case but it’s getting bigger as the environmental aspects of energy businesses make the headlines. Having good CSR lets us educate people about our facilities, emissions, controls, and the stringent rules we go through. This puts people at ease.

JMJ you’re saying companies are taking CSR to heart because it has a direct impact on their profitability.

DW: Absolutely. Reputation speaks volumes for companies, especially energy companies that are in the spotlight about climate change, climate control and emissions. It helps to have a good name in your community and to be seen as someone that cares about these issues.

JMJ: I’m sure this helps to attract the best talent. Are there more actions you think companies should focus on?

DW: The last thing I think is setting up strong systems for safety. The biggest thing we can promote to our employees is the importance of protecting people, environment, assets, and reputation (PEAR). This sets up a good safety culture within the organization.

JMJ: That’s so true. At JMJ, we truly believe safety is the foundation of any values system. Do you have any final advice for company leaders?

From a leadership standpoint, listen to your people. They are going to let you know whether your department is thriving or failing. Listen with open ears and don’t take things to heart. It isn’t personal, it’s about the business and the sustainability of how you run it.

JMJ: That’s a really important message David, thank you for sharing your insights with us today.

About JMJ

For over three decades, JMJ has been delivering impactful cultural change to help executives, leaders and front-line workers transform safety, sustainability, and business performance. We combine the deep experience of our people with our proprietary Transformation Cloud platform to deliver breakthrough results, making the impossible possible. www.jmj.com

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