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Today we are in conversation with Brie DeLisi, Associate Partner with Propulo. Safety Leaders know that Leadership Matters to drive the right Safety Outcomes. In a must listen to episode, Brie helps make that statement real. She demonstrates through her research what Owning It means for safety and how it translates into tangible outcomes. If someone needs convincing on the importance of investing in your leaders, listen in!
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Brie DeLisi, she is our associate partner with human performance and business transformation, with years’ worth of experience around safety, safety, culture. She’s done a lot of incredibly powerful work with a lot of different organizations to assess, understand their safety cultures and drive meaningful impact across them. And I’m really excited today because we’re going to talk about a really important topic, which is really around the critical role of senior leaders and how they could drive effective impact in terms of a strong culture.
So, Brie, welcome to the show.
Hello. Thank you for having me.
Excellent. So first, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got started in this career and some of the goals and experiences that you really had that got you to where you are now.
Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s kind of funny. When I originally picked this field, it was because I had a very strong desire of making. I wanted to help people and I wanted it to be sort of scientifically based. And it was a little bit tricky figuring that out. You know, did I want to go in the direction of the medical field? Did I did I want to go into some of the sciences? And I ended up landing on occupational safety because it felt like such a tangible way to help improve people’s lives.
Yeah. And then it was kind of funny because as I progressed into my you know, I studied occupational safety and health initially, and then I went into the aerospace industry to actually practice occupational safety. And something that I found out pretty quickly was that I was not going to be able to make the impact that I wanted to from a health and safety perspective, because I kind of realized that just as a safety professional, I’m not the one that’s really influencing employees on how to work safely.
I realized pretty quickly that it was the leadership that influenced safety the most and how I could go about influencing that. So that was kind of a turning point in my career for me.
That’s amazing. So, tell me a little bit about that and what kind of triggered that thinking, because I completely agree leaders have such an important impact, how they show up, how they speak about safety, whether they’re part of the conversation or the delegate that has such a significant impact. Tell me a little bit about how you got to that realization was the AHA for you.
So, the AHA really came about when I was, I was actually working with two facilities and noticed that one of them, the one that I worked with, you know the most unfortunately was had terrible safety performance. And I was looking at the other facilities sort of, you know, an hour down the road from us that had much better safety performance. And I just couldn’t understand, you know, we all worked for the same company. Why? And we and we had to follow the same requirements.
Why was there such a difference? And it really started to dawn on me when I was taking, I was actually getting my MBA at the time and I was taking a course in later habits. And I started looking at the leader habits between my facility general manager and the general manager. And for both facilities, this was the senior leadership, the manager, the general manager at the other facility as well. They had completely different leadership styles. So, I decided to take it upon myself to do a little bit of a study between the two facilities.
And tell me about that. What did you find when you started peeling the onion behind the two?
So, the process that I took was I had to be a little bit discreet about it because obviously one of them was at my site and it was the poorer performer when it comes to safety requirements. So, I had to be a little bit discreet. But what I did was I looked at a number of items. I took a look at, you know, I had the opportunity to see, you know, my gym’s schedule, how she worked throughout her day.
And I was also quite close with a lot of folks that were on her leadership team, so. They would give me insights as well, and then and what I did was actually pulled artifacts from both locations, so I pulled people, offered up their performance evaluations for me to review. I had the opportunity to look at sort of the leadership practices on both sides. I also looked at some of the inspections there, their audit performance, and then also, of course, their injury rates.
And I did also have the pleasure of being able to interview the senior leader at the higher performing location. She was very gracious in allowing me to sit down and talk to her for two hours about what she. Implemented from a safety perspective and how she emphasized it, and I had some really interesting findings as a result of this study.
And so, tell me more. I’d love to hear those findings. This is really exciting themes for somebody who is passionate about safety. Should be no surprise behind it. But the problem is often it doesn’t get quantified, right?
Yeah, absolutely. So, part of it was I had sort of my qualitative and quantitative sides of this. So, I’ll start off with the qualitative side. So first off, I started looking at sort of leadership practices. And one thing that I found on the for our poorer safety performance facility are our GM there. She would arrive at 7:00 a.m. when the field shift started at 6:00 a.m. So, she was coming in an hour after main operations had already started.
Another thing that I noticed was that she only had staff meetings about once a week and there was no expectation from those staff meetings that those discussions be carried out with the rest of the employees as well. So, it was a very sort of isolated event. Interesting. She didn’t go out into the facility that much. And also, some feedback that I had gotten from employees was that people would be, you know, breaking safety rules right in front of her and she wouldn’t do anything.
She didn’t say anything at all. So that was sort of the one thing that I felt kind of from the leader habit side for her. And then on the flip side, at the higher performing location, that general manager started her day at five thirty in the morning and the field started at six 30. So, she was there an hour before and the main shift started. And what she said was there was an expectation that all of the other all of her leadership team was to be there at five, 30 as well.
And she began every day with a 30-minute staff meeting. And in that staff meeting, they would discuss everything from safety to operations to finance to whatever perhaps quality was included in their just what were the high priority items. And then there was an expectation that that information then flows out to the operations for their start of shift meetings at six thirty. So, it was this continuous flow of communications from the senior leader down through the field. And with that, she also was very engaged with safety.
So, whenever she went out onto the shop floor, she would make a point to talk to employees about safety feedback that I had gotten from their health and safety managers that they had at that location and said that she was the one that was driving a lot of safety conversations with operations. It wasn’t the responsibility of safety to have those conversations. He viewed it as the responsibility of leadership. So those were kind of the quality or the qualitative sides there of sort of how they as leaders showed up differently.
I think this is phenomenal. I think the start of shift, meaning it’s talked about so often in terms of safety, in terms of operational performance, it just shows up in terms of that that element, the transparency, the showing up part. Was there something between the two leaders? And I don’t know if you actually looked at this in terms of that triggered why safety was so critical for her?
Yes. So, this was actually quite interesting at this higher performing site when she had started in as GM, the most alarming metrics to her. And this was in comparison to the rest of the company, to be perfectly honest, their safety performance was terrible. It was actually worse than the site that I was working at the time when she first started as GM. And there was a change also in operations where at that time the head medical staff at that location started reporting to her as well, because they lost that that middle management.
And it was coming to light to her that they had a whole bunch of gaps in their safety systems, in their emphasis on safety. And she had a really good understanding of also honestly what it was costing the facility. So, there is the human side of it that she totally respected. But she also had firsthand views as to how much these injuries were impacting the company, both from a financial and a personal perspective. And on the flip side, at the at the poorer performing location.
You know, she had been in that role for 20 years at that point, and it was kind of, you know, at the at the beginning of those 20 years, you know, safety was not the highest priority. OSHA was kind of at that point, it was definitely requirements for OSHA. Compliance was good enough. Injury rates didn’t matter quite that much, and there was just no motivation for her to change.
Wasn’t it? So, it was not something that she was passionate about that really resonated, it sounds like, versus for the other leader. This was something that was very personal, which is consistent. I’ve definitely seen that all great safety leaders I’ve seen there’s always a very strong personal motivation for safety. It’s not some metric, it’s not a piece of paper. It’s something tangible. It’s about people making sure that you’re not harming them, that you’re returning them back to their families in the same shape or better than when they came in the morning.
Yes. Yes, definitely. And then also on the flip, so that was the qualitative side on the quantitative side. This is what I found very interesting as well, was I actually got access to performance evaluations for the leadership teams, for both of these GMs. And then I also had access to their calendars. So, I got to see how they actually scheduled out their weeks. And a couple of very interesting findings came in. So first off, for their time personally at the poor performing location, the average amount of time that she spent with any touching safety whatsoever, whether it was in meetings, reviewing metrics, having meetings with the health and safety manager, all that came out to about four hours per week now at the higher safety performing site that GM spent 15 hours per week touching safety in some way or another, whether it was in her staff meetings and safety would always come up in her staff meetings.
It was always in that sort of shift, meeting those 30 minutes every single day. And then she would also block out time on her calendar every single day to walk the floor and talk other toys about safety, among other things. But safety was always a pressure conversation. So, she was spending 11 hours more per week focusing on safety. And then on top of that, there was the expectations of their leadership teams. What were their what were they holding their leadership team?
So, I got to I got to look through some of some folk’s performance evaluations. And at the poor performing site, they had four items listed on the on their performance evaluations, and it was weighted at five percent of their entire performance evaluation. All safety items were only six percent. And those items were incredibly vague, like reduce injury rates and follow safety requirements. There were no tangibles there. It was very vague, whereas at the higher performing site, they had 16 items for safety on their performance evaluations and the safety items were weighted at 20 percent of their performance evaluation.
So that meant she there was an emphasis, 20 percent of their performance evaluation. They had to perform for safety and it included specific tasks like conducting inspections, corrective action, completion time, completing safety projects. It was very tangible and accessible for these managers and supervisors to know what the expectations were of them and that would matter for their bonus that they were going to get. And also, it was fabulous that it was tied to mostly more of the proactive and leading indicator types of behaviors.
It wasn’t focused on just reducing injuries.
I love both of these data points four times more, almost four times more time spent talking about safety, leading for safety. That’s huge. I have for four years I’ve been telling leaders, just build a pie chart and say whatever your number one priority is. If you if you keep saying it’s safety, the safety actually represents the biggest chunk of time when you spent or is spending more time on financial is more time in in meetings, on other topics because people notice it.
If you’re spending fifteen hours in a week, people say she’s serious about safety. It’s important to them and therefore maybe it should be important to me. Same thing with you with the weights in terms of that. The importance. Five percent is like, whether I do this or not is not that important, 20 percent is starting to get my attention. I need to do something. And you’re guiding what that looks like. Love it. This is this is phenomenal stuff.
Yeah, absolutely. And after so looking at all of this data and looking at the differences, I’d also like to share what their actual injury rates. Sure. It was. So, they had at this poor performing location at the time of this study their total recordable incident rate or their trial was two point four. So that means two point four recordable injuries for every hundred employees. And over the course of the two years, so it was from 2012 to 2014, they experienced the fifty three percent reduction in recordable injuries, which I will say is quite commendable.
That is sure. That is a great it’s a lot of people would love that.
Yes, yes. At the higher performing location, they experienced an eighty six percent drop in their total recordable incident rate. And that meant at the time that I had talked to them, they had a zero point five try R, which was totally different circumstance. Yeah, completely different. And I will say the two years at the beginning of those two years in 2012, the R who we call now our high performer, they were twice as bad as the location that I was that I was working at.
And they managed to turn everything around in a matter of two years. And it really, really was quite impressive.
This is phenomenal, and I think you’ve really captured so many of the key variables in terms of how leaders not just show up, it’s not rocket science to improve safety. It’s where you show up, what you do, what messages you send. So can you can in your words, what would be the major takeaways from the work, the study that you did here and exactly the same company, same environment. So, in theory, you should have the same culture, but so, so different, right?
Yes. And what I really got out of this was two major learning. So, the first one is that the emphasis that a leader puts on safety will directly correlate to a reduction in injuries and are very important about how that emphasis is placed. So, if it’s a, you know, yelling at people saying reduce your injuries, that’s going to get you very different results. But when you put an emphasis on let’s be proactive, let’s have conversations, let’s make this a learning that’s going to directly influence your injury rates.
So, if you’re if you’re an organization that’s looking to lower your injury rates, you know, take that that proactive and. Almost excited approach to it. I don’t I don’t quite know how to phrase that. I think she was she was happy about it. She was passionate about it and made it very clear to her employees that this was something she genuinely cared about for them. So that was my first learning. The second learning is that, you know, both of them in theory had this had the same management systems.
But the way that you use your management systems, those effective management system practices are crucial. As a leader, you need to be specific about your expectations of your management team and your supervisors. What exactly is it that you want them to do? We don’t want to just say reduce injury rates and follow safety requirements. We want to ask them how are you going to show up as a leader and prove that safety is important to your teams.
And with that, you know, how much time am I spending in my personal day? If safety is such a priority to me, how much time am I spending out in the field? So, we’ve got we’ve got these fabulous management systems out there, but they are only as good as the effort that you put into them and the clarity that you put into them.
I love it. And I think this this element that the tangibility of is showing up. Obviously, we’ve got to show up the right way. Like you said, I need to show active care and things of that nature and make such a difference. And yet this is a choice that day in and day out. I keep emphasizing with leaders and it’s probably the hardest thing to really get in is like show up consistently, own your safety own in terms of the expectations, make it real.
Show to other people that the safety matters to you, right?
Yes, absolutely. And you need to own it as much, if not more, than what you want your employees to own it. They are they’re only going to match what you are role modeling to them. IT leaders don’t understand that sometimes the influence that they have, they are the number one influencer on how their organization performs. And that doesn’t just include safety. That includes quality. That includes your operational performance, your finances. Everything falls under that.
I couldn’t agree more. Fantastic story, fantastic research, data points. You’ve shared the criticality of the role of the leader and can only ask everybody to really start thinking and having a personal reflection. We’re coming into the New Year. It’s time to the New Year’s resolution. This is the time to start thinking of my showing up the right way. Am I spending and misspending the amount of time that I need to spend showing that safety matters day in and day out? Or is it something I’m fluffing off to somebody else? I’m only doing the bare minimum. This was almost four times more time spent on safety, and I’m willing to bet that her performance overall was probably even better, not just from a safety standpoint, but across all the other metrics.
You know, I would be willing I don’t have the data in front of me, but I am willing to bet that you are probably right on that.
Brie, thank you so much for sharing a story. I think it’s a very, very powerful story. And thank you for all the good work that you’re doing to help organizations improve their culture, help leaders realize how they can make a difference. It’s you’re fighting a good fight. Thank you.
Well, thank you so much for having me. It was wonderful having this conversation.
Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Brie is an expert in Occupational Safety and Health, specializing in client safety culture assessments and transformation. She has many years of experience in the Aerospace industry, working for United Technologies Corporation and Lockheed Martin with roles ranging from direct front-line technical support to corporate headquarters program management. Her occupational safety technical experience includes risk assessment, root cause analysis, injury reduction project management, compliance audits, training and program development. Brie holds a B.S. in Occupational Safety and Health from the University of Connecticut and an MBA in Management from Indiana University.