Featured image depicting Ten cardinal rules for line managers

Ten cardinal rules for line managers

Many organizations have spent considerable time and effort developing ‘golden safety rules’ for their workforce to follow. But what about managers? What ‘rules’ do they apply to their own behaviors? What can employees expect from them?

By Mike Goddu  |  March 24, 2022

JMJ Managing Director – Major Capital Projects, Mike Goddu, outlines the ten cardinal safety rules every line manager who is looking to create an aligned organizational safety culture should consider adopting. This blog was originally published in May 2020 and updated in March 2022.

Many organizations have developed and implemented ‘cardinal rules’, ‘life-saving rules’ etc. for their workforce. These have been developed to focus workers’ attention on safety-critical activities and send a strong message that they are an imperative. But what about managers? What are the unequivocal standards that we follow and hold to? What can our workers count on us for?

The simple fact is, if we want to change worker behavior, we must lead by example. That means line managers need to create their own set of rules and live by them. With that in mind, there are 10 rules which I believe every line manager should consider adopting.

1. Learn your business

  • Understand the inherent hazards in your operation
  • Keep these dangers front of mind. Remember that safety is a declaration of readiness not an assumption based on past performance
  • Understand how work in your organization really takes place. Not as designed, engineered, or written in the procedure, not what the company or contract says it should be, but how your workers actually do their jobs

2. Spend as much time on safety as on cost and productivity

  • Allocate 80% of your ‘safety time’ to safety leadership and 20% to safety management. Do this before incidents occur. Stop the cycle of incident-react-incident-react

3. Develop authentic, trusting relationships

  • Build reputation and respect by listening to, and acting on, the feedback you receive
  • Encourage, don’t discourage. People who are confident speak up and perform better

4. Think about your message

  • When you visit the shop floor or field and talk about cost, schedule, and productivity, your workers hear, “Hurry up!”

5. Take time out to think  

  • When the pressures of cost, productivity or schedule threaten to cloud your judgement and shape the action or inaction of others you sometimes need to ‘take five’
  • Ask for help and feedback, especially when you’re under pressure or feeling uncertain
  • Practice self-awareness, self-regulation, and question your background assumptions. You, like all of us, are biased 

6. Don’t outsource safety leadership and responsibility 

  • Don’t subcontract your safety leadership, expand it. Increase your responsibility from early in the operations or project process to the end
  • Expand your awareness and responsibility from your direct areas of accountability and control to broad spheres of influence 
  • In most operating and construction environments, contractors are doing the majority of the work. Don’t let the contractual limits of liability with those companies define your responsibility for safe operations, or your responsibility for the people working in service of your company 

7. Stop blaming people

  • You’ll be surprised at the vastly different outcomes and solutions that arise from shifting your focus from blame to learning
  • People are not a problem to be fixed, especially when they make a mistake or get hurt
  • Ask, ‘How did this happen?’ not ‘Why?”
  • Challenge yourself and others to discover the organizational and background causes for the accident that go beyond behavior 
  • Accept that zero incidents isn’t possible. Look for organizational gaps and latent conditions, then fix those. Perfection isn’t the goal, learning is 

8. Ensure injured workers receive first-class care and personal follow up

  • If an injury does happen, manage the care as if the injured worker is a member of your family, not for the benefit of your lagging safety stats 
  • Look after everyone around the injured worker, including supervisors, coworkers and colleagues

9. Actively pursue your own personal safety leadership journey

  • Understand your own goals. What kind of a leader do you want to be? What are you really committed to? Your response will define how you go about leading safety
  • Learn to speak with conviction, and even passion, about safety. Make it tangible by communicating stories and analogies
  • Be committed to your company’s tenets and mission but don’t default to ideology or dogma. Keep it real

10. Make safety an enabler, not a barrier to achieving higher levels of quality and productivity

  • Safety makes for good business. Challenge yourself and your managers to demonstrate it in ROI e.g., reduced direct and indirect costs of incidents, reduced bureaucracy of your HSE function, reduced turnover
  • Lead safety for all the right reasons. Use it to transform and lead your organization to excellence in operations

This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure many of you have your own ‘cardinal rules’ to add to it. If you do, or if you disagree with some of my suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me.

In my follow-up to this article, I discuss ‘why a ‘rules first’ approach isn’t the solution to creating a caring, thoughtful safety culture’.

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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