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Scoring a Touchdown with Safety Culture with Dr. Josh Williams

Scoring a Touchdown with Safety Culture



“Improving safety culture is vital to long-term performance excellence.” We are very excited to have Dr. Josh Williams join us on the podcast this week to dive into how to bolster safety culture as he shares his insights into the five core competencies of safety leadership. Forward thinking leaders must continually consider ways to enhance safety culture. Explore ways to improve the effectiveness of your safe culture by visiting to complete the safety culture self-assessment uniquely created by Dr. Josh.


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 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 extremely excited to have with me Dr. Josh Williams, who’s probably one of our favorite guests on the podcast. He’s a great resource in terms of safety culture, safety leadership, and observation programs do a lot of work in this space. Josh, welcome to the show once again. 

Thanks, glad to be here. 

So, tell me a little bit again about your background and how you got interested and passionate about safety leadership, safety culture, the behavioral side of safety, and so forth. 

When I was in grad school, I was getting a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, and honestly Eric, I was kind of bummed out. It just felt very theoretical. There’s a lot of statistical stuff. It was good, but it didn’t feel practical. And I had the chance to work with a guy named Scott Galler, whom many of the listeners may know was at the forefront of safety culture and behavior-based safety. He and a guy named Tom Kraus, formerly of BBS, really started behavior-based safety or at least popularized it. And it was great because we were doing real stuff with real people and I just immediately enjoyed it and the mission of two things, one, trying to keep people out of harm’s way, but also getting leaders to listen to folks a little more when making decisions. It just felt right. It felt like we were fighting a good fight and I’ve been doing it, I guess for 25-something years now.

Welcome back to the show. So, let’s start a little bit by talking about safety culture, why it matters, and you’ve authored a great quiz on safety culture. We’re going to talk about some of the themes within it that allow listeners to reflect, to see how they’re doing around safety culture and whether should they go deeper in terms of understanding how to drive improvements. But let’s start first in terms of why safety culture matter. 

Culture is everything. It really is. I’m going to struggle with a sports analogy here. I’m not a huge Alabama fan or a Nick Saban fan necessarily, but you’ve got to respect what he’s established. That Alabama. He comes in and just completely turned around a proud team that had fallen on hard times for many years. They were cycling through different coaches. He came in and it was an immediate turnaround and it stuck. I was watching the game a couple of years ago and I’ll make this as quick as I can, but I was just kind of flipping through channels and I see the score. Alabama beat New Mexico State 62 to ten. 


And they’re doing a press conference and Nick Saban is irate and he’s kind of containers anyway, but they’re asking him questions and he’s not happy. Why aren’t you happy, Nick? These are his quotes I went through and kind of went back and forth and wrote down almost verbatim. But these were his comments. We didn’t play up to our high standards for large parts of the game. We didn’t get better this week compared to last week. And when you don’t get better, you start developing bad habits and bad habits lead to problems down the road, especially against better opponents. And then his final comment was you’ve got to play to your own high standard every day. And that stuck with me because you know as well as I do, a lot of times we get called in because you have a rash of injuries and all we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to fix it. And people get so tied into these injury numbers and injury rates. The flip side is sometimes you could be doing really good on the injury numbers, but complacency is setting in. The normalized deviation is setting in. We haven’t seen it yet because nobody’s gotten hurt.

But the point I’m trying to make is playing to your own standard, having a culture of excellence in everything you do, doesn’t mean you’re perfect, and it doesn’t mean things aren’t going to go wrong. But you play to your standards and not some number, whether it went up or down last month, last quarter, this, that, or the other. So, I hope that makes sense to the listeners. It’s just that safety is part of who we are and how we operate, and we want to establish that culture of excellence it takes effort, it takes vision, it takes looking in the mirror. Safety culture assessments are big in large part because it gives people an opportunity to see where I am good. Where am I not so good? What’s the plan to get better? 

I think that’s a really important element and really getting a good view, talking to people about what was happening. What are the themes, how do we address them it, and how do we drive improvements? So, tell me about some of the themes in the quiz that you authored because I think it’s a good tool for listeners to have a quick scan to say how’s my culture? Not doing an assessment, just doing a quick scan self-reflection in terms of where I could get better. 

Yes, a lot of its own leadership, having that ownership mindset at the leadership level, it’s not EHS’s job, it’s everybody’s job but mine as a leader. I’m setting the tone for everybody. Active participation from employees. He talks about employee engagement. That’s the big buzzword. What’s this big mystery? It’s not that much of a mystery. Listen to your people, be responsive, and then advertise improvements based on their feedback. That’s how you get involved. It’s not some secret. It just takes effort and energy. Learning culture with close call reporting, making sure incident analysis is system-focused and not blame-oriented. And then other things like making sure rules make sense, they’re practical, having the right tools and equipment, et cetera. But leadership is really, in my mind, where a lot of it starts. And if I can just let me go through a couple of things really quick here. In terms of leadership competencies, we did a bunch of research looking at what are good predictors of effective leadership. And in terms of safety leadership, five core competencies come through. I’ll go through each R1 quickly. 


The first one is active caring. And of course, my mentor, Scott Gellard, used the term active carrying many years ago in reference to something that happened at ExxonMobil. People in a room, we’re asking questions. Why aren’t we doing X, Y, and Z ah? Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Then he started talking about it, that people care, but they weren’t doing something about it. So active caring is not just being a good guy or a good person. Active caring is going out and doing something. Quick example, I was working at a steel mill, not at an I was consulting for a company that was a steel mill, and they had an awful plan. Manager, old school, crack the whip, scare people off, rule by fear. It was a mess, and they fired them, which was a smart move. They bring in this new guy named Bob. And Bob’s, the first order of business is to set up meetings with everybody in this facility, and everybody is unhappy. 30 minutes. Meetings called 30 minutes with Bob. And not a sexy name for the meeting, but it got everybody in there, and he just asked people, what do you need? What can we do? 

And it was an immediate change in tone and immediate change in culture because this guy comes in and says, I want to hear from you. How can we get better? And so active caring is having the right intentions but doing something about it. Walking to talk, of course, is setting the right example and making sure you’re doing what you say you’re doing. So, for leaders, it’s being out in the field, listening to people, talking to people. Something as simple as wearing your PPE. I’ve seen that too. We’re going to do a couple of stories here. But we were at a facility, and this is 20 years ago. I’m dating myself, but we’re working with this company, and they are struggling. I mean, they can’t even get PPE. People are fighting over hearing protection glasses. So, we’re making some progress. And then they interviewed the CEO who was talking to Morley Safer. It was a big show, like 20 2016 minutes. One of those, anyway, he’s in the middle of operations with four trucks flying around talking about profits and how they were successful financially with no PPE on zero during operations. And we’re like, oh my God, that was it.

All the progress excuses me, with PPE out the window immediately. So, walking the talk is not just having nice corporate messaging. It’s doing what you say you’re going to do. Here’s another example in terms of leadership and listening to your people and how you’re treating them. I’m in a big facility that creates these small little bearings for vehicles. I think I didn’t remember now, but this is again, many years ago, and they had a guy who cuts his head open, and they’re doing an incident investigation, and the plant manager is in there and he asked the guy, why didn’t you have your hard hat on? That’s a requirement. And the guy says to him, I thought I did. I had my baseball cap on it. I followed my heart hat and is telling the story. And the plan manager stops the, quote, investigates, goes on a PA system and says literally to everybody, attention all employees. Baseball caps are no longer allowed in the building. You have ten minutes to return all baseball caps to your vehicles, and effective immediately, they’re no longer allowed in the building.


Anyway, people are like, what’s going on? They go to their cars and trucks and whatever, throw their caps and come back in. They’re not happy. They’re grumbling about it. And anyway, so the next day they come in, and most people, and of course not wearing their caps, but one little section of this big building, this big factory, they kind of did a mini revolt. They came in, no baseball caps, but they had on cowboy hats. One guy had a football, one guy had an authentic Mexican. Sombrero from Tijuana, the little tassels come down and they’re their jobs doing their work. And it was their way of saying, this isn’t right. And the point manager was smart, and he kind of pumped the brakes on that and they had some discussions and made some changes. But it kind of goes to show you people don’t like being told what to do. And oftentimes you have an injury and all of a sudden, what do you do? Okay, we’re going to retrain the employee. We’re going to throw a new rule out there. Then all of a sudden, you got 61 million rules. So, I think you got to be careful with how we handle that. 

Again, watch the knee-jerk reactions. Listen to your people, and just be smart about implementing new things and building and living. The vision is the next one. So, you’ve got a vision, you share that vision. People feel that vision. It’s legitimate, it’s real, it’s authentic. Recognition is another part of it. Number four is reward and foster growth. When we provide appreciation and sincere recognition, two things happen. One, I’m more likely to do it next time. That’s why we give our kids allowances. It’s like, you did good, here’s a financial reward. Now the reward and recognition don’t have to be money appreciation. I think the default recognition is not a program, although it can be good. Default recognition is just appreciation. People working hard under difficult circumstances, they got a lot going on in their personal lives. There’s a lot of stuff happening when you see people going beyond the call of duty, in particular for safety, mentoring a newer employee, etc. E. A little pad on the background again, goes a long way. People appreciate being appreciated. So, the last one is driving thinking and speaking. People that are on the job, doing the job know what’s going on. 

And if we listen to what they’re saying, it doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything they recommend. But people understand what’s going on and we’ve got to drive that ground-level engagement and participation to be successful. Another quick example is Eric. The same steel mill I mentioned earlier had a problem lockout tag out. They called it lockout tag out tryout. And the challenge was people weren’t doing it. And in a steel mill, if you’re not locking something out, you can get hurt or killed in that area. It’s dangerous. So the supervisor is like, okay, well, we’re going to if we don’t, they start threatening people. One of the employees had a suggestion to get a team together and talk about the issue. Just, let’s just take a step back. And when they did, they found where you were locked out was not in the appropriate place. The rules for lockout tag out were convoluted and hard to understand different opinions on how to do it. By simply getting together, they shortened the process of how it was done. They made everything closer to the person to make it easier to save time because they had ridiculous production pressure. 

But the solution was made from an employee’s suggestion to change the system. Don’t just come down with a heavier hammer. So, driving thinking and speaking is a big part of getting that engagement and improving the overall safety culture. 

It makes a lot of sense, and a lot of focus in terms of leadership as a key lever to drive improvements in culture. What are some of the other things? Leadership obviously really is the key lever to drive change around safety culture. But in some cases, culture can be also a legacy. Could be something that comes from the past. 20 years ago, a CEO did X and it’s still in the present memory and it’s still shaping the behaviors, the choices, and the attitudes of people.

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety, and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us at 

100%. And the first thing I’ll say is the system. So, if you want to look at it holistically. Big picture. If you’re trying to get more predictable results with your incident rates, it doesn’t fluctuate out of control. If you want to get more control over that and also improve sift prevention, three things to look at are one mindset, and attitudes. Number two, your behavior, what people are looking for. Number three is the system. And for many years, particularly in the house Ion days of BBS, the system was taking a backseat. And if we don’t focus on the system, we have problems. So, systems are things like when things go wrong, our first response should be, where did the system fail? Don’t blame somebody. Where did the system fail? It could be excessive time pressure. It could be we don’t have enough people for this job. It could be we don’t have the right tools and equipment readily available to do it. It could be we got a bunch of boring online training. When I first hired on, I don’t remember any of it, and now I’m throwing the wolves out there. Those system factors are big, and I think organizational leaders are well served to focus on tightening up those systems as a close call, reporting behavior-based safety. 

These are systems and when the systems are running smoothly and we’re getting ongoing communication up and down the organization, everything else works better. And by the way, it’s easier for leaders to hold people accountable. We talk about positive accountability. You don’t want to be heavy-handed, but you also can go too far the other way and let everything slide. And when your standards drop, the injuries pop up too. My point on that is, as a leader, if I know my systems are tight and most people are doing the right thing, when you have outliers that are repeatedly not doing the right thing or doing egregious things, it’s easier to punish, quite frankly, because we understand we’ve got our system. It’s not the system that’s the challenge. We’ve got that figured out. So, I think system factors are a big, big part of it, I would say on the other side too. On the behavior side, we know from National Safety Council 9 that 5% of all injuries do in part to add risk behavior. That doesn’t mean blaming people now, but it just means risky actions. You’re increasing the probability of something going wrong, basically. And if we can minimize risky behavior, that can be done in a lot of ways.

One, engage people more behavior-based safety. I just mentioned we did a study with NIOS many years ago. Picture this, Eric, me and a bunch of other grad students are going into this environment doing training with these guys, looking at us like, who are you, youngsters? We’re going and doing this training with two different groups and they’re not either one is really happy, but we do our training, and then we implement a behavior-based safety process. So, you’ve got if you’re familiar with behavior-based safety, folks, the cards, you’ve got various things like proper tools and equipment, body position, things like that. Anyway, one group was given a card and said, go use it. The other group, we work with them to create their own card, how it was going to be used when it was going to be used, and where it was going to be used. That group that had their own card that they created themselves, we call it the ownership group used their card seven times more.

Seven times more. 

We were shocked. If we had gotten double, we would have fallen out of our seats seven times more. Said very clearly, employee engagement matters. And I think people want to get more involved, and they want to speak up with each other more too. On one of the surveys, they used to use years ago, one of the questions is, should you tell somebody if they’re being risky? 90% of people are saying, yeah, you should tell them. The next question on the survey is, do you, do it? And it was like 660-something percent.


So, to me, that’s an eye-opener. I want to get involved, but our culture is macho. You do your thing; I do my thing. Don’t tell me how to do my job, all that nonsense. So, we want to do it, and sometimes we’re reluctant to speak up. So, I think part of that learning culture we talked about too, is making it acceptable and normal to speak up with each other. It doesn’t have to be a supervisor or safety when they see something that doesn’t quite feel right. So, there are just a couple of thoughts there. Make sure we don’t get focused on one thing. Focus on attitudes and behaviors and the system.

I love that safety culture is something that’s widely discussed and accepted. How do you measure it? The right way.

The wrong way is to give somebody 150 items, as a survey, and everybody goes to fill it out. That’s the wrong way. Surveys are good, but they’re a good tool. But they’re only one tool out of many. So of course, when we do our assessments, we focus on talking to people and interviewing people, whether it’s in groups, whether it’s one on one. But we’ve got questions that we’re asking on important things like learning culture and leadership, things like that. But people will tell you, and we use a survey to supplement that. But that gives us an overall picture. When we do it. We’ve got our maturity model, and it goes from disengaged a citizen, and there are various steps in between, but it shows you where you are, where is your starting point, and what’s your baseline. Because if you’re trying to get better, you got to know where you stand. And those assessments do a good job of that, and it also affects what you can do. So if your maturity is low, you don’t want to be trying to shoot the moon, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. You need the basic foundational stuff to try to get better. If you’re further along, you’re more advanced.

You can start doing things like human performance, or we call it Bhop, behavioral safety, and human performance. Those kinds of things are more achievable if you’re further along the road. So those assessments are really good. The other thing I’ll say on that too, and I’ve seen this with other organizations that kind of do what we do is sometimes that’s the end of it. Here’s your 1165-page report. Enjoy it. Also, if you have any questions, we’re here for you. And that’s it. Of course, we do. Planning all that information you get, all that is ammunition for your plan, like, what are we going to do? And that’s where you get groups together. We recommend getting hourly folks involved, field folks involved, and union folks involved. We’ve got a union at some levels, and we plan it out. All right, so this is good. Got to keep doing that. This is not good. Got to get better. What are we going to do? And line it all out. And sometimes, as you know, we’ll do five-year plans with it. It could be simple, it could be complicated, but what are we going to do?

What are the three, or four big things we got to get done? Who is going to do it? When are we going to do it? Where do we need to help? What potential resistance is there? And by lining everything out, very specifically, going back to Nick Savin. He didn’t roll into College Station to play Texas A and M winging it. Let’s see what works here. They’ve got the plan, and they’ve got contingency plans if plan A is not working. So, part of the preparation for getting better is to understand where you’re at and get a smart strategic plan.

Moving forward, a couple of things just come to mind based on what you just shared. So, one for me is it’s not a safety culture assessment if you don’t have a combination of surveys with interviews and focus groups kicking the tires in terms of how the work gets done at a site level, and then finally, also looking at artifact reviews, looking at how is a culture shaped by system items. Any thoughts on that? Because to me, that’s the part is a lot of people do one part of this and think it’s a safety culture assessment, but it’s only by looking at all those three elements can you really assess the culture. In my mind, 100% a part of it.

That too is talking to executives. Sometimes there’s a heavy focus on field employees, which is good. We’ll do system assessments with executives like we’ll do artifact reviews. You say close-call reporting is good. Show us what you’re doing. I don’t mean that to be challenging. But sometimes reality and perceptions aren’t always the same. So, I think speaking more to executives and getting some tangibles in terms of stuff that you’re doing also gives you a more complete picture.

Okay. The other part that drives me bonkers when we’re talking about surveys is an obsession with benchmarking. I want to compare myself with everybody else in my industry, and I get that, for example, in employee engagement surveys. But because of the nature of surveys in safety culture, I’m not saying there’s no value in it, but my challenge is too often I’ve seen a company that has lower maturity from a safety culture standpoint, have higher scores and a really good maybe have lower scores because as you get better, you start becoming more self-critical. And if you know very little about what you could look like or should look like, you might look very positive.

Yeah, I’m with you. I mean, I think benchmarking is a nice thing to have, but people take way too much faith in that. As I said, I’ve seen the same thing. Some awful organization, they get a bunch of vests and they’re like, oh my god, they care about us. You should have had vests 15 years ago, man. It can be misleading. And sometimes the really, really good organizations are more critical because they have the mindset of excellence, and they may raise themselves lower than they really are. So, I get your point there. I think it’s nice to have, but I’m more interested, frankly, in various iterations of the survey. Like five years ago we were here, two years ago we were here. And I think that’s something that’s smart too for companies. It’s not a one-and-done deal. You do an assessment, see how much you’ve progressed, do another one, two, or three years later. It doesn’t have to be as intent. It can be on a smaller scale, but that to me is more interesting. And also, comparisons between groups, whether, for instance, managers are telling us this, employees are telling us something different, and the scores on the survey may be quite different sometimes the higher you go anyway, so that’s one issue. 

And also, different groups. Maintenance is saying this, operations are saying that. And so the scores are interesting when they’re different, but also the comments from the interviews in the focus groups. So again, I think the best benchmarking is within your own organization, and also from the time one to time two to time three.

And I think the points you bring up there I think are important because it’s looking at even between-group differences. You have an overall culture, but you could have a microculture within a particular environment. We had somebody on the podcast that had a serious injury, and he came from an organization that had, by all accounts, a fairly, fairly mature safety culture. But in his specific area, there were a lot of challenges from a leadership standpoint, and people showed up in a very, very different, noncongruent way from the rest of the organization. So, understanding those differences, as you said, I think is incredibly important. The other element is longitudinally understanding how we’re shifting. I love pulse surveys as an indicator of how we’re making progress, even with higher frequency. So, as you’re driving improvements to check or is it landing with employees, are we actually seeing the impact? If I’m doing leadership training, am I feeling my leader showing up in a different way?

100% and that’s hard. I can add more really quick here too, in terms of how our leaders show up. Executive coaching, I think, is a big one. And just from experience, when we’re able to get into higher levels of the organization and talk to people, at the executive level, it’s different and it doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but that sets the tone. And again, I think sometimes with assessments, in particular, we miss the mark as we only talk to the EHS director, which is a very important position, but there are a lot of things that are also happening at the C-suite level that we need to address. So, I think executive coaching, when it’s paired with assessment-type work, is really good because you’ve got a strategic plan, and you need help from the top to get there. I don’t care who you are. So that’s something I think to consider as well.

And it also relates back to your story when you’re talking about Bob, who came into me, is when a new leader comes in and needs to show change, it’s very important to have a good strategy around what signals are you going to share. Because we talked about how culture can be based on something that happened 20 years ago in the organization that’s still in the present memory. So how does a leader come in and send some very intentional signals to show things have changed? I am going to show up differently or we’re going to show up differently.


So, great place to start. I love your quiz. so that’s a website. No gimmicks, no catches, completely anonymous. It just allows you to ask a couple of questions, 15 questions in total. To give you a bit of a sense in terms of where you’re at, should you consider some improvements, what are some of the areas of focus? So it’s definitely not a safety culture assessment, it’s just a personal self-reflection to see how my organization is doing. So, I encourage people to go and visit their website, try it out, and get a few simple insights. And Josh, I’m sure they can always reach out to you if they want to have more conversations about, what does it mean, how do I make improvements, and how do I know where I’m at?

100% and I’ll give you more sports analogies.

So, Josh, thank you so much for joining us. Once again, I really appreciate you sharing yours. Wisdom around safety leadership, safety culture, and again, recommend anybody to go to the website No gimmicks. Just a good self-reflection quiz to say how am I doing? You’ll find links as well to all sorts of other quizzes that Josh has authored that help you look at different facets of safety culture, safety leadership, learning organizations, and so forth to see how you’re doing. So once again, thank you so much, Josh, for joining me today.

My pleasure. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.

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Dr. Josh Williams is a partner at Propulo Consulting. For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert. Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 150 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

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Taking your Safety to the Next Level: Integrating BBS and Human Performance with Dr. Josh Williams

Episode 30 - Taking your Safety to the Next Level: Integrating BBS and Human Performance with Dr. Josh Williams



Behavior-based safety, human performance, cognitive psychology… It can be overwhelming to consider so many competing safety approaches. On this week’s episode, Dr. Josh Williams returns to advocate for a well-rounded approach to safety. Josh shares practical HP tools for learning from workers’ first-hand experience and taking a proactive approach to preventing SIFs. Don’t scramble to improve your organization’s safety once it’s too late!


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, 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 welcome back to our show Dr Josh Williams. Dr Josh Williams is a recognized thought leader in safety and safety culture. He’s a winner of the Cambridge Setter First Place National Prize for Behavioral Science, well over 20 years working with organizations in helping them improve their safety, build strategies around safety culture and assess how they’re doing. Amazing to have you back on the show. Josh, you’re also with Propulo Consulting as a partner and an incredible thought leader in this space.

So, Josh, why don’t we start out with a quick introduction. I know you’ve shared this story a little bit before in terms of how you got into the safety space and what captured your passion around it.

Well, I appreciate that, Eric. Thank you. And apologies to the listeners. I’ve got a little allergy attack happening here, so hopefully I don’t sound too awful. But I was in grad school getting a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, and I was a bit frustrated. It was very pie in the sky. Theoretical. I don’t mean that disparagingly for food or the research, but, you know, I want to real stuff. I wanted to get out in the world and do things.

And I was lucky enough to meet up with Dr. Scott Geller, who I think is in my mind is the fountainhead really for safety culture in the space. And he was doing really cool stuff going, you know, above ground mines, going to manufacturing facilities and doing stuff. And it was really fun. It was interesting. And I felt like I was making a difference. So that was kind of my introduction to the safety side. I had not even thought about safety as I kind of got into to grad school, but we were doing a lot of a lot of neat things.

And so, once I finished up, I signed on with this group and worked with them for a bit. So, it was it was really it was really interesting to feel like you’re doing things to not only improve culture and communication and leadership, but hopefully keeping bad things from happening to good people. So that’s kind of where it all started many years ago.

He said, well, we’re obviously talking today about how you keep those bad things away from happening today. Specifically, we’re talking about two concepts, human performance, and this other theme, which is been really an integration of themes around behavior-based safety and human performance. You’ve authored two quizzes. So one is that human performance leader dot com. So, it’s a quiz on how are you doing for a human performance standpoint in some ways and tactics to drive forward, as well as a Microsoft assessment that’s available on

Let’s start first in terms of understanding why we need to talk about a human performance, so we know 90 percent or so of incidents, occurrences of a safety infraction happen because of some form of at-risk behavior, a behavior. B, safety has had huge leaps of impact in terms of it. But tell me about some of the missing pieces and why human performance needs to be part of the equation.

Yeah, and let’s start by giving behavioral safety its do. Look, this has been around for decades. Injury rates have dropped twenty eight percent over the last ten years. Part of that is due to behavioral safety in my mind. Look, the National Safety Council had that estimate. I think you mentioned 90 percent of all injuries are due in part to at risk behavior. And it’s a numbers game. It’s a probability game. Well, you know, it’s like going to Vegas if you’re there for an hour.

That’s one thing. If you’re there for two weeks, odds are you’re going to lose money. It’s just probabilities that Gabriel Sapience in part is founded on. If we can be safer, more often, we’re reducing the probability of incidents, as Tiger Woods just got in his third car wreck. I mean, there’s some risky behaviors happening, so. Right. So, the challenge, though, Eric, to your point, is that, quote, 90 percent of all injuries are due in part to risk behavior.

That in part piece is important. That’s from the national scene. So, I think it’s higher than 90 percent. They have to be in part pieces. Systems matter. We are a function. Behaviors are a function of environmental contingencies, which is just an academic way of saying we operate differently depending on the system we’re in. And give me a moment to Randy Moss for you. Sports fans out there was all in all kinds of trouble and all kinds of legal issues.

For years and years and years with the Vikings and with the Raiders, who were a highly dysfunctional organization at the time, this guy spent his entire career in and out of trouble until he gets traded to the Patriots. I’m not a Patriots fan, but they have tight systems. They’re a championship organization. And. All right. From Randy Moss is a model citizen, literally doing all these things for the community. I mean, maybe he had a midlife epiphany or maybe he got into a better system and turn things around.

Now he’s on Fox News or Fox Sports or whatever as an analyst. But this guy, same person in a different system. Right? He was totally differently. The system matters and I think too long on the behavioral side. We got into these quotas and these checklists, and these did you do your cards thing and forgot the big picture, which is fixed systems to influence behavior. So that’s why the system matters. And I’ll just say two quick things on human performance and the rise of human performance and the integration of that with behaviors and mindsets.

First, fix the system. Second, quit blaming people when things go wrong. And then really, I think the HP side has been really good for safety and I think it’s helping a lot of people stay safe.

That’s excellent. But human performance is not a new thing. I remember when I started the airline industry many, many moons ago, this was a common topic of conversation. Can you tell me a little bit about the history behind it and some of the themes that drove this re-emergence? Because now we’re talking about a lot in the safety space?

Well, I mean, they were talking about with fighter pilots in World War two, you know, how do you change the cockpit to set it up to reduce air in stressful situations? I mean, the I industrial psychologists like myself many years ago talked about leadership in selecting leaders and training leaders, but they also talked about setting up the planes so that you don’t unintentionally do something bad. So, this has been around for a century. And there’s been various iterations, as you know, and certainly it was a big part of part of this many years ago.

And there have been other folks that have focused on the human performance side. But there’s been a re-emergence in my mind over the last maybe five years. And I think part of it is we’ve got a little sideways on the behavioral side and didn’t always do it right. So, I think I think the bottom line, Eric, for me is that concern I have now, frankly, on the side is there’s a lot of theory and just quit blaming people saying I’m all in theory, but it’s also getting segmented.

When I first started out, cognitive psychology was the thing and there were all these cognitive consultants talking about ownership and personal things, reflection, and those, but that sort of gave way to the behavioral people who were saying, look, we’re talking about your feelings, let’s do stuff. And you’ve got the human performance, people saying we’re talking about behavior because you’re blaming people, just fix the system. And the truth is, all those things matter if we’re not talking about you can a feeling that affects what I’m doing.

And if we don’t talk about systems, we’re just we’re missing a big piece of it. If we don’t talk about behavior, we’re missing a big piece of it. So that’s why what we call BEHA, which is kind of behavioral safety and human performance with some cognitive elements, too. That’s why it’s important if we don’t look at all three of these, you’re just incomplete in your efforts to get better. So, I think we need to be looking at all three of those.

I think a really good point, because it shouldn’t be a battle of philosophies and it shouldn’t be one thing or another. It should really be an element of how do we battle injuries, how do we battle safety, how do we make a tangible difference around it? And I agree with you, all these things matter. The mindset you have around your level of safety, ownership matters, the behaviors and how you shift those behaviors matter and the system hugely important overall.

So, tell me about some of the basic tenants that bishop or human performance bring to the table.

I think the main one, there’s a bunch. And again, if you go to some of those quizzes, there’s more information there you can take a look at. But the main one, I think, is we are human beings, and we make mistakes, whatever that whoever their years go to areas, it’s just so true. And the first point in my mind is, is we are efficiency machines. Human beings are efficient. We look for the easiest, fastest, most comfortable, most convenient way to do things.

That’s why I mean, why do you speed on the highway? Why does McDonald’s exist? Because fast food gives me food. And so, we’ve got to understand that. That’s so that’s part of the quit beating people up over stuff. Look, you put yourself out in the field somewhere where it’s 100 degrees, there’s six million things going on. Your production schedules are ridiculous. You don’t have enough people. And then you start telling me, be mindful of my behavior because I sprained my ankle.

Are you kidding me? So, we just have a little need, a little more sensitivity. First, we’re naturally inclined to be risky. And second, the system encourages it. And that’s where that’s where I think we sort of missed the boat there for a bit. I mean, time, pressure, insufficient training. We’re doing all this computer-based training. But look, I need hands on training. I need job specific training to what I’m doing.

But we’re throwing some computer thing at me that’s not helping. We don’t have enough people. Sometimes the conditions are difficult. You know, procedures may not make sense. You’ve got some blanket policy you slapped on there because somebody got hurt. But that doesn’t really apply. The excuse me, the biggest picture really is getting input from people doing the work. And that’s through close calls. That’s through other safety suggestions, through other means. We’ve got to and we’ll talk about some tools, hopefully, if we have time.

But the system is encouraging, and human nature is encouraging. And so, we really have to take a step back and look at how do we improve our systems, how do we improve our added our mindsets, how do we improve our leadership? How do we improve our behaviors? Because that’s really when you start seeing serious. There are two things there. I think, one, you’re going to see a better stability and performance where you don’t have this.

That’s a huge yes. Although we had five record bills last month, we had done six straight months of it. Yeah, because your systems aren’t very good or the scarier thing, which is that if potential all of a sudden there’s an explosion like BP where, you know what, eleven people or fourteen people get killed in a blink of an eye. They had given a safety award the day before, but they had lots of things lined up wrong at the same time.

The Challenger explosion, another one. So be careful because sometimes we have a false sense of security because our systems are poor and then all of a sudden something really bad happens. It kills a bunch of people.

Yeah, I think it’s a really good point. You brought up this theme around Tool’s. I think there’s a lot of people that are talking about human performance from a from a branding standpoint, but they’re not talking about how you actually go out and do something with it. What are some of the tools that you can leverage? Can you maybe share some of the ideas around what can somebody who buys into this element or in human performance do?

This seems to be a cultural component. And then there’s a tool-based component. Let’s maybe touch first on the on the tools and then we can talk about how leaders can start shifting as well, their approach to drive some of the cultural elements.

Yeah, right. And keep in mind, Deming said this years ago, don’t blame people for problems created by the system. So, when we started trying to fix the system, getting a. Input from people that are on the job doing the job is our first order of business, or at least one of the first. So, a couple of tools first tool will start at the top. First of all, listening tours where you’ve got executives, you’ve got senior leaders spending more time out in the field actually talking to people and not look, some leaders are great at doing that.

They’ve got a good feel for what’s going on out in the field that talk to me. They have a good relationship and that’s wonderful. And look, these people are busy. There’s a lot going on. They got a lot of things on their plate. But carving out time to go out in the field and talk to people is smart business. It’s good for you. It’s good for everything. So, one tool, I’ll call it listening tours where we have a little guide and it’s not coming down as a leader saying you’re doing this right, you’re doing this wrong.

You need to do A, B, C and D, it’s really asking questions. What’s going on out here? What are you struggling with? Help me understand what you’re doing. It’s about listening. It’s about being curious about what people are doing. It’s about asking how they’re doing on and off the job. And we provide a little guy with four or five things just to kind of reminder. But it’s just getting people getting leaders out in the field and better understanding what’s going on and trying to establish relationships.

The second tool, I’m going to call it a space, a pure check. And this is unlike a behavioral safety card where you’re you know; you’re checking a bunch of things. Hard to get know this, that yes. No, this card. And there’s no quotas with it. There’s no names on it all. It has questions like, what do you need to do this job safer? What scares you about the job? How could somebody get hurt?

What do you need? What would you do if you been doing these twenty-five years? What would you do differently on this job to keep you and other people send them to questions? And if we’re in, the nice thing is we’re having better conversations with people because we’re asking them questions. And on the back end, we’re getting information we can use to make things better, because if we find people are telling us, you know, we have a scaffolding issue over here, well, good, we can go fix it.

And if we do a good job of responding to concerns, fixing things and advertising improvements, it’s better for safety and it’s better for culture because all of a sudden people realize they care and they’re doing stuff. So those would be the first to learn.

If I can add on the on this on this last one you just shared is to me, this is also an element of I don’t necessarily know, quote unquote the truth, that there may be a safer way that I haven’t thought. And I’m pushing, thinking, and pushing critical decision making at the frontline level to reimagine how could we do this better as opposed to cabbing, pontificating about I know how to do it. I’ve got my checklist and it’s either yes or no, but there’s no alternative.

Better way to do it.

Absolutely, well said, absolutely.

So, you’re going to add a third one and I cut you off there.

Well, learning teams is the big one where you get a group of folks and they go out and, you know, like a pre incident analysis, borrowing that from talking on you, different language. But the idea is instead of just reacting once an incident occurred and trying to be more system focused and focusing on potential serious injury and fatality potential down the road, send people out before an incident occurs to see where something could go wrong here. So, learning teams are going out, appear to stay safe.

Your check is generally for a particular job. Somebody is doing a learning team. You’ve got to pull is going out, walking around, doing a tour and saying, you know what’s going on. And they’re asking questions. They’re talking to people they’re making notes of. And there’s some really good ideas. I mean, there’s so many creative ideas out there about restructuring the work and the flow of the work. I mean, there are smart people out there, and if we talk to them and give them some voice and power, they have some great ideas for better, safer, more productive ways to do the work so they can be more productive, make more money.

Everybody’s happy. So, giving power to those learning teams is that there’s a bunch of three-way communication time outs. There’s a laundry list, but those three in particular I like.

And so, what for from a leadership standpoint needs to change. Where do you start from that leadership standpoint to make impact the whole burning platform thing? And, you know, it is big. And I’d be curious to get your thoughts on this, too, Eric, but to me, the primary understanding from leaders needs to be the need for change. I’ll say what I said earlier, but you are not going to get stabilized performance. You’re not going to have predictability because everyone’s so focused on trial.

Are rates going up this month? They went down last month. And it’s going up and down and up and down. And I don’t know why. And all of a sudden, we had a flurry of incidents. So, you’re going to get more stability and performance, less deviation around the mean, whatever those rates are, because there’s stability, there’s predictability by tightening up systems, we get more predictability. Second one is the potential reduction, because look, I mean, we you and I both for many, many years have seen these really bad things happen where all of a sudden, a serious injury happens.

I’ve got way too many stories of talking to people that have been involved in incidents or safety leaders that have to make those phone calls to people’s homes when somebody dies on the job. I mean, it’s sudden, it happens quick, and it catches everybody off guard. And then all of a sudden everyone scrambles and tries to make improvements. We need to reinforce with leaders, do it on the front end before that really bad thing happens, because those dangers are out there and some of these places we work, there are so many things I can get you seriously in a hurry.

So, the burning platform is the issue with leaders like, look, you got to understand, making money is good and the safer we are, the more money we’re going to make anyway. I mean, this is not this and we’re dragging along. It’s embedded in who we are and how we operate. If we really like Paul O’Neill did all those years ago to improve safety, he came in, revolutionized how safety was looked. It’s part of the character.

It’s not something we do. And lo and behold, profits soared. Now, there are some things he did. I might do a bit different, but he’s for or for sure came in with. Safety is part of who we are. And we are not just doing this as a slogan. So, I think understanding it, feeling it, that personal ownership is there and creating that burning platform for leaders is step one. And then we start talking about tools and other things.

Yeah, I think that makes sense. I think there’s this whole element of our own philosophy has quit blaming your employees that that needs to be thought through shared with leaders for there to be some real sizable impact because it’s a different way of showing up. I think it makes a ton of sense. But there is a there’s a difference there. So, a lot of the debate I here is because a lot of people are dogmatic about everybody’s safety or about human performance or like you talked about cognitive psychology, applied to safety.

Do you need to say, let’s go do this thing or do we just suddenly start infusing the thinking, the philosophy and not necessarily even branded?

So, there’s an interesting question, and I would argue that sometimes we do too much flavor of the month where there’s something there’s a bunch of fanfare and then something else comes along. So, my hope is that human performance elements are embedded naturally with an incident analysis for sure. I mean, we need to do a much better job of looking at system factors, contributing to incidents and also what are the potential for future incidents. So that’s close call reporting. Same thing, other mechanisms for getting employee concerns and safety suggestions that stuff should be happening naturally.

So, you don’t need to buy a widget called Human Performance. Yeah, having said that. I think some I think the training and education and tools are useful and what we do when we go in and work with folks, for instance, someone who’s got a behavioral program, but it’s turned into a quota system or something. We don’t abandon behavior-based safety altogether. Bihar, where we update the car to have more open-ended questions, to generate better conversations.

So, we you know, to me, we embed some of the human performance elements and systems that are already there. We’re dovetailing we’re not scrapping something and creating something. Sure. So, I think it depends on the depends on what you need with what the organization needs. Sometimes a human performance implementation is smart or a big limitation of smart. Sometimes we’re just tweaking what you’ve already got.

And I like your approach around Bishoff in terms of really integrating the behavior-based safety elements that work well have been proven to drive down injuries with some of the elements of human performance in terms of truly making an impact. And I think that also needs to be augmented by some leadership capabilities and leadership thinking in terms of evolving how we approach safety. A great place to get some ideas around it. Just a quick self-assessment that that you’ve created at a human performance leader Dotcom.

So human performance leader dotcom free self-assessment doesn’t capture anything personal about you, just for you to self-reflect in terms of how you’re doing, how your organization is doing around it, plus that the mini self-assessment that you’ve created at under the self-assessment pages. So, Josh, really appreciate your thinking on this. I think it’s just such an important topic. I think it’s really the future around safety is bringing a lot of these capabilities together to the table.

When you share a lot of the stories, it reminds me of so many things that even the quality movement have been talking about. There are so many similarities around it, just different names. But fundamentally, it’s the same core principles around how I go do listening tours or Gemba walks. I speak to people, have an open mind to think that that maybe there’s a safer, better, higher quality way to get it done. And those who are closest to the work are most likely to want to do more.

And it’s a proven way to tap into people’s discretionary effort. So, Josh, any closing thoughts on the topic of human performance and this integration between mindset, behavior and most importantly as well, adding the system because all of these things interact with each other, they’re not in isolation?

Yeah, I guess my final thought, you know, leaders have a tough job, whether it’s a supervisor or a higher-level leader. It’s there’s so much going on. And with covid hitting and people scrambling there and worries at home with kids and all this stuff, I mean, look, everyone’s scrambling. And my final thought would be if we can infuse some of these HP elements and do a better job of getting and using feedback from people doing the work, the benefits everybody makes, it makes life easier for those leaders and it certainly makes life better for our employees.

So, it’s to me, it’s a helpful way, which is good not just for safety, but for everything.

Well, thank you so much, Josh. Always a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you for taking the time to come back and share some thoughts and insights around human performance. Really encourage people to start thinking about how I can include some of these principles, these ideas into my safety program. It’s been proven if you look at performance in the airline industry, you look at performance in the in the nuclear industry where these capabilities are deep, deep, deep, embedded.

It’s a proven tool kit, the looking at the system, as is demonstrated to drive results. Thank you, Josh.

Well, thank you, Eric. I appreciate it.

Thank you.

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 team. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

Please read more in Josh’s related blog about Human Performance (HP):

Please read more in Josh’s related blog about Behaviour Based Safety (BBS):

Take the following self-assessment to gauge the current effectiveness of your Human Performance efforts:

Take the following mini-assessment to gauge the current effectiveness of your Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) process:

Additional online Self-Assessments are available at

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Dr. Josh Williams is a Partner with Propulo Consulting, a global management consulting firm delivering significant and sustainable improvements in organizational performance. For over 20 years Josh has partnered with clients around the world to drive increased discretionary effort and improved strategic execution. He’s the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.



New Year Special Episode – SAFETY’S TOP 21 FOR ‘21



Happy New Year from The Safety Guru! Are you ready to charge up your Safety strategy for 2021? Listen in to a special, must listen episode: our top 21 predictions for safety in 2021 with Eric Michrowski and Dr Josh Williams. We identified our Top 21 predictions on what to look out for in Safety in 2021. Our list is based on emerging themes in all our interactions with senior leaders.


Safety’s Top 21 for 2021 1. Mergers and Acquisitions: As the pace of mergers and acquisitions is likely to pick up in 2021, there will be increased attention on integrating Safety Cultures and conducting Safety Culture due diligence, something that isn’t sufficiently front row center today. Doing this well on the front end will help prevent unforeseen cultural challenges for years following the M&A. 2. SIFs and SIF Potential: When you track macro data you can see the significant progress that has been made in reducing injuries over the past 10 years and unfortunately the insufficient progress around SIFs. More and more organizations are starting to realize that actions to reduce SIFs and Potential SIFs are often different. Based on our leadership interactions, we think that 2021 will see more attention being placed in reducing SIFs and Potential SIFs. 3. BeHop – Combining the Best of Behavioral Safety and Human Performance (HOP): Rather than finding ways of integrating new ideas, organizations too often abandon what was working before. That’s the case with Behavioral Safety and HOP – we’ve seen some great ways to integrate the best of both worlds to increase impact and we are seeing more organizations trying to integrate the best of both worlds. For example, instead of checking hardhats, observations can be focused on checking themes such as “are you OK?”, “what would help you do the job better?” and focusing more on the conversation, not the cards. 4. Virtual & Flex Work: Whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay in some shape. Based on a lot of current research, employers who don’t embrace it could face significant retention risks. This shift brings a lot of positive opportunities when properly embraced. Safety teams need to think about how to better adapt to this new reality – from observations, to conversations and personalization of messages. 5. Mental Health: Particularly with COVID-19, studies have shown a significant increase in the rates of depression and anxiety, particularly for those 30 and younger. People are feeling isolated and alone. So mental health is becoming a more common area of focus for safety teams. Both the mental and physical side of safety are so critical going into 2021. 6. Digitization: You can’t turn a page in the newspaper without reading about new apps, tools, technology, robotics… This brings a lot of new opportunities for safety leaders from data to process improvements that reduce hazards and we think the pace of change will continue to increase significantly in 2021. 7. Re-Engineering: A greater focus on removing the hazard. That’s ultimately the best way to impact SIFs. For example, can we send a robot into a confined space or can the work at heights be performed by a drone? With advances in the IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, we are expecting greater advances. 8. Big Brother: With these technological advances (i.e. cameras on job sites, sensors…), there likely will be an increased perception of Big Brother watching. While some of these advances are very positive, organizational change considerations will need to be front row center otherwise we risk seeing people dialing down on their safety ownership. 9. Ownership and No Blame: One of the most positive attributes of Human Performance (HOP) has been the focus on removing the focus on blaming the employee and focusing more on how the system failed. There is a need to combine that with elements of cognitive psychology to increase safety ownership. 10. Rethinking Safety Training: 2021 will continue to see a large generational shift in most workplaces. With that shift there is a need to rethink safety training and safety leadership training: bringing new technologies and micro learnings and moving away from the old classroom approach. We are talking about generations that grew up with iPads and technology day in and day out – there is a greater expectation on more interactive and real time training. 11. Big Data & Predictive Analytics: With advances in technology, Big Data and Predictive Analytics are increasingly becoming incredibly helpful tools to understand where our hazards are located. This can be used to analyze observations or even in some organizations the hazardous jobs that will take place. But at the end of the data, someone still needs to take action which is where Safety Ownership is so critical. 12. Generational shifts in the workplace: As we mentioned in #10, we can expect a greater generational shift in the workplace. This will bring issues and challenges around knowledge transfer and knowledge management. That will need to be a significant area of focus in 2021. 13. Too Much “Lean and Mean”: With more organizations having to reduce operating costs, we are seeing an increase in themes around “not having enough people or resources”, “burnout”, “scheduling challenges”, resulting in an increase in production pressure. Balancing Safe Production messaging and finding the right balance of “lean and mean” will be essential to safety in 2021. 14. Developing Safety Leaders Beyond the Classroom: While leaders often want to have the right impact on Safety, they don’t always have the insights needed to drive higher impact. 360s have provided too little insights as they don’t tie the impact of leaders to front line workers. We see greater use of better 4D insights increasingly being able to help leaders and leadership teams understand how to improve their leadership skills and impact together with Safety Leadership Coaching. 15. Increasing Safety Leadership Commitment: Too often organizations rely solely on training as the lever to improve Safety Leadership and Commitment. While it’s definitely a great tool to leverage, sometimes what’s needed is simply to bring existing safety leadership knowledge to life every day. We’ve seen great success focusing on building commitments, habits, and even micro habits to make safety real. In lean times, this can be a great lever to drive rapid impact. 16. Safety Supervision: Often Supervisors have the greatest ability to influence the Safety Ownership of frontline team member. Yet it’s often the level of leadership that receives the least investment. In lean times, this can be the best area of investment – to increase safety coaching and influence skills. 17. Safety Implications of Returning to Work: We’ve got a large portion of the workforce that hasn’t gone into an office for over a year. As they return to work, there will be lots of safety hazards that they will need to be re-accustomed to. That will require focus for safety leaders to draw back attention to the hazards that exist. 18. Psychological Safety: To drive Safety impact, team members need to feel Psychologically Safe to speak up and to feel comfortable calling out unsafe work, stopping work or escalating issues. We’re seeing more and more organizations drive the right emphasis and drive meaningful change and set up systems to get input from people that are on the job, doing the job. 19. Learning Environment: We’re hearing more and more about learning environment. That’s a good trend, we’re going to see more of it in 2021. From safety suggestions, to close calls, to learning from incidents. Additionally, the more involvement and participation from team members, the more the learnings will stick. In a NIOSH study, the participants that were involved in designing their own observation card were 7X more likely to use it than those that were given a great card designed by another group. 20. Emphasis on Brain Science: We’re learning more and more about how the brain works. We know about our capacity to process seven units of information at a time. We’re learning about some biases that get us in trouble like the fundamental attribution error (if I make a mistake, I blame the environment; if someone else makes one, I blame them). That’s problematic with injuries because if I get hurt, I’m more likely to look elsewhere for blame and if I am a leader, I’m more likely to blame the employee. Another example is Confirmation Bias, which can get us into trouble because we’re not always open to new ideas and new thinking. Focusing on an understanding of how our brain works allows us to get rid of some of those biases and increase impact. 21. Health & Safety is More Important than Ever – Make it Count: In 2020, Safety Leaders became essential to help keep businesses open. In most organizations, Safety has gained significantly in terms of executive access. It’s a unique opportunity to capitalize and influence the strategy for the years to come – presenting a balanced view of improving Safe Production. Those are our Top 21 trending themes to drive greater impact on Safety in 2021. Happy New Year!

Safety’s 21 for 2021 Key Topics

1. Mergers and Acquisitions.

2. SIFs and SIF Potential.

3. BeHop.

4. Virtual & Flex Work.

5. Mental Health.

6. Digitization.

7. Re-engineering.

8. Big Brother.

9. Ownership and No Blame.

10. Rethinking Safety Training.

11. Big Data & Predictive Analytics.

12. Generational shifts in the workplace.

13. Too Much “Lean and Mean”.

14. Developing Safety Leaders Beyond the Classroom.

15. Increasing Safety Leadership Commitment.

16. Safety Supervision.

17. Safety Implications of Returning to Work.

18. Psychological Safety.

19. Learning Environment.

20. Emphasis on Brain Science.

21. Health & Safety is More Important than Ever – Make it Count.

For more information on this topic, please read the related blog Safety’s 21 for 2021 at Propulo Consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert.

Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 50 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

A sample of Josh’s recent projects include delivering a series of motivational presentations, conducting comprehensive strategic planning sessions, and managing safety culture assessments and improvement activities.

Pushing through the Plateau – Behavior Based Safety and Beyond with Dr. Josh Williams



Behavior Based Safety has brought incredible successes to many organizations but often performance pushes to new heights and plateaus. In a lively conversation with Dr. Josh Williams, we explore strategies to push past the plateau. From re-energizing Behavior Based Safety programs to integrating ideas from Cognitive Psychology and Human Performance tools to bring a holistic approach to safety improvement. This is a must listen to episode if you want to explore options for what’s next in your safety strategy!


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, welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have back with me Dr. Josh Williams. Dr. Josh Williams is a partner with Propulo Consulting who brings an incredible history of success assessing and transforming safety cultures through a multitude of different industries and approaches. His experience extends across behavioral safety, cognitive psychology, as well as human performance tools. He’s worked in this space for well over 20 years. We’ve had phenomenal success across industries. He’s authored a book and is also a Cambridge Center award winner for behavioral research. Josh, welcome back to the show. I appreciate it. Glad to be here. Excellent. So today I want to talk about a really important topic. I’ve been getting a lot of questions on. This is really rude behavior-based safety. And what how do you make this more successful? So maybe if you can give a brief overview in terms of some of the background behind behavior, safety, and its early successes that you’ve seen. It’s been around a long time; I was in graduate school in the mid 90s and it was already at point of trajectory in terms of being throughout the US and beyond Canada and beyond. Lots of companies doing behavioral safety at that point. It started originally with a guy named Scott Geller and Tom Kraus. They were kind of on the forefront in the early 80s, really. So, it’s been around a long time. And the idea behind it was fairly simple. And that is most injuries have a behavioral component. And that’s what these guys were doing. What they kind of started was, OK, well, if that’s the case, then why don’t we list all the important behaviors on the checklist and see how we’re doing and go around and observe and we’re doing things more safely, more often. It’s less likely somebody is going to get hurt. So that was the logic behind it. And then there was just a mountain of research, you know, for all these interventions and all these. I’ve got a bookshelf here, Erica degrees and all these all these books and wonderful information. But when you want to get down to science and looking at behavior change, the field of behavioral science is chock full of studies, empirical studies, meta-analysis showing the benefits of behavioral type intervention. So that’s one of the reasons it’s been around 30, 40 years. Is this because there’s science behind it? So, when done correctly, it’s a powerful tool to improve culture and prevent those serious injuries or fatalities. Absolutely. And I think the topic that I most often hear, and I think it has to do with because it’s been around for a very long time, obviously, if you if you haven’t already implemented behavior based safety, in most cases, this is probably something that you really should be looking at. But a lot of organizations have implemented some great behavior-based safety is a pushed and had amazing outcomes and improvements. But often what I hear about is they push, and they plateau. So, what I want to talk to you about today is a little bit about what’s missing. So obviously great successes. Organizations have improved if they push forward. But how do we go past that plateau? What are some of the things that organizations should be looking at? Yeah, before we get to that, it’s important to note a lot of behavioral safety implementations weren’t implemented well. There was a cottage industry of behavioral safety experts who are finding checklists on the Internet and all of a sudden, they became a consultant. And you know, the reality of all this and it’s true, it diluted the success and the strength of it because a bunch of folks came on board that didn’t quite have the deeper knowledge of behavioral change. And there’s a persistent component associated with it. So, there’s a reason why sometimes it didn’t go as well as it should. And there’s a reason why sometimes people go through criticisms of behavioral therapy because it was often implemented poorly. So that’s just kind of a reality. There are two things I want to point out really quickly. First is system factors need to be addressed. And that’s what the human performance folks are, you know, seizing the opportunity and doing a good job and a lot of ways of quibbling. And people fix the system. That’s and that’s I think that’s an important contribution. Behavioral safety really was a safety culture training. You know, I mentioned to folks that kind of cut my teeth on behavioral safety what we were doing all those years ago. We were talking about Bandura. We were talking about locus of control, discretionary effort. It was safety, culture training with a behavioral intervention kicker. So that’s the way any type of training program should be. It should be more holistic, which we’ll talk about in a second. But in terms of hitting plateau’s, it’s hard to do any kind of intervention. And you know this as well as anybody. When you’re trying to change organizations, it takes time, it takes work, it takes effort and it’s hard. And behavioral safety is no different. The challenges in a nutshell, is these cards would turn into kind of tick the box activities where particularly when quotas were put in. So, we’ve got a quota due to a month. Lo and behold, you get a flood of checklists coming in the last day of the month. And I would see some of them. They would be like a checklist. It would be a photocopied check on how they did well. And I’m like, man, if you’re going to into it, you know, I mean, I remember we had to get serious talking about people that had had paid their kids to fill in lots of forms so that at the end of the month they could mail them in as they will win them, I guess. But exactly. Training your kids at a young age to photocopy. Yeah, I had a guy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one time tell me. And he kept repeating it. It’s about people, not paper. It’s about people in that paper. And he said that just enough time for that kind of stuck with me. It’s not about the paper and matter of fact, it’s not about the observations as much as it is about the conversation. So, one of the challenges of the behavioral therapy is everyone gets locked in on these cards. It’s about people talking to each other. And the hope is when it’s done correctly, if you’re doing those observations the right way, you can have people talking to each other or card. I’d rather have a good discussion without a piece of paper than fill something out, drop it off and never talk about it. So, part of the plateau is it became bureaucratic. Fill out the cards, get the cards. And people are tracking a number of cards down. They’re not looking, in some cases looking at the results. They’re not looking at percentages. They’re not looking at comments that they’re not looking at suggested action items. They’re just clicking the box. So that was a long answer. Sorry, there for a short question, but I think one of the primary challenges with the plateau becomes programmatic instead of doing it for the right reasons. And in those instances, it may be a question of reenergizing what you’ve got to get by and more involved. Because I agree so much with what you’re saying. It’s not about the piece of paper. It’s about the quality of the conversation. I would look at piece of paper as a conversation starter, but not the actual act or accomplishment that’s necessary. What’s in it for me is that the big question and there is value in charting percent safe score. So you get five or six things that, by the way, the people that are designing the card and that’s one of the problems with these off the shelf things or these online training things. It’s like there’s no employee engagement. We did research years ago sponsored by Naish, looking at a manufacturing facility, has the group got interactive training and they design their own cards and how to use it. The other half got rote training. And here’s the card and I got to do it. The people that were actively involved in creating their own cards and tools for use them seven times more than the people that did the seminar. See that it’s huge, huge, huge, huge involvement. And they had investment in it. But they’re. But there’s a lot to do there. I mean, you want to see percentage wise, what are we looking at? And it shouldn’t be a hard hat. Just checking the box. We should be looking at things like, you know, like a tiger taking off in a confined space entry. These are there some serious things there we need to be paying attention to and if we can get good data out of it. But the bottom line for employees is what’s in it for me? Good conversations, changes being made, system improvements being made versus these other efforts of trying to get involvement by quotas or incentives and. All these artificial levers, it’s like trying to manage the economy with these false artificial things that are short term if you need to have the fundamentals there. And the fundamental for an economy is the one thing the fundamentals here is simply what’s in it for me, from the employee perspective, I see value. And when that’s done, you fight less on these plateaus. There are other things you can do rotating steering teams, changing of the cards at a human performance, elements to the cards, too. But those are ways to kind of keep things fresh and make it sort of a living, breathing, ongoing thing. I love it. You touch a little bit on the human performance tools there and looking at systems completely agree. I think that sometimes organizations get focused on it’s just about the behavior and they forget about the system and how it creates any further thoughts. You want to touch on the human performance side in the integration of those themes? I think that’s a really good question. Years ago, when behavioral safety took off, there were cognitive psychologists that were out there, Michael Chertoff, one that comes to mind. And there was a lot of good information there in terms of attitudes matter. What I’m thinking matters when I’m feeling matters and the behavioral folk’s kind of thumb their nose at it a bit, particularly because, you know, they’re looking at science and numbers and data, not feelings. But that’s a mistake. And because as you and I have talked about many times, attitudes, influence, behavior and vice versa, and behaviors influence results and dismissing cognitive and the psychology of it. It’s funny, it’s coming back now in terms of neuroscience. So, we’ve kind of come back around. We named it just like the human performance. Folks are kind of renaming some of the stuff that was done by Becker and other years ago. It’s nothing new, but it’s been repackaged and marketed, and the neuroscience is a bit different than what was done before that. But there are similarities. My point to that is there’s dogmatic approach of one versus the other is just harmful. It’s a business driven. Its ego driven. It’s territorial, and it’s not helpful. We need a holistic approach. Responsible consultants are tying in all elements to try to help their clients, to try to fit their needs and meet their needs, help them out. And then this cognitive if it’s behavioral, if it’s human performance, it’s all helpful. So that’s the long answer. The short answer is there are things you can do if you’ve got an existing behavioral safety process and there’s benefits of doing that to make the card a little bit better. One of my frustrations is it becomes a check the box. There should be questions on there, like what do you need? What scares you about the job? What tools would be helpful? Are the procedure changes? How can we improve this job? What scares you? What these questions are open, and the questions and they get people talking. And if we respond to them and 17 people said there’s a scaffolding issue over here, we got to deal with it and we respond to it, all of a sudden, these cards are helping me because now I got this issue and it’s been it’s been addressed. So, it’s more open. It’s more interactive. It feels less like a it feels more conversational. So, these peer checks, which are kind of the human performance way of getting at these observations, I think the peer checks integrated with behavioral safety cards is a good solution. It’s great, great, great comments, great, great insights and on the cognitive side and any other thoughts you want to add in terms of the elements, you brought in a lot of different themes there in terms of the value. I completely agree. I think behavioral components, you obviously need to shift behaviors to get the right results. But my attitude around safety, my sense of control, the risk, my sense of ownership over what I’m doing, all critical, important elements that need to be factored in beyond those conversations. But also, they will help those conversations because the more I see what’s in it for me, the more I’m going to have put in effort and value in the conversations I’m having with appear on how to improve safety. I like to flip it around and ask you that question of think you’d have more fun answering it to me, the personal matters. You know, we’ve seen it with leaders that are switched on and those that aren’t. And if you feel it, it’s obvious. It’s obviously different to people when you’re talking about it, if you feel it versus, you’re saying it because you’re supposed to say it so that however we get to that point, that personal line, and I like how you kind of will press leaders, especially executives, what is your personal line within a few wires? Why does this matter? And challenge people to really think about that? You know, we talk about, you know, the personal fight for us, the big five, whatever, in terms of why we’re staying safe. It changes the narrative from war compliance to I’m doing this for something. I’m doing it for my family. I’m doing because I want to retire and break 80 playing golf before I die. And whatever it is, that personal feeling and the reason and the mission one is to be clear, it needs to be shared with people because as you said, that’s kind of the impetus for a lot of behavioral change efforts, is you got to feel it first. And keeping in mind behavior shift attitudes to be able to get better, my attitudes get better. So, it’s sort of the era goes both ways between attitudes and behaviors, but they’re both important. So, Josh, I couldn’t agree more. I think your point on the on the why is it important? As important one, I meet this reflection a couple of years back and I started realizing that all the leaders I was talking to that were driving substantial changes in terms of safety performance. And there was one common trait. They all had a very strong desire for why safety matter and they showed up a different way. And when you’re talking about from a cognitive psychology standpoint, a lot of people are talking about the attitude, belief, mindset of a team member in terms of how I look at risk. I would look at safety in general. I look at my personal ownership, but I start realizing that there was this other element, which was how the leader was showing up. And as you as he said, as you start pushing people to think as to why you care about safety and articulate that it creates a very strong conviction. And I’ve seen it in some organizations where you work with one leader who starts really thinking about what’s my whilst on that origin story around safety. And then I start convening with leaders and suddenly the leaders start paying attention and they’re like, OK, I need to do this. I need to actually drive observations. I need to show active care when I’m in the field. And something as simple as really thinking about somebody’s origin story, their way around safety became so critical to drive lot of the changes. So, we touch on different topics. Josh, we’ve talked a little bit about cognitive psychology. We talked a little bit about human performance tools. We’ve talked a little bit about how to bolster the behavior-based safety program that you’ve got. Maybe if it wasn’t done well because you got out of a Cracker Jack Box at some point in time, what are some of the things that that you can do to bring it to life in an organization, to drive improvements to the next level, to push through the plateau? From a big picture perspective, I was with a client years ago and they said, what’s the key to improving safety culture? And I said, get input from people that are on the job doing the job and respond to it. And she’s like, OK, what else? There’s nothing else. It’s not true. There’s more. But I wanted to reinforce the point. You’re not listening to your folks. There are all these fancy initiatives that are going out with all these beautiful conversations and posters and you’re not talking to people. So, bring in bringing it to life. That employee engagement piece is critical. You know, we mentioned I like the internal locus of control from getting broader in the 60s, and it’s as important now as it was 60 years ago. My personal ownership and engagement are key. And we talk about Ben bendir and self-efficacy. And I got to believe I can do it. There’s a lot of these factors that have not gone out of style. It still matters. So, we’ve got to get input from people, get their engagement, whether it’s with observations, whether it’s with close calls and a learning environment context. There’s a lot of system ways where we need to get that engagement. But as an employee, I’m not stupid. And if you if you’re trying and we’re trying to get efforts and you’re asking me questions, it could be procedures. It could be anything. It feels different to me, even though it’s not perfect. You’re engaging me. You’re listening to me. You’re hearing me. And I appreciate the effort. And when companies do that, it’s a night and day difference versus those that are rolling things out top down here it is not. Go do it. Failing people, it frustrates them. And it leads to things that look good on paper, but they don’t look good. And in reality. And at the end of the day, we’ve talked about this before, when I simplify safety, I always talk about you need to have great methods, procedures, policies. So, the quality of what you’ve got has to be top notch. Then you’ve got to have acceptance, people following the rules when nobody’s watching, doing the right thing, wanting to do it, wanting to follow policies and procedures. Because if you got great policies and procedures that nobody’s following it. They look great on paper. But that’s the extent of where you’re getting results. And then you need to focus attention on the job at hand, knowing of your limitations and things of that nature. So those are really the three components. And what you’re touching on is I’ve never seen people want to do something. If they had no say in this right. It’s what’s in it for me. You listen to a peer of mine; it doesn’t mean you need to drive a democracy or get a consensus across the organization. But seeking that input, such a simple thing is so key. If you want people doing things and you get better decisions and you agree. I’ve seen so many goofy blanket calls. I’ve seen people walking around with their safety glasses on, but no lenses on them saying hi to me like it’s just the most normal thing in the world because they were upset, they had to wear safety glasses in areas where they were needed. And I’ve got more extreme examples. I mean, I’ve got a bunch of goofy stories, I’ll tell you another time. But these blanket policies come down to wire people following them because they don’t make sense, because you never talk to the person that’s doing the work in the first place. So, you know, it’s just it’s just simple. I don’t know if you get better decisions when you talk to people, you get more acceptance from people because they have a say. So, like you said, and I’m getting a little bit wound up just because it upsets me sometimes because so many of these training sessions with employers for decades hearing about all these issues, and it’s just not reaching folks sometimes. And it’s just it’s unfortunate because you have conscientious leaders trying to do the right thing. And that simple stuff like you said, that maybe it’s not so simple, but the important step of getting input from folks and responding to it brings life to everything we’re doing. So, from a larger perspective, when we’re trying to reenergize behavior or see any part of that as refresher training, it’s really safety culture training, but focusing on behaviors, but also the cognitive side, like you said, also the human performance side, integrate some of the human performance elements into behavioral safety processes. We do commitment workshop with leaders after training, so it doesn’t feel like and we keep it fresh, keep it live where they talk about specific things they’re going to do, moving forward to put their good intentions into place. There’s a lot of things that need to be going on. It all starts with that belief and feeling it. But there’s a lot of things we can do from a system perspective, from a behavioral perspective to increase that discretion, discretionary effort and ultimately better safety, culture, and reduction of serious injuries. And they tell is because those shifts happen, we think everything’s fine. All of a sudden there’s an explosion kills eight people. We find out when we start doing an investigation after the fact. All these little things were out there, and people knew about it, didn’t say anything. And that’s a problem. That’s a huge problem. Is what you don’t know. Is it more dangerous in many cases than anything else? Because you’re not dealing with it. You’re not learning. You’re not getting better. And every big incident that I’ve ever heard of always started with because there was information that existed that was known but didn’t get to the point where somebody could act on it and make sure it wouldn’t get into something serious. Like any other thoughts you’d bring in. You’ve brought in a lot of really valuable ideas. We’ve kind of gone over in different directions, but great, great input in terms of how to reenergize your safety programs. I love what you’re talking about in terms of holistic approach. My biggest pet peeve in management has been anybody who is dogmatic about this one size fits all approach to everything because there is never such a thing. There’s no silver bullet and management. If there was, whoever invented it would be down in in a bunker somewhere, enjoying life on a beach next to a bumper bunk and a huge mansion. There is no such thing as a silver bullet. It’s a question of kind of combining learnings from different pieces. Any other closing thoughts? No, I’ll just echo what you just said. It’s either ego or it’s for its business interest. When there’s a usually when there’s that strong of a dogma. I’ll just I’ll say this in closing, and this may sound a bit sale you don’t mean to do, but it’s gone with what you know, what I know is assessed on the phone and find out what you got to keep doing it. What is not so good at, try to get better, get a strategic plan together. And that stuff that we help with, like who’s going to do what when? Let’s lay it out. I mean, just like you on a football game, many of us lamenting college football may or may not continue this year with a good word. As Nick Saban to an Alabama, he’s getting a specific game plan based on strengths and weaknesses and research. And there’s a whole bunch of effort that goes into planning. Organizations should be doing the same thing. So, assess plan. And when you do training and other interventions, as you mentioned, make a more holistic, people need to feel it and then work on sustain it. And that’s from leaders’ behaviors that could be peer check. There’s a lot of ways to sustain that, but that’s your that’s your path forward, I think, beyond that plateau you had mentioned earlier. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming back on the show, Josh, and sharing quite a few great insights in terms of the next frontier of improvements and giving great ideas to people to start charting their next step in the journey and look forward to having you another time on the show. I’m sure we’ll have other topics to explore. 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, you, 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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Dr. Josh Williams is a Partner with Propulo Consulting, a global management consulting firm delivering significant and sustainable improvements in organizational performance. For over 20 years Josh has partnered with clients around the world to drive increased discretionary effort and improved strategic execution. He’s the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.



Safety Communications with Dr. Josh Williams



Effective safety communication is the cornerstone of a healthy safe production culture.

This is particularly important with one-on-one conversations with employees.

Employees who feel listened to and appreciated are more likely to go beyond the call of duty for safety and other organizational efforts.

Effective communicators demonstrate genuine caring, promote psychological safety, actively listen, and provide recognition regularly.

How strong are your safety communication skills?

Find out with our free Safety Communication Quiz:


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, where we explore topics around operations, leadership and particularly the role that leaders play in driving safety in their business. My name is Eric Michrowski, president and CEO of Propulo. Today on our show, I’m delighted to have once again Dr. Josh Williams. He’s a partner Human Performance and Business Transformation at Propulo, an absolute guru in the safety space. Thank you for being on the show. Josh, thanks. I appreciate it. Dr. Josh has a Ph.D. in psychology from Virginia Tech. He is one of the pioneers in safety culture with over 20 years of experience in the space, with a broad range of clients in industries ranging from aerospace firm military oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing, a really diverse group of organizations. He’s authored a book. He’s coedited a second one. He’s published over 40 different articles and various publications. He’s also a prize winner and national prize winner for the Cambridge Center on Behavioral Safety. And he has presented over a hundred times to some really delighted audiences that were happy to hear his story. So really excited to have you here. We’ve talked on prior shows about how you got into the safety culture space. Is there an element of why you really got into this space that you’d like to share with our listeners?

I kind of touched on it in some earlier ones in grad school, kind of moving from maybe traditional ivory tower to a professor, Scott Geller, who many of you may know really as kind of the fountainhead for the psychology of safety, sort of working with him. And there was a passion there that was contagious. And part of it is just the feeling of fighting the good fight. You know, you’re trying to do the right thing to make organizations better, more pleasant and keep people from getting hurt.

So that’s kind of where the HWI in it is there for me.

I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s really empowering to know that you spend most of your day, most of your life making it safer for others, thinking about how other people can come home to their loved ones every day. So, I completely agree with what you’re sharing there today. We’re talking about a really important topic. I know both of us are passionate about is around safety communication. And it’s a topic that a lot of organizations struggle with.

You’ve recently authored a quiz, which is a novel way to start thinking about how am I doing? How do I compare against some of the leaders in this space and what actions do I need to take to make a difference? So, again, on safety communication, if you want to take that frequency, no gimmicks, no nothing that will come out of it other than great insights and ideas go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, zero harm leadership, dotcom.

We’ll be right back with a couple more questions to understand some of the wisdom that Josh can share around safety communication. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru, this is your host, Eric Michrowski. We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis. Whether you would like to explore some of our free tools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice.

I encourage you to visit covid. Black Swan dot com covid black swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way. It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve. Thank you.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone, a lot of leaders come to me and they ask me, what do I do to really get more meaningful, more impactful communication? They worried that they keep putting different messages and nobody’s listening to the message being sent. Josh, any thoughts on the topic of safety communications to start?

Yeah, and we can look at it from an employer to employee. We can look at it from a leader with employees. I think from the leadership side is getting out of this mindset. And I think a lot of a lot of leaders do. But the mindset is it’s not compliance. I mean, we have to have compliance, obviously. But when I if I’m a leader out there on the floor, I should be asking people, how are they doing?

What do they need anything scaring them about the job? It should be, you know, asking questions, trying to get their input and having it more conversational thing. You can still get your point across if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed to address it. But I think from a leadership perspective, one, get out there more in two. When you’re out there, the more conversational asking questions, I think the better off we’re going to be.

I love when you’re talking about get out there, spend more time in front of a team members, more time in the field. One of our other colleagues, Bri, had done some research a long time ago where she really looked at the impact that spending time on the floor had. And how is one of the biggest predictors? Can you tell me a little bit more of that time in field time on the floor? Why is it so important?

I think it sets the tone for everything. I mean, first of all, you know, I think we all have experience where sometimes the decision makers may be perceived as being out of touch with people that are out there on the job doing the job. I’m not trying to cast aspersions at any group, but that us versus them thing is a real issue. It’s a real problem. It’s a morale issue. And if someone’s making decisions that have never been out here and they don’t always make sense, there’s been some goofy policies, frankly, I’ve seen over the years where it just doesn’t make sense and people understand it.

So, I’ll save some stories for another podcast on that. But bottom line is, the more we’re out with folks, everyone has a better understanding of what both sides are doing. It breaks down barriers. And I think people appreciate the fact that their leaders are out there talking to them, working with them and showing respect.

Is there a percentage of time that a leader should be spending in front of their team members? Is there an order of magnitude or is it just make a commitment to do better tomorrow?

That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a stock answer in terms of percentage. You could say 10x or whatever you’re doing, do it, do a more. But I think that the real challenge is part of it is people want to they just want to have time. And so, I know one of the things that we do, we have a kind of a tool that we use to set aside time for folks to get out there. It’s a scheduling issue in many ways.

So, we work with leaders to kind of figure out what can we do with all these various meetings? Can we combine these can we get rid of that one and carve out space so we at least we have a dedicated time to get out there and see folks that is so important. Too often what I hear is a message where I reduce the ranks of my frontline leaders, yet I’m expecting them to do so much more. And at the end of the day, what gets done is usually just the remaining task and they spend most of it in front of the computer instead of going in front.

So, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Start by asking what could be removed, what are some of the low hanging fruits non-value-added tasks that just should be taken out and do that, like as your first major initiative? Any tips for a leader who’s maybe new, who goes on the floor, who’s not sure how to how to start conversations?

Yeah, ask questions. And that’s for everybody. But especially if I’m a new leader. People but people are smart. And if I am not exactly sure, you know, what’s going on there. That’s all right. Strong leaders show vulnerability. It’s smart. It’s a strength. It’s not a weakness. And asking questions, being authentic. If you genuinely care and you have the right intentions, people have good sensors for that. They entered.

They feel it. They understand it. So, I think it’s good for everybody, but particularly new leaders. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a sign of strength to be doing those things.

That’s such an important comment. And I think this is something we should expand on in a future podcast. I know for me as a leader really early on in my career, I think probably six, seven years into it, I was given a task which was to go into business I knew absolutely nothing about, turned that business around, change everything from an operational standpoint. And that’s really where I understood humility from a whole different level because I can solve a single thing.

I didn’t understand what was going on in front of me, and I was forced to listen to Top End to go on the floor, ask my team members to figure out how to solve things, and I had no choice but to listen to what they had to say. Organizations that do this well, are there any tips on are things that you see that are markedly different in those organizations that are really good at this?

I was night and day and trust me, you walk in in the first five minutes, ten minutes, you get a feel for culture. I mean, immediately. You do a site tour, you can tell, and it is it’s a huge difference and that doesn’t mean the you know, the really good organizations. It’s not fairy dust and unicorns and rainbows and people high 5min and hugging. But it’s a noticeable difference when you don’t have that.

When you have people that are disengaged, when you don’t have interactions between folks, you get like I said earlier, you get some really dumb rules and decisions that are being made and you’ve got resentment on both sides. And there is no discussion, we all know from any kind of relationship when the communication goes away, people stop talking, problems come up. So that that communication to me is not just a safety issue. It’s a barometer.

It’s a litmus test, really, for your culture and how well you’re running things. So, if you’ve got those problems or you don’t have people talking to each other, you need to address it right away.

I think that’s a great point. What are the themes I want to double click on? You were talking a little bit in terms of what I call safety participation. So, in terms of how do I engage people to make better decisions, there’s some great work that was done by students, INSEAD professors, and they call it really open leadership or fair process, which was really this concept of I have a problem as a leader. I’m used to solving that problem.

But instead of trying to solve it, I’m going to go and involve my team members to come up with solutions. And it doesn’t mean I’m creating democracy. It doesn’t mean that I’m allowing everybody to do whatever they want. But just asking for input. In the end of the day, as a leader, I’m going to make the choice, but I’m going to explain that choice. And they’ve done some huge correlations between that approach and leadership and success in general in terms of that business, that it maybe took more time in the answer to get to a solution, but the end outcome was so much better.

Any thoughts around that concept of involving team members in driving safety?

Ford So quick example. I was working for a steel mill in the northern part of the U.S. years ago, and they had a problem with logout. Tagert And as you all know, if you’re not locking out equipment, particularly in a steel mill, you can get hurt or killed in a hurry. And so, the plant manager was like, look, if we see somebody that’s not locked out, they call it a lockout, tag out, try out there.

Anyway, if we don’t see locked out, you’re gone. And his thinking was, look, we take this seriously and if you’re not following along, you’re out of here. And the safety manager or the safety director was smart. He’s like, let’s hold on, let’s go talk to people. And they actually went out. They got engineers; they’ve got some supervisors. They got some employees out there actually operating the equipment, started talking to him.

The problem was it was so complicated, locking out the equipment. And by the way, they had almost the worst production pressure I can remember. I mean, it was brutal. So, you couple that with really complicated procedures that take forever to do. It’s not surprising sometimes people took shortcuts. So bottom line is employees with the help of some other folks came up with a way to energize the equipment. And half the time, half the steps, they wrote it down.

Really simple. I could understand it, you know, hit the button after you hit the button, do this. The problem went away immediately. It was not an enforcement issue. It was a communication issue. And by talking to people, people are, again, are smart and they are going to come up with good solutions if you let them.

That’s great. So, this time I’m going to say don’t hit the button. Keep listening on. We’re going to talk more about safety communication in just a second. But in the interim, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom zero harm leadership dot com to do joshes safety communication, self-assessment to see how you stack up and what actions you can take to make a meaningful difference. We’ll be right back. Here we go again with some more great insights and conversations with Dr Josh Williams here on The Safety Guru talking about safety communication.

So, I want to dial in to another topic, which is peer-to-peer communications. So, to employees, how they communicate with each other. Tell me more of your thoughts on this.

You know, it’s a funny thing. When I first started doing this years ago, when I was younger and skinnier, I was doing a training in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And I am nervous. I’ve got all my notes. I’ve got them in order. I’ve prepared, I’ve practiced, but I am nervous. And about 30 minutes in, I’m saying something. I don’t know what I was talking about, but this guy stood up in this auditorium and said, I have underwear older than you.

Who are you to tell me whatever? And I was like, I was not prepared for that. My comment was, that’s a whole other problem. You got to deal with that first. But it’s a real serious mindset. Don’t tell me what to do. There was a famous country song years ago, if you mind your own business, you won’t be mine and mine. And I think sometimes we take that too far. We take it as disrespect.

Someone says something to me, you’re disrespecting me. I’ve been here thirty years. You’ve been here three. Who are you to tell me how to do my job? I’m maintenance your operations you don’t want. Do we have these barriers where we just bristle at the thought of someone trying to help us? So, I think it’s really important to start trying to break that down when you start thinking about people getting seriously hurt or injured on the job. Some you know, some of the listeners, Charlie Morecroft, you know, good guy and a lot of people know was burnt almost on his entire body, almost died and talks about that story.

Brad Gardner, another individual, lost an arm in a potato factory, felt the heat. He was pulled into an auger. He didn’t block it out first. All of a sudden, he’s being pulled in that machine. I hate to be gruesome, but he had a decision to yank himself out, left his arm in the equipment. And sadly, I’ve got a ton of those stories just from doing this for a while. If someone had spoken up, if someone had said, hey, man, I don’t feel right.

If you don’t lock us out, you can get hurt. Or I was doing the same thing, tore my shoulder. I don’t see it happen to you. If we’re communicating these things, we’re keeping people from getting hurt. We’ve got to start changing that mindset of this isn’t disrespect. This is simply just caring. I don’t I don’t see it happen to you and we need to work on that.

That reminds me of a story. When I was early on my first leadership role, I remember that I provided some coaching to somebody from a cell on a safety standpoint. And she turned around and she started screaming at me and putting her finger in my face very close to my nose and saying, I could be your grandma. So, it was it’s not always easy when you have to deal with that. So, any closing thoughts around safety communication as we close off our show for today?

Yeah, I mean, and it’s one of those things, too. I think, frankly, training and we incorporate in some of the stuff that we do. But you have to practice it. It’s a skill we don’t all grow up being communications experts. You know, I got into this job because I’m really good at whatever I do. And so, I think we have to work on it. And so, a couple of quick hitter tips. First is asking questions.

You know, the first thing, if you come up and I’m working on something, I maybe I’m working on turbine engine. I’ve been doing this for hours. I don’t have the equipment I need. I’m in a confined, you know, kind of a difficult space. And you come up, start telling me what I need to be doing right or wrong. It’s going to be a problem. You come up and ask me, how are you doing?

Anything I can do to help? What do you need? Asking questions kind of breaks down people’s barriers because now we’re having a conversation. So, I think step one would be asking questions. Of course, showing respect at all times is an obvious one and praising the good stuff to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t need a group hug for where am I hearing protection. But if, you know, if I’m going out of my way helping out a newer employee, I’m cleaning up a spill after my shift.

You know, a little tip of the cap now and again. It’s not a bad thing either. I think the last one, too. I mean, this may not be a great one to end on, but we’ve got to watch our language, you know, must never, always sometimes. You know, you mentioned that a Ph.D. in psychology, my wife won’t mind me saying this, I hope, but it did not prepare me for the first couple months of marriage.

And part of the funny part of it was we would get an argument and I didn’t understand why. And sometimes I would say words that elicited it like must never, always. And I finally learned, okay, don’t be a dummy. You know, quit doing that and also say, yes, I know you’re right. But just think about that. In fact, this will be a homework assignment for the listeners. This will be a test in social psychology.

Either use must never or always. As soon as you go home tonight, as soon as you see the person that you live with, if you live with somebody, tell them they never do something just for fun. Hi, honey. You never do this or, you know, you always complain about that and then see what happens. And if they start yelling at you, you could say, well, listen to that dang podcast. And the guy said to try it and he was right.

We just got to be careful and mindful sometimes because I think unintentionally, we by accident may send the wrong message, because, again, keep in mind, we’re all a little defensive. Sometimes when it is about our job, we take pride in what we do and it gets really easy for people to get defensive. So, I think the last point, and I don’t want to be soapbox here. I think the last point, though, we need to consider is talking to people are caring.

You’re looking out for people. It’s not about telling them what to do. And I think change in that mindset goes a long way to preventing those serious injuries and fatalities.

Thank you so much for those closing thoughts. Again, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, do Joshes quick, which will give you some meaningful insights in terms of what you need to do next. And this was, again, Dr. Josh William on The Safety Guru. Thank you so much. And we’ll talk again soon. Thank you.

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 team—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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For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert.

Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 50 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

A sample of Josh’s recent projects include delivering a series of motivational presentations, conducting comprehensive strategic planning sessions, and managing safety culture assessments and improvement activities.

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