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Driving Safety Leadership through Small Steps and Goal Alignment with Dr. Kevin Kelloway

Driving Safety Leadership through Small Steps and Goal Alignment with Dr. Kevin Kelloway



“Safety leadership is a lot like the weather, everybody talks about it, nobody does anything about it,” says Dr. Kevin Kelloway. Kevin shares pragmatic and actionable ideas that can help every leader become a better safety leader. Based on his research, he encourages leaders to track and implement small daily improvements in 5 themes that all successful safety leaders demonstrate: Speaking about safety, Acting Safely, Focusing on Safety, Engaging others in Safety, and Recognizing safety.

This must-listen episode will make your New Year’s safety resolutions a breeze!


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing 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, safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. 

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru today. I’m very excited to have with me Kevin Kelloway. He’s a fantastic researcher, speaker and University Professor at St. Mary’s in the space of occupational health and psychology at St. Mary’s. He has key roles. He’ll talk about it very shortly with a CN research facility there. So, Kevin, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me. You’ve got some fantastic research on the leadership side of safety so important, but maybe to get started, tell me a little bit about your journey and how you got into this passion for safety. 

Sure. Okay. Well, thank you, Eric. It’s a pleasure to be here. How did I get into safety? It’s funny. There’s a joke amongst researchers that we research things that are of some sort of personal relevance to us, right? Yeah. I always go back to I grew up in a coal-mining town, and if you live in a coal-mining town, we’re very much a single industry town dominated by a coal mine. And if you grow up in that environment, you become very sensitized to issues of safety, of course, because when I was a kid and in school, there were several major sorts of disasters that just highlighted the role of safety. And then I went on in my studies, I sort of put that away and didn’t think about it too much more until I guess, my first job as a Professor, I was doing research. I did research mainly on stress. And I worked with labor unions. And there was a very prominent Union researcher, guy named Mike Gordon from the States. And I heard him give a talk once saying if researchers supported unions, what they should really do is look at collective agreements, use that as a guide. 

Interesting research, the kinds of things that unions are interested in. Of course, safety is a big one. And then I had a student who was interested in safety who’s now doctor territory. And for her master’s thesis, she did a project on safety. And the striking finding for me in her project was that when you look at we were looking at what predicted whether people became involved in safety programs and things like that. And the strongest predictor of their perception of risk and whether they got involved was actually their perception of leaders. 

And that was even much stronger than their perception of their own accident history. People had accidents had injuries at the workplace, they’d be more likely to see this risky, more likely to get involved in safety. But a much stronger effect was if I thought my supervisor was interested in safety, then I was much more likely to get involved in safety. 

And think about, wow, how powerful is this that it even sort of overwrites your own experience? 

That’s incredible. And I’m assuming the experience as well of those around you. The role of that supervisor is really essential. In other words, and the leaders. 

Right. And your co-workers. So, we’re very much guided by the people around us. And as we’ve gone on with research focusing specifically on leaders, the truism I always use in giving talks on this and doing leadership training is if my boss cares about safety, then I care. 

Right. And if my boss doesn’t care about safety, I don’t care either. 

Interesting. So that gets a great segue into a lot of the work you’ve done around leadership. And when we first spoke, you had great concepts around what is really a leadership model for safety. What are the key elements you want to see? Can you share maybe a little bit more in terms of what that looks like? 

Yeah, this is key. I think. I always say the problem with safety leadership is it’s a lot like the weather. Everybody talks about it. Nobody does anything about it. That was true for a long time. I go to conferences and professional meetings and things like that, and people would be talking about safety leadership, but only in the most generic way. Well, it’s important to be a safety leader. 

Right. And it’s your obligation to be a safety leader. And safety leaders get better outcomes and things like that. And then you say, well, what is a safety leader? What are you talking about? What do you want me to do as a leader? And I was fortunate enough to our local workers compensation group had a leadership conference, and they invited speakers, and they had a neat idea. They invited people who they know from their records have had a dramatic impact on safety. So, they invited leaders from different organizations that have changed in some sense their safety culture and asked them to come and basically tell us what they did. So, we had leaders who had reduced their incident rate by 80%. And when you see that biggest change, you say, well, what are you doing that leads to that. So, they also invited me, but they just wanted me to talk. They wanted me to take basically. So, my job was to sit there and listen for two days and then try to summarize that all in a final session. And it was fascinating because when I listened to leader after leader from all kinds of industries talking about what they did, I realized they’re really talking about the same things. 

So, we formulated that in a model we call the Safer leadership model. And the attempt is to identify the behaviors that result in better safety outcomes. So Safer is an acronym and it stands for leaders to speak about safety. 

Sure. Makes sense, right? 

First, minimal entry point. You have to be talking about safety. And if you don’t talk about safety, people will assume it’s not important.

Sure. Because if you’re a leader in an organization, you talk about what’s important. So, leaders talk about customer service, and they talk about productivity, and they talk about operational issues. If they don’t talk about safety, they’re really sending a message saying it’s not important makes sense. So, leaders have to act safely. So, they have to be a model themselves of what you want to see. If you want people to wear PPE, you better be wearing it too. People are watching what you do. So, we say you have to speak about it. You have to act; you have to focus on safety. So, I think a big problem in organizations is we tend to use safety as a program or a short-term intervention. During NAOSH week, we’ll have a safety speaker, and we’ll have a couple of safety events, and we’ll give away some safety teams merchandise and then that’s it for another year. That’s not how it works. Very clear from the speakers as they were talking that safety is an ongoing thing. You have to build it into your systems and your processes and your operations. So, speak, act, focus. You have to engage others in safety. 

Makes sense. We did a project for about five years. I did a safety project in China. And every year I would go over, and we worked with various industries, and one of them was the construction industry. And the model at the time for these big high rises. When you landed in Beijing, all you saw was construction all over the place. And when you went to these workplaces, their model for safety is there would be one safety officer and there would be hundreds of employees on site. And that safety officer’s job was to be responsible for safety. 

That won’t work. 

And if something bad happened, then they fired. That safety cannot possibly work, right? You cannot possibly supervise that many people or monitor what they’re doing. So, you really need to get other people involved and especially the people doing the work. We say it all the time. Nobody knows the job as well as the people doing it. And that can be really hard for leaders to accept because sometimes they’ve done that job. And they said, well, I did that for 20 years. I know all about it. You know about it when you did it, and now five years later, you’re doing something else and maybe that job has changed. So, we really need to get other people involved and to get ideas from everybody and engage the entire workforce. And then last but not least, we talk about the role of recognition. We need to tell people when they’re doing a good job when they’re doing things. And safety tends to be very punitive in a sense. Right. So that we have safety officers or leaders who walk around the workplace, and if you’re not wearing the PPE or you’re lifting improperly, they’ll call you on it. 

And there might be discipline involved or something like that. But if you’re actually doing all the right things, then you’ll never hear about it. 

Right. And that sets up this very weird dynamic. Right. So, I only know if I’m doing the right thing if nobody’s talking to me. 

Not a good one at all. 

Yeah. So, we said leaders, quite frankly, single best thing you can do as a leader in any context is tell three to five people every day they’re doing a good job. And that’s just as true in safety. And it means as a leader, you have to get out of your office and go around the workplace and watch for people doing a good job. And sometimes it’s hard to see because it fades in the background. You see the mistake. Sure, you don’t see the people doing things right, but we need to find the people who are doing the right things and tell them about it. And when I say tell them I don’t need a complicated reward system or anything like that, I just need leaders going up to somebody who said, I saw what you’re doing, I see that you’re wearing your PPE. I saw the way you did that lift. That’s a great job. Thank you. That’s all you need. 

I love the simplicity of the behaviors you’re talking about. The one that really connects with me right now is the one I’m focusing on safety, because too often what I see is one organization where the executive, the CEO talk about safety. They connect with their teams. They share the expectation. They put the focus on a very regular basis, that safety is how we do business. And then you’ll see another same industry, different organization. And the CEO only gets involved when something goes wrong, and otherwise, it’s the safety’s responsibility. They’re not driving the strategy around safety like they’re driving the strategy around everything else. And generally, outcomes follow that. 

A lot of organizations, safety sits outside our normal processes. So, there’s the way we do our jobs, and then there’s safety over here, and we bring it in when we need it sort of thing. And we know that model doesn’t work back to when the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf. And I remember reading reports later that year that the company that operated that platform, their executives were getting bonuses for having the best years ever. 

Yes. And you say, how does that happen right now between what’s going on in running our business and then how we manage safety? 


The leaders that we’re speaking at conference made it really clear you have to start embedding safety into your systems. 

Yeah. Which makes sense. 

As a leader, you shouldn’t be getting bonuses and your performance pay and all that stuff. If your safety record is abysmal. 

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I love that the behaviors you have are very tangible. It’s very easy, not complicated to understand, am I doing this? Am I not? I don’t need to read a thesis to understand, am I recognizing you said three to five people? Am I putting the right level of focus? Am I engaging people? These are very simple things. The other part is, as I understand from our part of the conversation, you really drive around getting into observable behaviors. So, you cascade this element so I can check to see if you’re doing and daily reflections. Tell me more about those topics, because I think those are areas I’ve played with and definitely seen huge results. And I love this topic. 

Yeah. So safer is sort of the model is the content of safety. 

Sure. And then we had to think about, well, how do you change people’s behavior? And I really draw a lot on my mentor, Julian Barling at Queens University, and we did a lot of leadership training together in the 90s, early 2000s. And one of the things he emphasized is the notion of having a very specific behavioral goal. Three people a day, they’re doing a good job, speak about safety four times a day, something very precise like that. And when it’s that precise and that observable, then it builds in a chance for you to review every day. I tell leaders, if you’re working eight to four, then at 02:00 in the afternoon, I want you to review that checklist say, did I speak about safety four times this day? And I purposely say 02:00, because then if you haven’t done it yet, you still have 2 hours. So, it’s recognizing that doing anything differently, you know, getting better at safety leadership or getting better at anything requires really sort of mindful reflection and monitoring. It doesn’t just happen. Right. It’s not a magic process. So, we encourage leaders to set very specific goals. I’m going to talk about safety four times a day and then review every day. 

Did I do it four times today or not? It’s a simple yes, no question. 

Right. And if you didn’t do it, then go out and try to hit your four. And if you did do it, then you’re good for today. Move on to tomorrow, especially New Year’s. Everybody sets resolutions, people buy Fitbits or whatever. And they set up to 1000 steps a day. 

Yes. Now, I don’t know if you know this, but that is absolute magic. And there is nothing magical about 10,000 steps. It’s actually a mistranslation. You probably don’t need 100 steps. But if you set that goal, everyone I’ve ever talked to has done this has found themselves at 11:00 at night walking up and down their hallway, the last steps. So, they achieved the goal for the day, right. 

Right. And it’s the power of having that very specific number coupled with that review process, and it makes it much more likely that you’re going to do that behavior and do it consistently every day. 

I think it’s a really good analogy. And there’s a degree of I’m measuring but you’re not measuring something that could drive the wrong behavior, like putting a goal on an injury rate or putting a goal on something that could drive or even observations that could drive something. That’s not what we intended, but rather things that will do no harm. Right. There’s no harm if you go recognize five people today for something they did around safety. 

Yes. And a lot of what we do in safety can have sort of unintended consequences. A lot of organizations, for example, if you drive a vehicle and you have an accident, then they do a mandatory drug test. 

Yes. And that sounds like a very sensible policy. But if you talk to employees, what happens a lot in practice is they have a minor accident, they don’t report it and they don’t report it now because they don’t want the mandatory drug tests. 

Right. So, we’ve actually driven the incidents. We’re trying to reduce we haven’t reduced them. We’ve just driven them underground. So, we don’t know about them. 

In those goals, you’re really sharing ideas that I self-reflect, and I set those goals. Have you had some success around cascading goals, working with a leader and cascading and any guidance around this since we’re talking about New Year’s resolution and some ideas around goals and how do you drive it? Is there some value in driving this, or is this really something where you’ve seen the most profound effect when it’s a personalized commitment? 

In doing leadership training in organizations. One of the things I’ve noticed, like anybody, we’ve had successes and failures in doing training. And the characteristic of when it’s been a real success in organizations and we’ve seen major changes is when everybody is involved, from the top leader down to the front-line supervisor, they’re all in the training, they’re all making goals. The senior leaders are sitting in on the training as well and setting goals. And in my favorite example, the VP in charge showed up to every session to say to the group of leaders there, this is what we’re doing, right? This is what we’re doing from now on. This is the way we’re going to do this. This is not a passing fed. As long as I’m here, this is what we’re doing. And in session, he sat in just as a participant. But in every session, one of the senior leaders was there to deliver that same message. That’s when it seems to have real power and you’re changing the culture of the workplace, I think you could have a more limited effect individually if I decide just this is something I’m going to take on. 

I heard this podcast. There are some interesting ideas. I’m going to try it out. You’ll have an effect on the people in your immediate vicinity, but it’s when every leader in an organization is taking it on. That’s when you start to see really large-scale change. 

And it really links back to small changes every day. Tiny habits. Whichever book you pick up those talks about small habits you implement, like the Fitbit is try to I just had that experience this morning because my Apple Watch was telling me I hit a certain goal. So, it’s time to up my goal for next week from an activity and calorie standpoint. 

Yes, exactly. Yeah. So that monitoring that measurement that a lot of people are doing now around fitness, really, it does have a motivational effect, just having that goal. Right. And it makes it more likely to do the behavior as a result of that. That’s going to have some downstream effects in terms of what safety in your workplace actually looks like. 

So, I think this is a great topic for leaders. Listening into the show is really lovely, safer model just in terms of what are the behaviors that I should be trying to demonstrate on a regular basis and really setting those small goals and checking in every day. I used to say check in every week if you’re too busy. And I had a similar example where somebody set a goal for themselves and for them. It was every Thursday at the end of the day, they put in their calendar saying, I’ll check how many recognitions I’ve given around safety. And if I’m not satisfied with that number, I’m going to go make it up on Friday. But I think your idea of everyday at 02:00 P.m. Is even better because it’s that frequency is a check-in of how am I doing and how do I close that goal? So great concept. 

And much like you and your Apple Watch, we say to leaders, I can give you the behavior recognize other people for safety, you have to pick the number because depending on your personality, it might seem like an incredibly hard thing to do to recognize one person. 

Maybe that’s so far out of your comfort zone, but that is incredible. Well, okay, let’s start with one then. If you say to me, well, I already recognized four people a day, well, then let’s make it five people a day. Or let’s switch our focus to another goal that you can add to that. 

We try to work with leaders wherever they are. We don’t set some impossible standards. You have to go run a marathon. Say, okay, well, let’s just say we’re going to start with 30 minutes of walking today. 

Sure. Exactly.  

Take people from where they are. And I like it because it ties back to the acronym. We’re not trying to make you the safest leader, just safer. Just a little more than you are now. Baby steps. And I said, that’s enough. 

I love the simplicity. I love how easily it can be action. And I love how it gives you the reminder. And there’s so many parallels you can take from a fitness standpoint. They really show that that’s a good model to drive forward. I’d love to Pivot. I think you’ve shared some great ideas, very actionable ones, around leadership. I’d love to touch on really the link between mental well-being and safety. So, we’ve had a few guests talk about those topics. What tends to happen in a lot of organizations is HR looks after mental well-being, if anybody does. And then on another side of how safety a bit like you talked about before, looks out at the safety side. So, I love to hear a little bit in terms of how do we break down that silo and why should we? 

Yeah. And it’s incredible how thick those walls are. In many organizations. I’ve done quite a bit of work on the notion of a healthy workplace and improving the psychologically healthy workplace. And you almost invariably find you’re not talking to the safety people anymore, that it’s two different organizational structures that don’t talk to each other. And you start saying, well, wait a minute, this is all a piece of one thing. Sure. Right. It’s all about employee well being and keeping them both safe and healthy and trying to contribute to their safety and well-being. And the notion that we separated just doesn’t make sense to me. And in some cases, I think safety people, because they work in that space of trying to change behaviors, are used to the topic, and should be taking on more health-oriented things as well. And frankly, I think there’s some resistance there that people want to deal with what they know about. Sure. And I think that’s a barrier that we have to work on. But also segmenting health and safety just doesn’t seem to work for me. So, we get this move toward a, you know, greater attention to mental health in the workplace. 

And I think one of the effects of segmenting it this way is we have tended in that mental health space to focus on trying to change individuals. So, we teach people to manage their stress, and we do lunchtime, yoga, or mindfulness or whatever we do. But again, it’s what I just said doesn’t work in terms of safety. It doesn’t work to have these programs that are sporadic. We need real change in the workplace. I think the same is true in mental health and in particular organizations should be looking at, again, to draw on safety language. What are the root causes of mental ill-health that are in the workplace? What is the workplace doing to contribute to somebody’s lack of well-being, and how can we fix that? So, stop trying to change individuals, but focus more on the place conditions. 

The system, the context in which people are operating. Have you seen organizations that have broken down those silos effectively that have found ways used to bring the linkage because we’ve had some guest speakers even on the show talking about how if I’m not well from a mental wellbeing standpoint, I’m also more prone to getting injured that day because I may not have as much focus on the task at hand and things of that nature. So really speaking about how those two items are really intertwined, interrelated that even if you want to improve safety performance, you probably also in some industries, particularly need to start looking at mental well-being as well. 

Yeah. And Janelle, at least from the research literature, that’s almost a new recognition. The idea that your mental health and those traditional metrics of incidents or injuries at work are interrelated. So, a colleague of mine, Nick Turner at the University of Calgary, in the business school there, he’s done some really interesting work looking at the relationship between mental health and safety outcomes, and the data suggests that they are there. 

So, we can look at both sides of that. If people are getting injured, they’re more than likely to be anxious or depressed. Certainly, anyone who works in the return to the workspace will tell you somebody injures their back, say it on the job site, and then can’t go back to their regular job. At least half of what’s going to keep them off is the depression resulting from that. 

If you have an injury that is life-changing in the sense that you cannot go back to the job that you knew and the job that you trained for. Not surprisingly, people get depressed about that, and that feeds into the amount of time you’re actually off work. 

Absolutely. Which makes perfect sense. What would be some of the ideas to help get the safety professionals to explore better partnerships, maybe with HR or at least better interventions that touch on both? 

Yeah. I think those walls can be so thick. I think the first step is to get those two groups talking to each other and understanding each other. Right. And I think safety brings a lot to the table in the sense that people in safety are used to analyzing risks and looking at things from a risk perspective, looking at the environment very common in safety to look around and say, well, if somebody’s going to get hurt, how are they going to get hurt? Right. Let’s identify the conditions that lead to that. I think that’s a valuable perspective to bring to the mental health arena, too. 

Right damaging people psychologically. How are we doing that? And maybe is there something better we can do, or can we stop doing that? 

Can we protect people better? 

Great. So really appreciate you coming on the show, Kevin. You’ve shared some great, really actionable ideas from a leadership standpoint and also in teams of how you drive change within the organization and then finally this is a really important topic around mental well-being and linking better connections from a safety standpoint. Thank you for taking the time to join us. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that? 

The easiest way is I’m at St. Mary’s University. My email is Kevin Kellaway Kelloway at SMU. Ca, right? That’s the easiest way to reach me and I’m on email all the time. 

I have no way and you’ve written lots of books over the years, shared lots of ideas, do a lot of research. I really appreciate you sharing a couple of really important topics with our listeners today. 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 teams fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops Guru, Eric Michrowski. 


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Dr. E. Kevin Kelloway is the Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology and Professor of Organizational Psychology at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A prolific researcher he is has authored over 200 articles and chapters and authored/edited 15 books to date. His research focuses on occupational health psychology and, in particular, how leaders affect health and safety within organizations. Kevin has been elected a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, the Canadian Psychological Association, the International Association for Applied Psychology and the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology. In 2016 he served as President of the Canadian Psychological Association. Kevin works with both private and public sector clients on issues related to leadership, safety and HR management and is a popular speaker at conferences and corporate events.


Twitter: @ohpsychologyca  



Holiday Special Episode – The Top 10 themes and ideas from 2021

Holiday Special Episode_The Top 10 themes and ideas from 2021



A year in review. The Safety Guru’s Top 10 themes and ideas from our 2021 season! Get caught up with the ideas that will help you leave a legacy in 2022! Happy Holidays!

Special thanks to our 2021 season guests: Nick Marks, Michelle Brown, Donald G. James, Kina Hart, Tricia Kagerer, Curtis Weber, Brandon Williams, Candace Carnahan, Dr. Tim Ludwig, Alfred Ricci, Dr. Josh Williams, Dr. Mark Fleming, Gardner Tabon, Steve Spear, Spencer Beach, Eduardo Lan, Dr. Keita Franklin, Jason Anker, John Westhaver, Dr. Tim Marsh, Glen Cook (Cookie), Dr. Suzanne Kearns, Dr. Robert Sinclair and Russ & Laurel Youngstrom.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing 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 option 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. I’m your host, Eric Michrowski. It’s hard to believe it, but 2021 is almost coming to a close and we’re about to wrap up our second year producing the show for all the leaders and executives out there like you that are seeking to leave a legacy by making the workplace safer. More than any other time of the year. The holiday brings loved ones together to celebrate with those that matter the most of them. This time of the year symbolizes why my team and I do the work that we do to partner with exceptional leaders and companies that endlessly focus on ensuring that their team members come home to their loved ones every day. For that, we thank you. We extend our sincere appreciation to you for your gift of safety for each and every one of your team members. 2021 has been a year full of exceptional ideas on this show. Ideas from a diverse set of thought leaders from academia and from real world practical applications. I have two awesome episodes to cap off this year. Today I will share a reflection of the top ten ideas I heard from my guests on this podcast. The next episode first will ring in the new year 2022 with four experts sharing their top four ideas for 2022. Well, you must be wondering why four guests and four ideas whether you’re 22 is two squared.  

So now on to our top ten lists for 2021. Best episodes that I’ve heard here from our guests. Let’s start with number ten. This year we had a great lineup of safety motivational speakers from Russ and Laurel Youngstrom that talked about moving safety from the head to the heart to Jason Anker that really talked about making safety part of your life and the impact of mental health on safety. We’ll get to that soon. Kina Hart and Candace Carnahan that talked about making safety personal. Curtis Webber that touched on the importance of leadership and onboarding for safety. Spencer Beach about putting safety first, listening to yourself, John Westhaver about road safety and wide matters, and finally cookie around power line safety, his episode around looking up and living. All of these motivational speakers do some exceptional work and sharing the importance of staying safe and help influence the mindsets and ultimately the behaviors of others. For that, I thank them. 

Well, it is essential for every team member to choose to work safely because they recognize that safety is an investment into the experiences that they want to have with their loved ones. Sometimes we also need to step into the shoes of somebody who had an experience to understand that this could happen to us as well. Of this great lineup, two episodes really caught my attention. First one was around Russ and Laurel Youngstrom. This dynamic duo had a really authentic story around safety. What caught my attention was the story about a close friend of Russ who was there the day of the event who witnessed him getting seriously injured, falling from heights and yet a short period afterwards was also caught not wearing his safety harness while working at Heights. The other part is, Russ was very authentic. When I asked him about what would have prevented him from making this at the time, he essentially said that nothing could have stopped him. It was already in his mindset at the time. Cookie, you got to love somebody who goes by that name. Well, he had a fantastic story about powerline, safety and really that people were getting more easily injured when you could see the power line versus when you were digging, and you couldn’t see it really important story about situational awareness and a great app that gets people to reflect and think about the hazards of power line. 

And now on to number nine, the Happiness Index with Nick Marks, A Statistician with A Soul. What really caught my attention about this episode was the element on the focus on a pulse, a regular pulse of your business. The work he had done had identified how pulse of the workforce is a very fluid scenario, and he brought some examples from the first few months of the coveted pandemic and how a month over month and week over week, people’s perception around the workplace were shifting. So, what really that brings forward is the importance of measuring a safety pulse on a more regular basis, not even just doing it annually or quarterly, but maybe even thinking about their workforce and their perceptions in a small sample on a weekly basis so that we get a great leading indicator and may be able to impact and drive action earlier. He also touched on the importance of psychological safety and some ideas on how to measure it really key topics for 2021 and beyond, and now on to number eight safety culture. What would a year on the safety group be without conversation on safety culture? But this year we had two great professors come and join us. Dr. Mark Fleming, as well as Dr. Bob Sinclair. Dr. Mark Fleming’s episode is interesting. He touches on the topic of signal theory, which was Nobel Prize research. Essentially, he’s trying to understand what are the signals that executives can send to truly send the message that safety matters here. Point he brings forward is that sometimes when an executive will walk around, they’ll say that safety is the number one priority, and the team members are really trying to understand. Is that signal true or not? A couple of the key items is about how can executives present more powerful impactful messages when they do spend time and field because that time and feel is going to be limited. A great episode for senior leaders to think about their messaging and sending the right signals across the organization. 

The other thing he touches on is really the importance of fixing things, but also of helping people solve their own issues around safety and how that sends some very reinforcing positive signals. Dr. Bob Sinclair also came on our show later in the year, and he was talking about some of the links between safety, climate and ultimately behaviors, which is the whole reason why we’re focused on safety climate and safety culture, but also touched on the importance of complexity of rewards too easily. You can drive the wrong impact by having the wrong metrics, but at senior levels, if you don’t have the right indicators, then you may not be prioritizing safety the right way. So great episode. Very complex theme touches on it. The other element he touches on, which I’ll get to very soon and more details is around supervisory skills and how that’s a critical, critical place to begin a journey around safety culture. Really making sure that your supervisors are maximizing every single interaction to drive meaningful impact because ultimately that’s who find my teams members speak to the most and are probably the most influential in the day to day. Of course, number seven goes to Human Factors with two great guests this year. 

Let’s start with Dr. Suzanne Kearns. She teaches aviation safety, and one of the things she touched on is really around how in the 70s and 80s, the culture was really around finding the air within the pilot. Post an investigation. There were a series of very high-profile aviation accidents that were primarily caused by pilot error during the 70s and 80s and really start challenging the industry to think about. Is it really about challenging the error of the pilot, or is there more to play with? One of the most interesting examples she brought forward was around Eastern Airlines. 

If you remember the crash where there was a faulty light bulb that changed the attention of the crew, and they didn’t realize that they disengaged the autopilot and flew their aircraft straight into the ground, something that should never have happened. So, she really talks about how you need to lurk look at the environment and the situation touches on human performance, really as a scientific discipline of why people make mistakes. One thing I really loved about her conversation was around the Swiss cheese model. She touched about how we have multiple layers of protection, but each one of them has holes in it. 

And if those holes line up, that’s where an accident can happen. So, the concept is an accident itself is actually quite rare, but those leading conditions that could allow it to happen are more frequent. So, she really focuses on how you start looking for those leading conditions and driving real impact. And then there was Brandon Williams, from fighter pilot to airline captain, who recently just got promoted as a captain. He touched on four critical themes in my mind. One, he touched on the concept of just culture learned, touching on some of the items that Suzanne Kearns also discussed. 

But he also talks how that drives in your misreporting and creates a learning environment and the critical importance of it. He touched on the importance of situational awareness and tools and tactics that can help increase worker situational awareness, which is often why things go horribly wrong. I loved as well how he touched on the concept of accountability as peer accountability, as opposed to sometimes the negative view of accountability, which is where we start blaming people. I love this concept of peer accountability from his episode, and now we go to number six, where we go to Steve Spear, who teaches operations management at MIT. What I loved about this episode is he touches on the importance of really creating a learning organization if you want to drive safety. He touches on the concept of seeing problems, how that becomes a capability where people are constantly obsessed with finding opportunities to drive improvements, and then, Secondly, how they start solving them nonstop, trying to find even little things, really touches on the theme that we touched on before around human factors and human performance, really trying to solve those leading conditions. And finally, really about how do we share and disseminate that knowledge. 

He touches on three stories that are incredibly powerful. First one, he has first-hand experience around Paul O’Neill’s work at Alcoa and really how Paul O’Neill did some phenomenal things around safety, truly, by driving the importance and the focus and within the organization. From his initial meetings where he talked about how we’re going to fix everything through a focus on safety, to try to make sure that he knew about every single incident within 24 hours in days prior to even a Fax machine, and how that drove really this sense of ownership, accountability across line leaders. 

And finally, that if somebody wasn’t on board, how he took an action. Second one was really around US Navy, and he talked about some great examples of how you make sure a new team member comes on board and can be anywhere in the world and yet make the right call right decision. That was a great story. And finally, I would touch on Toyota, which was another example he brought on, which is really around the onboarding of a leader and really how it’s really about coaching great episode, lots of great insights about creating a learning organization, which is really the crux of driving safety performance. 

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, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered visit us at 

Now on to number five. We had Professor Dr. Tim Ludwig who joined us. The safety Doc meets the safety guru. His book, Dysfunctional Practices That Kill Your Safety Culture, has amazing resources and ideas on things that you could do and probably are doing that are making things worse around your safety culture. First thing you touched on is really stop blaming your employees. And he brings a lot of really good examples of leaders that think that our employees aren’t doing the right things and blaming them. 

Again. Linked to the earlier topic around human performance. He talks about some of the theory around behavioral change and how do you make that tangible and real in the business? And does it really change from day to day through coaching interactions? And how do you actually make a change and then really the importance of the environment in which you’re operating in great book, but also great episode and now on to number four Mental health. We had four experts bring up the topic over the year, but two really caught my attention. 

The duo of Jason Anker and Dr. Tim Marsh that worked together Jason Anker from more of a motivational standpoint in terms of his experience. And then Dr. Tim Marsh from some of his work and his research around safety culture. And really the key theme and what I loved about those two episodes is how they were able to directly link the impact of mental health and safety. Often people touch on the topic. They were able to connect the dots and essentially unfortunately, a lot of organizations the mental health side is being handled by HR and the safety side by the safety professionals, and what he’s advocating, what they’re talking about is really these things are often interconnected talks about the importance of active care and how active care is an incredibly important theme to start surfacing that maybe somebody is not as okay as you think today and that could be a precursor to an injury really driving that link. 

Such an important theme really important for safety leaders to start thinking about the impact and how they can collaborate with HR around driving mental health within their business and now on to number three. Safety supervision. Such an important topic I mentioned before, Bob Sinclair mentioned the importance and why it’s so critical for your supervisors to really have the right skills. Eduardo talks about how often supervisors are the ones that got the least investment in teams of leadership skills often get promoted from the craft because they were really good at the job but weren’t given the tools around influence, particularly around safety. 

And if you want to make a real difference for safety, that’s probably where you need to start around upgrading the skills of your supervisor. What I love about Eduardo talks about the four core critical behaviors that you need to drive in the core skills you want to bring forward, which is around how you delegate work safely, how you acknowledge safe work. So really the element of recognition and how that plays an impact in terms of ultimately in terms of the outcomes, how do you redirect unsafe work, which is probably the most challenging one? 

How do you get difficult conversations nailed? How do you help coach a team member so that you get real lasting impact and behavioral change? And finally, around engaging your team around safety to get more participation, more involvement? Great episode, tangible ideas around safety supervision and how do you make it happen within your business? Definitely has to be an area of focus going in 2022. Now on to number two safety leadership. What topic could be more important than safety leadership if you want to drive meaningful impact? 

Well, this episode was around with Michelle Brown, who dedicated her career to helping leaders. She speaks a lot on the impact and the key elements of transformational leadership and some of the experiences she’s had with some of those transformational leaders. Really about how do you leave a legacy? The power of questions and really, ultimately, the impact of what interests my boss will fascinate me. And how do you use that as a positive to drive safety culture change within your business? Incredibly important topic around leadership as well connects with some of the topics we heard earlier around Mark Fleming and his conversations around signal theory. 

Two episodes that really touch on the impact and the importance of safety leadership, and now moving to the number one idea from my episode in 2021, we had Dr. Josh Williams introduce the concept he calls Be Hop. He brings ideas to help take your behavior-based safety to the next level. We all know that BBS has probably had the biggest impact around safety performance, but unfortunately, a lot of organization it plateaus, and often it plateaus because BBS doesn’t address themes such as safety ownership. The human performance items I talked about doesn’t go deep enough around coaching doesn’t focus sufficiently on critical observable actions. 

Basically, the higher risk items that people should be observing. Key performance indicators tend to drive the wrong impact, so too much focus on mailing it in by driving up the number of observation cards. Often BBS programs lack in terms of organizational change. Don’t touch organizational systems don’t drive safety participation, and there’s still blame. As we heard from Dr. Tim Ludwig. So, Josh proposes a couple of key ideas to help introduce and integrate behavior-based safety with some of the human performance tools we talked about before to drive real, tangible impact and push. 

Plus, a Plateau and performance Bee hop a great tactic, very different from traditional observation programs. If you’re looking to make a difference, listen to that episode. There you have it, folks. Those are my top ten for 2021. Listen in on December 30 as we look forward to the top four safety megatrends for 2022, the top four safety megatrends to move and power your safety performance into 2022 and then join us in 2022, as have another phenomenal line up of guests and ideas for you.  

Once again, thank you for the work that you do helping workers come home safe to their loved ones for the holidays. Hey, and if you know somebody that should be on the show, let me know. Let’s make safety fun, simple and useful for executive and leaders. Let’s make a real difference. Happy Holidays from the safety guru. Thank you. 

Thank you for listening to the safety Guru on Csuite radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru. Eric Michrowski. 

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Eric Michrowski is a globally recognized thought leader and guru in Operations and Safety Culture Transformations. A highly sought-after Executive speaker on the global stage, he has led executive training programs, coached the C-Suite, and connected with thousands of Fortune 500 senior leaders. He has been featured on TV, in articles, and Podcasts, hosts syndicated show on the premiere business podcast C-Suite Radio and has an upcoming ForbesBooks book to be published next year. His approach is anchored in evidence-based research and practical applications in Human Performance, Process Excellence, and Organizational Change. He brings over 25-years hands-on experience in Operations Management, Culture & Business Transformations, and Safety having worked across a broad range of industries. Across his work, he has achieved substantial improvements in Safety, Operational and Financial Performance, and Employee Engagement, always by incorporating Epic Cultures to maximize results and sustainability.

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Dysfunctional Practices That Kill Your Safety Culture with Dr. Tim Ludwig

Dr. Tim Ludwig on Dysfunctional practices that kill your Safety Culture



Behavioural safety analysis is essential on the part of managers and workers alike to improve safety practices and conditions in the workplace. Today’s guest, Dr. Tim Ludwig, is a renowned safety consultant with 30 years of experience doing empirical research on employee-driven behavioural safety. Tune in to our discussion on common mistakes made by managers and on the effectiveness of observation, risk identification and open communication to find sustainable solutions and create a safer environment for front-line workers.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to the safety guru. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Dr. Tim Ludwig. He’s a professor at Appalachian State University, spent over 30 years studying safety, safety, culture and behavioral safety, written five books, the most recent one around dysfunctional practices, which is a phenomenal read. We’re going to talk more about it today on the show and his website, Safety Dash, also a great resource with lots of great themes to cover.

So, Tim, welcome to the show and very happy to have you with me today.

Pleasure to be here with the safety guru safety doc and the safety guru far off here.

Hopefully no sparing, no dangerous activities. But tell me how you got into safety and your passion for the work you’ve done.

Well, you know, I initially, from my psychology background, was interested in quality improvement and performance improvement. I came through my doctoral program at the time when TQM and business process re-engineering were hot. So, I thought of myself as like you know, trying to get to that level of increasing and improving the quality of work in organizations the like. But at Virginia Tech, where I got my doctorate, I had the pleasure of studying under Scott Geller, who was a big safety, absolutely.

Applying behavioral principles to safety, quite well known in that area. And at the time I was doing safety research, but I told Scott at the time, I don’t know about the safety thing really into quality improvement stuff. And safety was just a good laboratory for the kind of principles that I was trying to study. And indeed, after I got done, I kept doing research on safety. But for the next 10 years or so, I was I was working with the U.S. Navy and Department of Energy and other places working on performance improvement, strategic planning, and measurement.

And it was really on those lines. And I remember talking to one of my colleagues at the time going, you know, it’s a big disconnect between all the safety research, but I’m doing all this quality improvement stuff. It doesn’t seem to come together well. It came together. I started getting asked to do speeches in the light because my research. And then I noticed, you know, like I got something to say here. And then it occurred to me I remember being up in Newfoundland, working with a bunch of of oil and gas folks who were out on floating barges, floating refineries out in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

And finally, it slaps me upside the head as I as I’m talking to these folks going, you know, this is a good mission. You know, keeping people safe is incredible. And since then, I drank the Kool-Aid and never look back.

That’s phenomenal. So, let’s get to your book, and I really want to hear a little bit of the subtitle is Around Your Stupid. So, tell me a little bit. So sorry, what are you stupid? And tell me a little bit about the story behind it and the effect of fishing for fault.

Yeah, absolutely. The book is called Dysfunctional Practices That Kill Your Safety Culture. But I was going to call it You Can’t Fix Stupid, but Ron White, the comedian, kind of took that and didn’t want to get in trouble or anything like that. But it came from a I. I was working with a automobile manufacturing interests who made safety equipment for Baronial Beal’s international company. And they had asked me to go to a plant in neighboring Tennessee about an hour and a half from my house because they had the worst safety record of like all North America.

And in fact, the manager got fired. The younger manager called me up and said, hey, listen, give me the don’t you come on out. I got a problem with my employees. You know, they just don’t understand. I mean, I’ve been working I’ve been here for half a year of spending money. When I got here, you could even see the clock on the wall because of the oil mist in the air. So, I’m spending money on this place, doing training the whole bit and the employees just don’t get it.

I think they’re stupid. And I oh, well, I got to go see this. And I went and we were in a boardroom and you could tell that the culture was terrible. They’re yelling at each other. The employees that were there and the manager at the beginning, the manager basically says the same thing. And because, you know, I’ve been doing all I can, and the employees just don’t seem to get it. And then this one woman who was one of the employees stands up, slams the table, and says, what are you calling a stupid?

Because it’s best for us to go back. And he goes, stupid is stupid does. And then boom, the room breaks up the arguing with each other. And I had to kick the manager out. And about an hour half later, he comes back, and his face was ashen. You could tell he just had a fright. And he said that I didn’t want to go back to my office. I wanted to kind of understand what you guys are talking about.

So, I went out on the work floor. I still do some work. And he said, you know, I shouldn’t be doing any of the skilled stuff, so. Change light bulbs, you know, unit manager can change a light bulb proved to be incorrect because he said he found himself on the top rung of a step ladder with his manager, shoes on, oily and everything, holding on the piping and reaching up to get a light bulb.

And he slipped. He kicked it out and he caught himself on the piping and then he went in. It came into our meeting just right afterwards. So, he had that shaken look. Of course, that one woman stands up stupid and he goes, Yeah, I was stupid. And I thought they’d learned something that day. Of course not. Nobody’s stupid. I tell companies how many employees you got here. Four hundred. Know, that means there’s four hundred different kinds of IQ.

Everybody brings something special to the table and you need to listen to them. And so that gave us the opportunity to kind of do more behavioral analysis. You know, why did you use a stepladder instead of a six-foot ladder? And we found out that the six-foot ladders were all the way at the at the warehouse like a seven-minute walk. And you’re asking employees that are going to change light bulbs to work seven minutes and go get a ladder and walk through this oily place with the ladder and set it back up and go do it.

You know, changing the environment changes behavior. There’s no need to label people. And of course, when you call people stupid, that just starts arguments and completely goes against the chance of learning what the problem is. So, you know, that one really stuck with me. And, you know, I’ve heard over the years, you know, stupid. And what other words would count their stupid or when you do an incident investigation and then you end up coming up with a root cause, that is human error.

Well, that’s just another way of calling someone stupid. Did we get done with this investigation and the person needs to be retrained? What do you think retraining is? They know how to do their job. You’re calling them stupid. There’s just so many ways that inner safety management system. I agree. And in our discussions with other people, we’re calling them stupid. And that just goes against the culture that’s going to kill your culture and make people not talk to you.

I think it’s such an important point. I’ve even seen sometimes incident investigation feels like an interrogation chamber. It’s about trying to find fault, blame somebody. I’ve seen executives just jump and say, who are we going to fire? Is all that my favorite was somebody’s favorite? I’m not sure if it’s a good expression, but it was somebody who was who said, yeah, this person made a stupid mistake and it cost them their arm. Let me go fire them so they learn a lesson, which is you’re right, it’s a horrible, horrible mindset.

But what kind of message are you sending to an entire organization if you do this? So, tell me more about this fishing for fault and how it shows up, because that’s one of the things that really, in my opinion, really must change when it comes to organizations and safety.

Yeah, it’s a bit of an illusion that that managers carry that that they can find what’s going on and then and then blame it on the person. Right. When in fact, they perfectly designed the systems to get the at-risk behaviors or they’re looking for. But they the tools in the manager toolkit to change behavior are why they’re variety, variety coaching, reinforcement modeling and all these other kinds of things. But this discipline thing just seems to be the one in the back pocket.

And we don’t blame the managers either. I’ve talked to many frontline supervisors all the way up to the head of the shop, and I ask them, you know, when you first started becoming a supervisor, when you were on the floor being an hourly employee and then you got that promotion, what kind of manager did you want to end up being? And they usually said, yeah, somebody who’s, like supporting my troops and being there, making sure I’m removing barriers to success and kind of being popular.

And then how are you now? Your kind of grumpy, aren’t you? You’re going around yelling, you know, just being a little bit on edge all the time. So, what happened to you? And the problem is they go fishing for faults right now. At the beginning. At the beginning, when they were the first brand new manager, they said, hey, I’m going to go around, support people. So maybe they’re going out there finding a guy named Josh.

And Josh is doing you know, Josh has his normal day to day activities. But this one day that that you saw him, Eric, he was he was doing he was just upset with the guard. You know, they kept breaking, kept falling off. And he just got sick of it. He went then to fabrication. They created a new guard. He put it on. You saw that happen. You’re going, hey, look at this man.

He’s taking accountability for his own safety. He’s upgrading the machine. And then he caught you. You call everybody together, the whole team. Hey, I’m bringing you together to tell you what Josh did. This is great. And I support him completely. Everybody should be more like Josh right now. Josh Course is embarrassed about that because this isn’t what he normally does. And so. You go back the next day, I expect you to get all excited to see Josh and his behavior kind of goes back to where it is normally, and he makes mistakes here and he does good things here and they go back the next day and he took off his safety.

Protection is because I protection wipe his brow. He didn’t put it back on. And you see. And we don’t have the glasses on you. Oh, my God. Are you kidding me? Josh, I just praised you. And that happens because you’re not understanding that that there’s a there’s there is a common way that people are behaving. And if you’re not there watching you catch the good things, you’re going to get punished for praising. And it’s because you’re not using reinforcement correctly.

Right. And then you’re out there another day and you go by and Josh is just having a bad day. I don’t know what is why I feel that he is tired. He was up all night and he just he really, really kind of blew it this day. You know, he had the guard all the way off. He was his fingers were at risk. And you go and you see and then you scold them. Right. And that’s natural human reactions.

It’s emotional. You don’t want to see them hurt. So, you scold them. And then after you get done scolding them, you go back the next day. Guess what? You know, you’ve not having that bad day again. He’s having his normal day and you see him with this protection on and all this other stuff. And you go, hey, this scolding thing works. But you know what? If you didn’t do anything that day other than kind of help him out, he would have gone back there normally.

And this this is normal variation shapes managers into fishing for faults. You know, they think they get this illusion that this punishment or scolding works in praise doesn’t when in fact the science tells us the opposite. So, what happens is they’re not actually out there measuring day to day variation in where they could support. They’re out there just waiting until they find that one fault. And then they dove in and they hold it up like a fish and they go, I got it.

And then they go to the other managers and hold it. Hey, look at this fish. And they act like they’re upset. Right. But it’s really a trophy. And it goes, oh, yeah, that’s terrible. And then the reinforced for finding and then, you know, then they have to even bolster it up more like I’m going to fire this person, I’m going to try. And that doesn’t that doesn’t change behavior. And what it does, it makes people sit up straighter and salute and create secret whistles when you’re coming in that it doesn’t help safety performance.

It just makes them scared of you.

Yeah, it’s a little bit like the cop on the side of the road. You slow down when you see the cop car, but it doesn’t necessarily impact your long-term behavior.

You slow down to that stupid stop right there, stupid. They turn on you sit up straighter. Don’t I mean, are you going to get a ticket for bad posture?

So maybe you will. So, this conserved fear very often it’s sometimes called accountability and accountability has a good side, I think in some cases. But there’s also an accountability, which is code for I’m trying to instill fear. Fear. What’s your thoughts around this in safety? And obviously we’ve talked about the firing. If somebody makes a mistake, how do you balance all these things together?

Yeah, well, you know, accountability is a behavioral principle. I mean, it’s a contingency in this situation. If you do this, you’ll end up encountering this other thing. Right. So, accountability typically is what we call negative reinforcement. Right. You’re increasing behavior. You’re trying to get more of this behavior by avoiding something threatening. But you can also have accountability. That’s positive reinforcement. If I do this in this situation, I’m going to get praise from my boss, my fellow worker coming up, give me a thumbs up in the like.

So, you know, accountability is basically another term for a contingency. But you’re right. I mean, you know, oftentimes accountability is, OK, we’re going to list everything that you need to do. And if you don’t do it, you are accountable for it. And that’s assuming that a safety manager or boss knows everything it takes to be safe like they can codify in rules everything it’s going to take to be safe. But you could talk to the workers out there.

You know, the rules are only halfway there. They’re having to they’re having to use their discretion this time. Right. And when you when you are using accountability, so you then you come in and you scold. When that’s not happening, you do it publicly so everybody can see it. What’s what’s happening there? Well, first, people are going to start using no discretion. They’re just going to try to go by the book.

And believe me, going by the book sometimes will get you in trouble. So, 100 percent trouble can hurt. You want somebody to use their own discretion. Let’s see who’s working around them, see what the weather’s like, understand that this equipment is kind of not working like it should. And then and but if they’re afraid of getting in trouble, just following the rules is what’s going to result. So, you can actually get people in worse trouble.

Right. Then think about in terms of the culture. If getting in trouble for not following the rules makes you fearful that the manager is going to come over and scold you like you were scolding Josh, right? So, what’s going to happen to our bodies? Pablo told us this way back. Our bodies when we get skull with something negative happens to especially because it surprises us. We get a few responses and it’s our own animal side. We got to have our fear response and we don’t really get a fear response to the thing.

It’s going to hurt us like the equipment that could help or hurt our body. We also get fear response to the manager when they come in the room. Right. So, imagine how on edge you are when you’re afraid of something, you have anxiety. Then your manager comes on the room creating that in you. You’re certainly not safer there. And then think about when a manager like a good safety program would say, hey, you know, when something goes bad and there’s like a near miss or a close call, we want you to report it.

Yeah, you got that fear response. Any time your manager comes walking in and I’m going to sit here and go to the manager, go, hey, I want to tell you about where I kind of screwed up here and I almost got hurt. And because you’re going to have that fear response, I’m going to avoid that. So, fear stops the conversation. Plain and simple right now. And we can’t be so boastful to think that managers and safety professionals even dedicate their career to this can come up with every single thing it’s going to take to keep somebody safe.

We need to learn from our frontline workers. And if we’re shutting them down, then we’re not going to be able to learn. We’re going to hurt our ability to help them. And I think injuries are going to be more prolific. That’s the case in less mature safety cultures.

Yeah, I think I agree. I would say the this is a balance that’s needed because if things are too loose and there’s no process, there’s no methods, there’s no what a good kid looks like that can be dangerous. But if at the other end of the spectrum, it’s too controlled an environment, there’s too much punishment, too much fear. I mean, I’ve seen in some organizations where leaders give out tickets or fines or however, they call that for infractions and they have a target, a quota of how many infractions you need to find.

And so then eventually at the end of the month, you’re going to find infractions just because you’re not meeting their quota. And then the person ridicules the program, and the person then becomes afraid of it. And I’ve seen it myself. In the airline industry, people openly talk about failure as mistakes, near misses. It was just accepted what wasn’t accepted as hiding it. And then you go into other industries. And I remember as an example, there was one when mine site where the trucks were rolling down open pit mine, that trucks were regularly rolling down.

And for several years this happened. Incredibly, incredibly dangerous event. But nobody was talking to why it was happening, because people were blinking, their eyes falling asleep, which meant that this cause couldn’t be addressed because it was always hidden. It was always a story for why it happened as opposed to the open truth. Again, because of a of a fear which may not necessarily be real, but there’s still a fear that’s present, which is what becomes to reality.

And it lasts a long time. And it’s one of those that old age, you know, for every thousand, every thousand acts of kindness, it only takes one acts of act of meanness to destroy it. All cultures hard to build. And it doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take much. I mean, the memory is long. So, you can tell when we’re talking behavioral safety. Right. We’re off to take it’s the behavior of the employees that we’re looking at.

Well, I think this discussion kind of proves that the behavior of the managers is a big part of that. And we’re where we learn about total safety, culture or other kind of ideas, a safety culture. That’s where we say, hey, it’s the everybody in the in the plant that that’s involved with it. And not only front-line workers and their front-line supervision and other management, other functions in the at the site where the planners, the engineers, H.R. procurements, you know, they’re all behaving, too, for sure.

Ways that impact the front-line worker financing budgets.

Exactly. They have huge impact.

Exactly. And so, you know, we’re sitting here putting it all on the front-line worker when in fact, when these other functions or making decisions without the frontline workers insights, without understanding the honest events that are happening, the frontline workers, when they’re making these decisions and they’re kind of pushing the problem to the front-line worker, they’re making budgetary decisions, cutting costs. Right. And they’re saying we can pull this off. Well, who’s going to have to pull this off?

It’s a frontline worker, right? When the maintenance planners are sitting in too many. Too many folks to the unit and the and the permitting the folks that are supposed to be doing permits, so of having a reasonable two or three to do a day, they’re doing 12 and of course, they’re doing couches permits, not actually doing the walkabouts. And then that that problem gets pushed to the front-line worker. And it’s something that happened by other people who aren’t even aware, probably make a decision a long time before someone when we’re talking about a culture, a culture needs to involve everybody and oftentimes are behavioral programs.

And even our safety programs are focused on that front line worker when in fact, the sustainable solutions are going to occur in all these other functions that are setting the occasion for the problem to the front line work. And guess what? Front line workers are heroes. You know, they’re pulling it off with all those things that they don’t do. They’re pulling it off, but sometimes pulling it off by taking shortcuts and in some cases are being praised for it.

So, this topic is an incredibly important one, because I completely, completely echo this. I’ve seen in more mature organizations they really embrace that everybody, the finance person, the HR person, every support function needs to understand safety and the role not only for their specific role, but also in terms of how they influence others around safety. But in a lot of organizations, that gets shunned upon, they say, well, what does it have anything to do with the lawyer?

What does it have anything to do with the finance person? How have you helped bring those other support groups really to that understanding of really a chain of causality between your actions and and an end outcome of the front line?

I mean, I just had that conversation yesterday with a with a large manufacturing site on the west coast of the United States, where they were just looking for let’s put together a card and observe employees. And that’s what we need. And I said, no, that’s not that’s first of all, that that that may be a component of a program that works, but just doing that is going to you’re going to end up failing or having to pay for observation and then trying to give them the fuller picture of what we just talked about.

Everybody involved, everybody understanding of behaviors. And this guy said, oh, I don’t think I have that much control over it. And right there, you know, they’re not ready. They’re not ready. So, there’s your question. Like, how do you do that? Let’s consider what the front line worker does. They get observe, they get feedback on their behaviors. Right, either from each other, from their front line manager or maybe a safety person.

You’re getting feedback all the time on how to improve their behaviors. And we sometimes collect data on that and the multitude of ways, behavioral observations on it right near misreports and stuff like that. And we use that data to target behaviors that that we can that we can improve. And then that reduces injuries. Well, the same principle occurs back in maintenance planning. Same thing occurs back in engineering, in H.R. and finance. The problem is we don’t blame them.

We don’t blame anybody. They’re just not getting the visibility of the impact of their decisions. So, when we have an incident, investigations that blame the worker by saying it’s human error, instead of kind of asking, well, why was this valve engineered this way to begin with? Right. Then we just stop right there, and we blame the worker. And then you call them stupid, and they sign a piece of paper that they’re stupid and they get coached and.

Right, right. But what we haven’t done is taken that information and filter it back to a good feedback system as kind of an observation of the engineers. Right. Engineers should, you know, once a month in their safety meeting, instead of talking about papercuts and how to sit up straight in their chair, they should be reviewing the incidents that occurred at your plant and other plants and saying, OK, what is the engineering issue here and how do we change our processes to listen to the frontline worker and integrate their feedback into our designs and then be able to assure that our designs aren’t causing risk.

Now, like you said, mature programs, mature engineering programs. I know of many in construction and in the mining industry that that do this their engineering systems are set up for this. But what I rarely see is that safety process of incentivization near miss one piece, one a job and all that other stuff actually getting into the way the engineers do their work, the continuous improvement cycles for the engineers, for procurement, for maintenance planning and all that other stuff.

So, you’re right, the mature programs are there. When you want to build a program, we call this the Behavioral Systems of Behavioral Systems Analysis, where you start with some of the incidents on the front line, or better yet, let’s start with a near miss. Reports are behavioral observations, so nobody must get hurt for us to learn from this. And there’s an analysis technique from the science, and we’ve been doing it over the last five years out in industry, getting kind of perfecting it where you take that incident and.

And then you kind of go upstream and find out where variances and get to a point where we kind of have the, say, root cause, but a source, kind of the original source, I just did a series of talks based on experience. I had a refinery where they had a forklift out in the units with the mast of the forklift about to hit an overhead pipe. And if that were to hit, that would have been a major injury or release process.

Safety shut down the plant. I lose money. Right. So, an observer, one of their behavioral safety officers are out there and saw this. Right. And when I was visiting, we did an analysis of behavioral systems analysis on this, and it went back to permit, if they would have done the permit correctly, operated on the perimeter like they were doing a walkabout and said, here’s the path you take and here’s why. You know, you got these overhead pipes.

You shouldn’t be able to get out of that. And if they would have done that, of course, the integrity of that, absolutely. They’re not going to take that risk. So, then you ask, why is the variance in the permitting? Well, that’s when we found out that there was some 12 permits a day going out. That’s totally out of control. There’s no way it takes like 20 minutes to do these walkabouts. Multiply 20 minutes, times 12.

It’s their whole day. And they got another job to do, too. And then we worked that back to go. Look who’s sending these people for permits or for the most part, it’s the maintenance planners who are sending work crews out to do to send tools and equipment out for the maintenance crews to go and fix stuff. And, you know, and that systems usually under control as well. If it’s just the maintenance, maintenance, you know, doing preventive maintenance and reliability checks and stuff like that.

But then when you start analyzing that, you start seeing that everybody else in the company are calling to go do our thing, do this thing, do this thing and the operating system and the engineers and procurement. And, you know, by the time they get done, they’re trying to please everybody and everything’s a priority and then it’s gets pushed and that that causes the permitting problem. So that’s where you have this this out-of-control system within a function that’s kind of pushing the problem to the front-line worker and the front-line workers are pulling this off.

But every now and then it’s going to slip through the cracks. And I think that analysis, as we get better at it and we teach it and we get more practice at it, and frankly, these other functions start understanding that they are a part of the safety culture and they actively are working toward the safety of the front-line employee as hard as the front-line leaders in the safety folks. You know, it’s like kind of riffing here a little bit long.

But the safety manager, if we just say safety is that person’s job, then safety is nobody else’s job. I just I like to say safety is not your job. It’s just something you do because it’s the right thing to do. And safety has to be everybody’s job. And it’s a big education learning curve for folks that are in the air-conditioned office doing professional work. And they need to be made aware of that front line. So I’m really encouraged by the Gemba of the degree manufacturing, where in lean manufacturing, if you got like a quality problem, you know, the vice president of Toyota in Japan will go to the front line, watch manufacturing, much of manufacturing process, go talk to the workers before they make major changes.

And it’s the same thing in South Africa before the pandemic. You know, I was dragging engineers and procurement officers and executives up to the out to the mines, the mine construction sites in, you know, in the rural areas of Africa. And they were begrudgingly going out there, kind of cutting under their breath saying, what’s this guy from the United States? And then they go out there and they see it and man their light bulbs start flashing.

And it’s as if I was if I came in and did magic. But no, you got to get out and see it. And that’s I think if you want a quick answer to your question, which I didn’t give you, but if you want a quick answer, how do you get these other functions involved in promoting safety of the front-line employee? You just send them out and you spend time with those front-line employees walking through their work.

I would say with the caveat, because they’ve done well and I’ve seen it done not as well. The gemba where you’re talking about his accent, because it’s about going, listening, hearing and understanding. I’ve seen it where you’ve got the CFO in a in a perfectly pressed suit coming in and telling somebody what to do as they go and say, well, you should do this. Right. And I think that does more harm than good. Yeah.

But, you know, here is my rule. When I when I took these executives out to the mining sites, if you are going to go and give somebody feedback on what they should do, then that worker gets to tell you what you should do. And believe me, the workers have something to say to these executives.

Exactly. So where do you have to say the themes, you talk about are incorrectly? I completely agree with all the themes you’ve brought up and I’ve seen this in real life many times a. Some people look at behavioral observation, you talked about it before as a means in a lot of organizations to create that or foster the blame or reinforce that it’s the person at the front line making the mistake. I think that’s excessive. But I’d love to hear your perspective around that.

And how do you shift the mindset around it? Because I think poorly implemented, that’s what happens.

Yeah, I’ve seen it. Believe me, any of us in the behavioral safety field have seen programs. We’ve been asked to go fix programs. And but it blows my mind after, what, some 30, 40 years of the showing effectiveness of behavioral safety programs, that there are still people saying it’s blaming the worker. And if you go if you go into our science, I mean, deep into our science and all the way back to B.F. Skinner, you read some of his writings on the stuff he did with pigeons and rats, right?

I mean, let’s go back that far and see what his philosophy was. He said, you can’t blame the pigeon right at the pigeon. Doesn’t do what you hypothesized. You don’t blame the pigeon. You know, it was your fault. Let up the experiment this way. And the pigeon is just being a pigeon. So, you know, no blame is in the foundations of our science. And somebody who says behavioral safety because and I get it, you were observing somebody and we’re documenting their behavior.

And so therefore you think that we are blaming the person. No, it’s not about the person. I mean, stop being so conceited. All right. Let’s say let’s say it is about the person and in psychology, my colleagues who study like personality and cognitive psychology and social psychology. When they do their studies, and they get a they get the finding the effect size of that finding accounts for about five to 10 percent of the variance. In other words, it accounts for about five to 10 percent of the reason why the person did what they did.

Right. When we do our studies, behavioral studies in safety and other places, we’re accounting for 60, 70, 80 percent. And when we do our intervention and they make a change in behavior, we’re coming for like 60, 70, 80 percent. So let me ask you something. Do we want to blame the person? Right. Which again, they’re not to blame. Deming taught us that. Every great group tells us that. But if we blame if we if we try to change the person right.

To training and exhortations, you’re only counting for six to 10 percent of the variance, 20 percent of the best. I would personally rather go out and deal with the 60 to 80 percent of the variance that I can do something about. Right. And when you look at so then when you look at behavior, as Skinner taught us and others have taught us, you know, we say only about 20 percent of the reason why somebody did what they did is has anything to do with the person, their motivation, their aptitude, their intelligence, and stuff like that.

80 percent is due to the environment, the processes, and the systems that we as managers created. That should be that should be pretty that should be exciting for managers. Now we have something we can change. You can’t change a person. You’re not their parents. Right. But you can change the environment. So, when you talk about behavioral safety observation system. What we’re talking about is getting the opportunity to understand where the variance is we’re at-risk behavior is so we can go and analyze it.

We have behavioral processes to analyze it. The ABC analysis, behavioral systems analysis, other kind of analysis. And once we analyze it, we understand how we put that worker in the position to take that risk. We don’t have the observations. You really don’t know where to target our work. And I’ve had many discussions with folks that at first it was a big rift between behavioral safety and HP. And it’s they’re exactly the same thing. They help each other with HP.

You get all these systems improvements and changes and all that kind of stuff. But how do you know which one to use? Well, you have to go out in the gemba. You have to go out and observe and know which one it is. The second reason why it’s so that’s a big reason why behavior observations aren’t about the person, but they give you another reason that the science suggests why observations are beneficial. We found out that the person doing the observation is three times more likely to change their behavior than the person getting observe and getting feedback.

Really. Now, why do you think that is? Well, you know, you’re doing your job day to day. You’re in the flow. You’ve got your habits, that kind of stuff. Step back as a worker and watch that task. Now, impartially, you are going to notice things that you’re not noticing while you’re in the flow. You’re talking to a fellow worker and you’re starting to identify at risk behavior that you may not have understood, or your identifying behavior and you start understanding why you’re taking that shortcut and get you inside.

So, you know the observations instead of blaming the person, it gives those frontline workers an opportunity to learn from their peers and to learn from just observing behavior in the environment that it’s in. It’s the best training program out there for my money.

Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think the way you explain it is different. I think it’s not always explained that way. And I’ve too often seen somebody where it’s like a checklist or they don’t like to do it. So, they’re just going to get positive feedback as opposed to the way you’re presenting it. Really, from the Gemba view, you sound like damning in so many ways in terms of the approach is just for safety. You’re looking at things you’re trying to learn.

You’ve got to have a growth mindset around it. But that means it’s got to be engineered the right way that the system, the behavioral observation, absolutely the messaging and all that kind of stuff adds too many, too many programs. This became about the observation, getting that count and kind of got to do that at the beginning. But after, like six months, you’ve got a new program that should be no big deal. What you’re looking for in a successful behavior observation program is the ability for that program to identify risks that are happening out there.

Exactly. Too often everybody’s like, say, we’re great. Like, no, that’s not a good program. Good programs, one that we can identify, risks are. And then a good program, you know, shows that you know, the analysis we do in the interventions we put in place, changes that risk profile from, you know, from somewhere we’re concerned about to successfully over time. You know, we’re doing it correctly over time.

And that’s the goal. We’re not celebrating enough in our behavioral safety programs. And because we were just under present all the time, because we’re redundant and people start asking, why am I doing these observations? It’s a of paperchase, but it’s what if somebody’s got data? I work with a not for profit called the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Science and the Cambridge Center. You go to the website Behavior Dog, find the safety tap. And we go in there and we get data, and we tell stories.

And one of our we accredit the best behavioral safety programs in the world and one of the accredited sites, we get data in the behavioral change. And there’s this one story where they were kind of one hundred percent safe all the time right there. There’s a kind of a dud program. And then they found themselves during one particular spring summer with all these thunderstorms and lightning storms that come through their painters. They’re on scaffolding in a refinery. And the employees are kind of complaining, you know, we’re up at the scrap metal scaffolding during bad weather.

They still in a very, very sharp facility, say, let’s put it on the card. So, they put working in in bad weather on the card. And then they started going, yeah, yeah, I’m working. Too bad weather. Yeah, yeah. So that’s where everything was one hundred percent safe before. Now, suddenly, bam, we’re talking about whether it’s a big, big problem. Right. So, they took the data, took it to the safety manager, they took it to the owner of the company, and they said, look, we’re looking at the data shows where we’re getting bad weather in the safety person.

The owner of the company said you shouldn’t do that. And they said, we know. So, they put it right there on a napkin. According to the legend, they came up with a policy and they put it in writing and bam! And then it solved the problem, right, so bad weather with up to a hundred percent, but the most fascinating thing is what happened afterwards. Suddenly they’re having at risk behavior in what respirator use in other areas.

These were a problem before because these respirators are hot, right. And they pull them to the side. Other painting, they weren’t they weren’t putting that on the floor. But now that they saw that they identified risk, it could solve one of their problems all of a sudden. Hey, yeah, the risk is respirators are a problem. And then they get the respirator to get new respirators and they fit in. They’re more comfortable.

Then suddenly something else pops up. And so right now, stagnant behavioral observation programs are because we’re not having enough reinforcement. It’s because we’re not finding enough risk and we’re not solving problems based on those observations. So, you know, turning in a card means nothing versus learning in a card shows where we’re having problems. And it’s going to make my life better because I’m not going to take a risk in the future. All right. Big difference.

Yeah, because people see the value in the process. Mm hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely phenomenal. So, I really appreciate you sharing your stories. Your book got to be picked up. Dysfunctional practices available on Amazon, any bookstore. And I encourage you as well to visit your website, safety dash doc dot com. So, thank you so much for joining me. Today was phenomenal conversation. You’ve brought so many rich and important topics to the table.

Hey, I really appreciate it. You know, we all have the same mission out there. We got to share this. We got to share this knowledge. You’ve got to share practices and make sure that we can all do what we can to reduce human suffering in all its forms. And, you know, if I could just say one more thing during this pandemic, during this pandemic, programs that really understand how to use behavioral science to reduce injuries, we’re using it to reduce covid infections in their plants.

And we’ve seen behavioral operations in mental health in other areas. So, let’s you know, and I only know this because people are openly sharing it with me. So, folks, we have the same mission, you know, get out there and share your best practices freely. It should be done. And I appreciate what you do with the safety guru podcast. And sharing that message is a big part of what I do. So, thank you for having me on here as well.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much. Take care and be safe.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone. Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C Suite radio, leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, Fuel your future, come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the OPS guru, Eric Microwski.

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Dr. Tim Ludwig is an expert in behavioural approaches to safety, with 30 years of experience in the field doing empirical research and safety consulting. He did his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech researching the efficacy of employee-driven behavioural safety programs and now does post-doctoral work in industrial engineering and the application of W. Edwards Deming. He is a teacher, sharing his knowledge in behavioural safety not only with Master’s students at Appalachian State University, but also through over 100 keynote speeches delivered around the world. Dr. Ludwig is also founder and director of the Appalachian Safety Summit.

For more information:

Dysfunctional Practices: That Kill Your Safety Culture (and What to Do About Them)




Making Safety Personal with Candace Carnahan

The Safety Guru Podcast with Erich Michrowski Episode 27 - Making Safety Personal with Candace Carnahan



Incidents can happen to anyone, that’s why it’s important to make safety personal. Candace Carnahan was involved in a workplace incident when she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She highlights that everyone needs the courage to care, and to take responsibility for safety to reap the benefits. Candace reminds us that anyone can get hurt and the importance of speaking up to improve safety performance – if you know better, do better! Tune in to hear Candace’s story and insights.


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. I’m your host, Eric Michrowski. Today, I’m very excited to have Candace Carnahan with me. She’s a health and safety motivational speaker and advocate for health and safety based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Candace, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Eric. Happy to be here.

So, tell me a little bit about your story and what drove your passion for safety and to become this motivational speaker that speaks to a lot of global companies.

Well, as my story starts, almost two decades ago, I was working at a paper mill in I’m actually from a place called Miramichi, New Brunswick. And the paper mill was the bread and butter of the community, I guess. And I knew as a child of a parent that worked there, my mother, that I would be employed there. And so, I did a summer internship; I guess you would say labor work. And this would have been in nineteen ninety-seven that I started.

So maybe, needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway. Safety training was not really high on my radar, and really something that we were talking about in school training was looked upon as something that was a bit of a pain in the butt and overkill. Again, when you work at a place where your folks work at, you don’t really think that you’re being invited into the pits of danger. I, on my third summer, stepped over the top of a conveyor belt system.

I had been using that method of crossing from one point in the middle to the other for three full years, basically watching other people do it and following their examples and not thinking for myself and really making a choice to take a shortcut, not considering the consequences. And on August 11th, I put my foot down at the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. The margin of, you know, the chances of getting caught were so slim. But I did.

And my foot, yeah, my foot went into the rollers where the belt converged and the point, if you will, and I was stuck there for almost half an hour. Yeah. You know, stuck there while they called the ambulance. And they basically had to disassemble the system, the maintenance crew. Yeah. To free me and get me out. So, it was traumatic, to say the least.

And it’s really unfortunate. And I think it’s too often I hear that story of somebody new to the role coming in, and then something critical happens. And I think what would you talk about is really the importance of caring, having the courage to care to make a difference, the onboarding, training, talking about safety. Like you said, it’s not something that most people grew up in school thinking about safety. It’s just embedded in what how we think for most people.

Tell me a little bit about the courage to care and what that means, and how he could have made a difference.

Well, I think that after I saw the impact that my incident had on the fellows, I worked with, and it was a predominantly male industry and a great group of people. I think what people don’t realize sometimes is what a measure of strength can look like is actually speaking up and saying, be careful and not, you know, moving along with this. Let anything go. Shortcuts are cool. You know, the mentality that, unfortunately, is still very much alive and well in a lot of industries.

It takes courage to speak up and to tell somebody; I don’t want you to get hurt. I know everyone is doing something this way, but you know what? This way is safer, or that way is safer. So, there was a lot of guilt and feelings of, you know, why didn’t I say something? I should have spoken up. Yeah. With the people, I worked with. And in seeing that, it made me realize that sharing my story so that not only me and my family and my friends didn’t have to go through something like this ever again, that also the people that I worked with who were significantly affected didn’t have to go through it and had the tools and the understanding of how they could prevent it.

I think that’s a really important point is to two things, is that too often I hear people just they see something that doesn’t feel right, but they don’t necessarily say something because they’re afraid about how do I say this correctly? What’s going to be the impact if I do it? But the impact from what I remember when we spoke a little while back was even all the way down to the first responders in terms of how they respond and the impact on them.

That’s right. I’m happy you reminded me of that part of the story. Yeah. That the gentleman his name was Dale. He wouldn’t mind me saying that he was my first responder and rescue me. And it wasn’t until years later, I mean, 15, 16 years later, that I ran into him on the river fishing, as people do in America. And he shared with me that he was on a work of post-traumatic stress disorder and largely in part due to my experience and my incident.

And so, yeah, here I am living my life and have no idea what step, you know, impacted somebody else for so many years so greatly. Yeah.

And it’s really the power of telling stories, sharing those stories, sharing a lot of ideas around. How do you convey because what I’ve seen in many cases is a bit like you describe other people then start feeling guilt because they start thinking, I could have said something, I should have said something and not truly necessarily realizing what’s the risk; in front? And different people have a different understanding of risks and hazards. I know the first day, if I if I’d gone straight from school to working in a place like that, I wouldn’t have known what danger is and what I need to do to protect myself.

Well, you know, people say all the time, if you would, you don’t know. Can’t hurt you. And I try. That’s because I didn’t know I could get hurt. I didn’t know I didn’t. The first step in not getting hurt is truly recognizing that you can be you know, if it can happen to somebody else, it could happen to you. And you know something you said earlier just a moment ago about, you know, if I had known better and the people that I worked with, they did know better.

They just became a place and got used to taking that shortcut. And the more you get away with doing something; it reinforces that you’ll get away with doing that something again until you don’t. So, I always say to people, you know, if you know better, do better.

Absolutely, and I think I remember I started on the airline industry, an industry that’s known for its understanding of safety, the recognizing the importance of safety, and so many amazing disciplines around safety. But I remember from initial training, some of the elements of what you got trained and we got drilled in safety over and over and over for weeks before even having access to anything remotely close to a plane.

That’s good to know.

But once you are going to do this. Yes. You know, weeks and weeks of training and you didn’t circumvent, you had to show you understood. It is probably no industry I’ve ever seen other than maybe nuclear puts so much emphasis. And it really training and investing and understanding what that risk and the hazards are. But even then, you’d go on the line, and you start seeing people being slightly more complacent. And that becomes dangerous because if you have a little bit of complacency here and there, that’s where because it starts happening.

Listen, I could jump right in there. I’m going to tell you, as somebody who’s constantly flying to get to work on a weekly, daily basis, what really drives me nuts, and I can’t wait to get that kind of plane to be driven by it again. So, what really drives me nuts is when you’re on the plane, and they’re asking for a couple of minutes of your time, right. You listen. So, it’s not even the employees in the workforce.

It’s the passengers. Oh, for sure. You know, we have a few minutes of your time to let you know what the safety procedures are. And I’m sitting beside somebody on the inside. I’m on the inside. I like the window, and they’re on their phone. And I will say, excuse me, I do politely. Would you mind paying attention? And I had a fellow look at me one day, and he says, East Coast is coming out.

The fellow he says to me, you know what? What do you think the chances are that something’s going to happen? He’s really just joking with me, you know? And I looked at him, and I said, well, I don’t know. But they’re not none, are they? And he said, yes, you’re right. You know, so I mean, again, it’s that mentality of it’s not going to happen to me is just alive and well in all facets of our life.

And it’s if you’re looking for it, as I typically do, and you would also as The Safety Guru you said, you know, and it’s like this people can say, oh, I realize I’m not invincible yet. You know, as we always say, our actions speak louder than our words. So, if you were actually disregarding safety instruction and rules and regulations in any environment, then your kind of contradicting yourself as far as I’m concerned. Right, because you’re saying I actually am above this, and this isn’t going to hurt me.

It’s so, when you talked about that, you see something, and you say something. It’s something that you bring up a lot of your conversations. I’ve certainly had the same conversation with a fellow passenger on a plane who isn’t doing something that’s highly unsafe. Once, it was a person who are taking out their entire laptop just as soon as the flight ends had done the safety checks. And I called him on it very gently and highlighted the risk around why the laptops were gone.

They were obviously has done it as soon as the flight attendant took the safety checks, but it didn’t result particularly well. It resulted in about an hour and a half long flight of the guy grumbling and complaining and moaning about me for the duration of the flight until we arrived at the destination. But he did comply. So, you talk about this theme of saying something, something sometimes that goes well; I’ve had an executive sometimes tell me what it was.

In one case, he was correcting a team member who was doing something very unsafe, working on a ladder off-centre, drilling into the ceiling with no eye protection stuff, flying into his eyes, try to get that person to stop. And it said three times, it’s not always easy. So, tell me a little bit about what your experience has been around sharing stories, obviously saying something and driving the right outcome.

You know, I saw two of my things. I often say I cheer. If you see something, say something with my audience. And I believe that sharing story saves lives. And so those two go hand in hand. So oftentimes, clients and people I’m working with will say to me, how do I approach somebody and tell them yes or no, do it this way or you know, and that’s when I say, OK, that’s seeing something and saying something.

But it’s also great to share a story and make it personal. You know, it’s hard to argue with somebody who’s saying to you, I care about you. I don’t even know you, but I care about your family. I care about the effect you have on the environment here. I care about, you know, seeing that you get home safe. And I also care about myself and not having to live with the fact that I should have spoken up when I saw you do something that wasn’t safe.

But I did it, you know, so there’s a number of ways I think that we can approach situations. And you know what? They will not always be accepted with grace, but. I think that you know, that the more people, the more often approach the topic of safety and step away from rules and regulations. And because I said so and approach it with because I care, you know, there’s a much better chance, a greater chance of success because people have a bit of a harder time arguing with that.

And how do you get somebody to overcome that question mark that there’s say something that, you know, you see something? There’s a lot of people that that sometimes will say, hmm, but maybe nothing wrong will happen out of it. How do you help people get to the realization of I need to be comfortable saying something almost all the time? Well, we’re all that.

Yeah, for sure. And I think that what you just nailed there, Eric. As soon as you say and there say something like, that’s the sign, you know, don’t even second guess at all because your gut instinct, which in my mind is the most important piece of you have to work with, that’s your gut instinct. So as soon as your gut instinct is causing you to have that feeling, that means action is required almost always.

So, I think also that people when they’re you know, the question is this maybe it’s none of my business. That’s what I hear. Right. Someone told me it wasn’t my business, or I’m thinking maybe that’s not my business. And I always say when it comes to safety, make it your business. When it comes to safety, it’s everybody’s business. And again, you know, it goes back to the fallout of those affected by a workplace injury.

Nobody goes to work alone, and nobody gets hurt alone. So, it is you’re right. It is your responsibility and how you look at it as an opportunity, in addition to an obligation to have the courage to care to speak up, see something, say something, do the right thing. You know, if you know better, do better. There are so many ways that you can put it. And once I start talking about safety, I just get super jazzed of a safety nerd.

But there are so many ways that you can that you can, you know, that you can frame it. But the bottom line is, is that you don’t want to. Somebody’s not going home to their family; the people that you’re really going to work for are the people who are waiting for you at the dinner table, not the company that pays your check. You know, and I think that’s what we also have to keep in mind when we’re actually even ourselves challenging ourselves to take risks that nobody else is asking us to take.

You know, we’re not advocating for ourselves often enough. We should be having that conversation. Well, what’s it worth to me? What’s the risk? Who’s going to pay the price when we’re thinking about taking a shortcut or not bothering with that third step in the safety procedure? You’re not going to get a raise for that. You’re not going to get a pat on the back unless you’re working for a company that I’ve never met before. You know, and at the end of the day, you’ve got absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose, as does your family.

And I think that as individuals, we need to keep that in mind. I always go back to my incident. I mean, I if I did mention the other people who set the example. Sure. But at fault and blame our words I use; they’re not proactive. I use responsibility. Yes. It was the other people’s responsibility to set a great example, a good example to say, for example, it was my responsibility also to think about what I was doing and to consider the risks in my actions, you know.

So, pointing fingers and placing blame doesn’t bring back a loved one, and it doesn’t make limbs grow back. So, taking responsibility and being proactive is the state that I like to operate from.

And I think the leaders have a huge ability to influence that because they can create an environment where people are comfortable talking about it. They can reinforce the right behaviors that can reinforce that somebody stop work because they felt something didn’t feel right and in a really reinforce that challenging attitude day in and day out. So, I think a lot of that, in my opinion, rests on how the leaders show up and how they create the environment in the culture for the right behaviors to happen and appropriate proper basis.

Absolutely. You know, and I see it with people and the companies I work with every day, those that are demanding that people shut down massive operations. Right. You know, in the name of safety and actually exercising that right to refuse. And then, you know, ExxonMobil, for example, is a company that I worked with here on the East Coast off the label on the oil and gas rig. And I mean, there is there can be a great expense to shutting down, of course.

Right. But, you know, companies that put the priorities and the safety and the well-being of them of their workforce first, that’s where that’s where you want to go. That’s where you want to work with. And at the end of the day, also what I think is, you know, so admirable and that’s such a great example is when these organizations actually take those stories and those situations and make sure that globally they are diffused and shared at all levels so that, you know, an example is being set by that throughout the whole entire world, within the organization.

I mean, the power in that is I mean, I don’t have the words, but it’s really key. I remember way, way back early on in my career, again, in the airline industry, there was one decision, probably my first couple of months, maybe first year in the role. So, it’s very, very green. And I stopped work in this particular case, cancels part of the operation, which is specific flights for what seemed to be a very real hazard, ended up not being a real hazard.

The cost to the business was somewhere between a million and a half of those decisions. But I didn’t get fired. I got promoted not the next day, but I got promoted. It was recognized as the right choice, the right thing to do. And that speaks huge amounts if somebody is willing to take a cost in the millions because it’s the right thing to do.

Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, you know. And then the more people who share those stories and the more confidence is gained. I mean, you know, I believe that we should be aiming towards a fatality free work force. Obviously, you can’t just say it’s OK to hurt one person who wants to put their hand up for that to be their loved one. No pressure. Right. And so that those are the measures and those are the lengths that leaders and organizations need to go to.

And that, of course, the trickle-down then is that the smaller organizations see you know, that works, that’s getting people home and why these decisions might cost millions, as you know, what really costs millions and millions if we’re talking money, forget the emotional impact is an injury for sure. Right? I mean, so I think that. Always, always looking at anything that you do with regard to health and safety, whether it’s shutting it down, you know, having speakers, new safety programs, do whatever it is that you’re doing, you always have to look at it as an investment and not in it, not as an expense, 100 percent.

So, I want to close off with some thoughts. You displayed huge resilience through the experiences you’ve had. We’re now in pretty challenging times, obviously, with covid and resurgence of it at the time of recording this episode worldwide. What are some of the insights that you can share around resilience through challenging times, like what we’re going through right now?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I think back to losing my leg, right? I think back to actually finding out that the foot would not be saved and I would lose my leg before below the knee, which I don’t think I even mentioned in the beginning, that that that’s what the end result was. And having to figure out, can I wear high heels again? How am I going to dance? You know life is going to throw us insane curveballs.

And I think that when we’re dealing with something like the pandemic right now, I’m grateful, you know, for the challenges I’ve had in the past. And I’m grateful that I have the ability to recognize those challenges as gifts because it allows you the capability and the resilience, and the strength to tackle the next challenge in the next situation that’s, you know, adverse to what you had hoped for it to be. I’ve basically, you know, this year had to as many have had to recreate my career, get up.

And I also think, you know, and I’m not talking about it in a religious way at all, but faith, you know, faith people are doing the right thing and moving forward is something that I draw on and taking everything as I did after I had gotten hurt, literally step by step, literally one day at a time. Because if you look too far in advance, you know, it’s overwhelming. And I think that when we’re talking about safety, if a company has X amount or number of injuries and X number of fatalities, sure, having those go down to zero would be the ultimate goal.

But it’s also really important to just bite off a new piece every day, do one thing safer today. Don’t worry about changing your entire safety program and replacing every piece of safety equipment that you have for something bigger, better, newer. You know, chances are great if we’re using our gut and our brain and our heart thinking about the people at home, actually taking the knowledge that we have and putting it to good work, and trusting our instincts. You know, we’ve got the tools we need to make the safer decisions each and every day, whether that be taking a second glance around your car, making sure that the snow is off the top.

If you live in a place where there’s snow, which I do, you know, there are so many little things that we can do to make moving forward and being better manageable. And every time you see the payoff with these little decisions, you don’t even realize it. But all of a sudden, here you’ve got a big result, right? You know.

Absolutely. So, Candace, I really appreciate you coming on the show, sharing your insights. You’ve had an incredible story, but you’re fighting an incredibly good fight. And I appreciate what you’re doing on that front. You speak to a lot of organizations about safety and speaking up. If somebody is interested in having you speak either at their leadership teams or with them with the frontline team members, how can they get in touch with you all?

They can just look me up. Candice Carnahan Dotcom is my website. I always say I could just pickaninnies with one-legged, and I will pop right up there if you can’t spell my last. And I’m doing, you know; I’m making the moves to do things now. Virtual reality and online streaming, of course, when it’s safe, still traveling in person and looking forward to getting back to that. So, I really hope, you know, I think a lot of people now have gotten used to the fact maybe they are more comfortable with the notion that we have to go ahead and talk about things other than the pandemic, all the things that were still an issue and still needed to be focused on before this happened still exist.

And I think in twenty, twenty-one, we realize now we can actually stay connected. Like, look at us. You know, we don’t need to be in person when we can’t be, but we can still impact each other. We can still share stories and, you know, make the world a better, safer place to be in.

Excellent. Well, thank you, Candace.

Thank you so much, Eric. This has been great.

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Candace Carnahan, Safety Advocate

With wisdom and wit, Candace presents a new way to think about safety. Through the power of stories, she demonstrates how to use your voice – to see safety as an opportunity not just an obligation. Having experienced a traumatic injury at the age of 21, Candace knows too well the impact it has not only on the worker, but also on everyone around them. For 20 years Candace has been taking the stage sharing stories to companies of all sizes – and already more than half a million people have been moved by her personal experience of injury, resilience, and strength. The way she weaves safety seamlessly into storytelling that is relatable and memorable is what resonates and provokes real change in attitude and action. Candace lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is a frequent traveller to clients in the manufacturing, transportation, energy, and production industries. 

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From Fighter Pilot to Airline Pilot: Lessons in Human Performance with Brandon Williams

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski: Episode 26 - From Fighter Pilot to Airline pilot: Lessons in Human Performance with Brandon Williams



Safety is a cornerstone of the airline and aviation industry. Our guest Brandon Williams, founder of LeadTac, adjunct professor, F-15 fighter and airline pilot, started his career in the U.S. Air Force. Brandon highlights the importance of considering human factors and mitigating human error using a systems based approach. Listen to learn how to implement Human Factors Leadership and peer accountability to reduce human errors and improve safety performance.

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The Safety Guru Ep 26 – From Fighter Pilot to Airline Pilot Lessons in Human Performance with Brandon Williams

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. But 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 very excited to have with me, Brandon Williams. Brandon is a results-oriented leader, a business speaker. And the reason we’re bringing him on the show today is he’s got some amazing experience. Back in the day he was in the US Air Force, f 15. fighter pilot has deep expertise in human factors, in fact, worked in the Air Force around safety is also a joint Professor on the topic of human factors, as well as a few others that are related to safety. So, Brandon, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you with me today.

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it and humbled to be invited to be on the podcast. And always happy to talk about safety, human factors or leadership or any all the above. So, thank you. Excellent. So maybe why don’t you start in a little bit about some of your background as a fighter pilot, but also how it evolved into flight safety airline pilot in the passion you have for it? And particularly for this topic that’s so critical around human factors and understanding human error.

Absolutely. Well, I went to the United States Air Force Academy. So that’s where I got ever since I was a little boy, I want to be a pilot, I think. So, I come from the Atlanta, Georgia area, I still live here. Now my wife and two small children, by going to the Air Force Academy graduating out of there, went on to Air Force pilot training. And that was probably my first exposure to, you know, what, what we call hrs high reliability organizations. So, getting into that world, and that’s where it first started, I would say, whether you want to talk about my aviation experience, or flying or safety or anything like that, it really started there.

Go on Air Force pilot training went on to fly at 15 ease, like you said, I served 12 years active duty in that time, in addition to being a pilot, also was involved in flight safety. So, I went to the Air Force flight safety School, which qualified me to be a what they call a safety officer. So, every unit, every organization in the flying organization in the Air Force, has a safety officer whose job it is to, you know, maintain and monitor run safety programs, you’re qualified to do safety investigations or mishaps, so your part of a Safety Board, and you come up with recommendations and, and do all that. So that was really a fun experience getting to do that, and seeing a whole other side of that.

But also served in several leadership roles in my time in the military. You know, common misconception, I think is as fun as it would be just to fly airplanes. And that’s it, you know, military organizations like anything else. So, we still have budgets and programs and people to manage. And, you know, you name it all the no fun stuff, if you will. So, several leaders, several leadership roles, they’re leading people in organizations got out of active duty, like I said, after about 12 years, went into the Air Force reserves just part time. And at that time, I also was kind of at a crossroads of what I was going to do. Part of me wanted to go into the business world, start my own business, go into some kind of management, consulting, or even safety related and because I had that experience, turn, and the other part of me wanted to go be an airline pilot, and still start my own business. So that’s, that’s actually what I ended up doing. Kind of the best of both worlds, I guess.

So, I have been a pilot at a major airline for several years now. And also started I also got into actually management, consulting leadership development. Around that time, did that for about seven or eight years, still do that off and on involve workshops, keynote speaking, strategy, consulting, and then started my own business called lead tack, which is leading tactically, and that really involves taking the idea of human factors and a lot of those things we talked about, as in the air force training as a fighter pilot, how we operate in complex environments, and how that it’s kind of two sides to it. I go and I talk to businesses and companies and all different industries, just taking business leaders, how they lead from human factors perspective to how we can help them mitigate error in their teams, kind of taking those aspects of HR is higher. Lobby organizations and taking that to a business setting or any kind of team. And then also, I still stay in the human factor safety world. So, things we’re talking about, and how we establish, you know, these ideas of human factors, how we mitigate human error, all kinds of different stuff. I’m sure we’ll talk about some of it here. But it involves that too. And then for the last 10 years, I’ve also, as you said, I’ve also been an adjunct professor, where I’ve actually designed and built and I teach safety courses, human factors, courses, some other aviation courses and management courses. So, a lot of stuff going on. But you know, it’s awesome, because I think I’m the luckiest people in the world because I would get to wake up and kind of do, you know, a lot of stuff that I’ve always wanted to do. So that’s me and my background. And yeah, the Air Force gently set that up. And I mean, set the stage clearly for what I do now. That’s awesome. So, can you talk about human error? Can you share a little bit about that concept? Because I think when we first connect to the part that’s always impressed me is airline aviation has probably done the most leaps and bounds of any sector in understanding where human error is going to happen? And how do you reduce the risk of doing it? So, I started the airline industry as well, I got to see it firsthand. It’s a, it’s a very different mindset. So, talk a little bit about this concept of human error and how it transposes to businesses that often blame the individual as opposed to try to think about what’s the right thing? and air? We all make errors. We all make mistakes. Absolutely. You just set it there. Right? There are two errors human right. I mean, that’s what makes us human. Yeah, um, you know, a lot of times in modern society, and you hear people that want to fix human error by saying, well, we’ll take the human out of the process, put more technology into it, which don’t get me wrong, technology is definitely way to mitigate, Your Honor. Absolutely. However, you know, when you look at it from a human factor standpoint, and how you want to really reduce human error, the human is seen more as a as a variable that can actually affect change, for the better, if that makes sense by helping reduce human error. And there’s many different ways. That’s a simple way to put it. But that’s kind of my approach to what I call human factors, leadership. And like you said, the aviation world, I think, kind of, in a way led a lot of this. I mean, and I think the reason why that was the 1970s, early 80s, when the jumbo airliner was, you know, at its heyday, a lot of them were coming on, you would have an airline crash. And you think back to event, I just think anything about aviation, you know, the names of Tenerife, if you say that, you know exactly what that is referring to the major accident that happened there in the 70s. Yeah. And so that that accident actually is cited, a lot of times it’s kind of a water, and there was a few of those around that time, major aircraft accidents. And for those out there not familiar it was basically the world’s worst commercial airline disaster involve each aircraft colliding on a runway essentially, that’s for people that are 247. They couldn’t get bigger than that. Absolutely, but the astonished thing about that is there’s two things. So that is number one. Around that time, we realize our experts in aviation will realize Wait, guys, and we can’t afford and we cannot let you know, we can’t have a loss of life of 200, some 300, some 500 people, I mean, we got to stop what we’re doing. Something’s not right, because we’ve had aviation accidents since the beginning of aviation. Right. And the classic approach was like you were talking about the blame and train right, like, Well, clearly, the pilot made an error that was it, tell people not to do that, again, problem solved, right, go about your day. Well, around this time, we started realizing that’s not working. And we can’t afford to keep operating on this. And this is where the idea of, of human factors and how we mitigate human error from a systems-based approach Sure, really comes into play. And when I when I say systems based, I mean, instead of the blame and train approach, focusing on the one individual human error, as you know, and people in your world know, mishaps don’t just happen because of one decision, there is a chain of events that lead up to a mishap. So, a system-based approach is looking at the entire system. So, the or, and how that’s how we may define that. That’s the organization, the culture, the leadership, the resources, the and as far as the Human Factors part, the actual state of that human being. So, you’re talking psychological factors, fatigue train, I mean, there’s so many different things that go into that. And so how do we mitigate that? And so big picture, what my model does, and what human really does the study of human factors is, is looking at mitigating human error from a systems-based approach. So how do we put those stop gaps in the system? Because that because rarely, I mean, if ever in our society now, professional organizations, does anybody show up to work and speak.

I’m not going to bring a game today. I’m not going to I’m not going to do that just does it really happen? I mean, there’s sure there’s isolated cases, but that just typically doesn’t happen. So, when we talk about bad apples, or we talk about, you know, bad performers or bad actors, a lot of times that’s, that’s human error. And that’s not mitigate. And that’s any industry. It’s not just high reliability or high reliability organizations. Yep. It’s not just safe aviation. It’s not just the medical world, it’s, you know, any kind of business or any kind of team you lead. And like you said, the aviation world kind of led that because I think we were kind of forced to, because it gets a lot of attention when you crash an airplane, unfortunately, medical world, which they have caught up and they’re doing better, they’re still behind us a little bit. But, you know, hospital, sadly, I mean, you expect people to, unfortunately pass away in a hospital. So, it didn’t really get the attention that it deserved. And I think when medical kind of the health, health, health and medical world kind of caught up with that and said, hey, look at what, you know, the aviation rules, look at what the military and the aircraft carrier look at what they do look at nuclear power industry is another what they do, you know, why can we not take some of these in there, and they’re doing that now, they’ve been doing that for a while, but it’s getting there. But anyway, yeah, that the whole idea of human errors, like you said, and, you know, if you if you look up the definition of human error, it, it’s kind of one of those things, it’s like saying, how do you define leadership? Or how do you define culture?

You know, there’s so many studies on it, it’s probably one of the most, the best ways to describe it is it’s really an unintentional outcome based on human action, unintentional human action, even that one didn’t really capture it truly. But human factors in the idea of human factors leadership, what I do in the study of human factors is really looking at human error from a systems-based approach. That’s great. So, it gets into just culture, which is often linked in terms of themes. How do you create a just culture? What is it good jazz culture? And how do you start creating it?

Right, so adjust culture is really again, I talked about the blame and train approach to management or blame a train approach to mitigating human error, they just culture environment as a kind of the exact opposite of that. So, you instead of living in, in, in fear, a fear of retribution, fear of what can happen if we point out mistakes, or errors or gaps in the system, a just culture encourages that. And the whole idea behind that is because, sure, if you can’t identify those gaps, if we cover them up, or we don’t talk about them, or we don’t bring them up, well, then guess what I mean, bad things are going to happen. You know, you see this a lot in the business world still, because, you know, they may lose some money, but they’re not going to lose life, most likely, if these errors keep happening, and they, whether it’s, you know, your own self-preservation, you know, trying to protect loyalty, or loyalty to someone else, an organization to a team, you know, trying to just push through it, you know, you name it, you really don’t see this a lot. I mean, in organizations, businesses are so different their cultures, but you just don’t see this idea of just culture because that, again, I relate it back to flying in the air force, and a fighter squadron, you know, what I call it a just culture. In terms of, you know, there was this idea, this environment, that every time after we landed, every time after we flew a mission, we went in a room, we conducted what’s called an open, honest debrief. You know, like I talked about the difference between a debrief and investigation or difference between a just culture and a culture that looks at investigation. So again, you know, what is an investigation? You know, you’re trying to find blame, you’re trying to assign blame to someone, right? Well, just culture is just the opposite, that we’re not we’re not Nestle concerned about the blame. Yes, we want to fix it, we want to find the root cause. But we’re concerned about, you know, fixing the system, right? Again, going back to a system-based approach, how do we find those errors? How do we find those gaps in systems so that the team or whoever else does this next time doesn’t, doesn’t make the same mistakes, the same errors, the same ideas, and establish and adjust culture? Going back to that? You know, how do we do that? Well, there’s several ways I talked about when I work with my clients, but, you know, it’s like anything else? Where does most stuff always start any kind of change, especially when you have the word culture starts at the top? Right? So, when you have team leaders, leaders of an organization, you know, C suite types VPS, you know, you name it, and even especially, and I think even more importantly, informal leaders because I think a lot of times, they have more influence than to those formal leaders, for sure. You know, when those leader whoever is in those leadership positions, whatever in everybody’s leader, in some sense, like I was saying, when you step up, and you can admit your shortcomings and you can see that when you go and go in a room and you talk about what went wrong, when people see you take that, that feedback or when you admit your own errors, or you even more so when somebody you know, someone in your team, you know, has some missteps or whatever, when we don’t we there’s no retribution, but we say, Okay, let’s find out why this happened. And it’s not Eric’s fault. Let’s find out what was going on that day. So, we look at the environment, you know, maybe Eric, you know, wasn’t on the right team, maybe his teammates that were assigned to him were way too inexperienced for this, this job or this project? Maybe Eric wasn’t getting all the information he needed. You know, maybe Eric has some, you know, personally, she’s going at home affecting his his personal stat, you know, because that’s a huge, huge part of human factors is, you know, a lot of times what we miss, especially in the business world, that I found exactly opposite of what I experience in the military is we just show up and work with each other, and we have no idea what is going on in someone else’s life.

You know, outside of work, which, you know, not that you’re trying to pry, right, it’s getting to know people it’s getting and that goes back to other stuff that that we may or may not get into here later, is when you talk about mutual support and morale and everything like that, how do we establish that it’s really about getting, you know, how you drive this culture of mutual support, and getting to know everyone you work with peer accountability, all that kind of stuff, but it just culture really centers around, you got to see leaders that establish that you got to see leaders that are support that so someone brings something up, you know, we’re, we’re going to take that input, we’re going to fix the system, we’re not going to blame and train the person. And the other way, you know, when I when I put a slide up, last thing, I’ll talk about just culture, when I talk about it to a group, I’ll typically have a slide and it’ll say, three words on or three ideas. One is decentralized execution. One is pure accountability. And the other is that open honest debrief I talked about, you’ve got kind of arrows pointing to all of them. And the reason those are all important, I talked about the open honest, deeper, if that’s where we get our feedback loop, right. That’s where we get the where we did have our missteps, how we’re going to fix it. decentralized execution is leadership backed autonomy. So that trust you’re putting out as a leader, so people know that you have their back. Because we all know that one of the biggest motivating factors is autonomy. And then finally, pure accountability, which is the idea that it’s not the bad word accountability, where bosses are running accountability, but the idea that, you know, that mutual support idea that where I’m not going to do a bad job, not because, you know, I don’t want to look bad. I mean, that is one of the reasons but also, I don’t want to like Eric down, I don’t let the team down. If I don’t do my job or my role, then that looks bad on Eric. And I know, Eric, I know his family. I don’t want him to, to suffer for that. So, you know, he has these three main parts that goes into Joe’s culture, you know, a lot of things that go into that. But that’s kind of the big picture behind it, if you will, yeah. And I think you brought out a lot of really important points. And I want to double click on your peer accountability comment, I get that comes up a lot of conversations I have with the boardroom level. It takes a lot, though, to create the psychological safety for people to speak out. Like I remember the airline industry, pilots are comfortable raising issues. It’s like I fell asleep, we both fall asleep. And a raise those themes, so something can get done. A lot of businesses, I remember one organization, a mining organization, he had mining, you know, those huge trucks on the periphery of an open pit, and they would regularly tumble down regularly, maybe a couple times a year. Right. And it happened for several years, because nobody actually had the comfort to say, I blinked I fell asleep. Right, which is something that you’d have as a given in the airline industry. Is that comfort to share those things? Because otherwise nobody would know same as in that truck. Nobody knew what happened. There’s only one operator there. So how do you create that?

Well, you know, going back to the Well, first of all, again, I’ll go back to you’ve got to have leadership buy in on it. Okay, so you can’t just say, hey, from now on, when you point out stuff, I’m not going to you know, let’s point out to be open, honest. I mean, we see we see that cheap, right? I mean, you see that all the time, where, Hey, open door policy, you told me anything. And then next thing, magic as you, you know, you told him this wasn’t a good idea. So that’s the first thing is Who do you have, you know, in certain roles that are going to establish and allow that autonomy, right? Right. Because, you know, allowing that autonomy, knowing that my superior whoever that may be, has my back, if they’re going to allow Give me that decentralized execution authority, that ability to go and make autonomous decisions. That’s the first thing. Because when we know that people have our back, you know, what, I think we’re more willing to admit, we’re more willing to drive that peer accountability, if you will. Because we know that someone trust us to do this. Therefore, I’m going to do the best I can and I want my team to do that way. So, I’m going to drive some that appear accountable.

The other thing I go back to is I think about pure accountability in a flying organization in the military. So, I think about kind of fighter squandered right now, we talked about the military.

You know, a lot of people think, Oh, well, the military, you know, you did it, because you were told to your order to do stuff, you know, everybody. Okay? Well, yes, we do have a rank structure. And that’s where a very important reason in a military unit, however, first of all, I don’t ever remember being you know, like, in the movies, you see, you know, ever being told or ordered, you know, you will do this right, order you to do this. I mean, we don’t, right. I don’t think we’ve had firing squads in the military for several year, you know, you know, things like that, for years, I think. So, I think back on it, and there was just this idea this, this kind of couldn’t put your just put your finger on it, that and this is flying or non-flying, like I said, we had many jobs we did outside of flying, you know, running in the organization, running programs, you know, things like that. So, when I think back on it, I say what was it? And I think it goes back to this idea, again, that, because of how we train the idea of mutual support, right, established through morale, and again, getting to know people, because a lot of times in the military, you know, at least in a flying Squadron, the people you work with a lot of times the people you play with to so you, you naturally got to know these people, and these are the people you got to work with, you know, their families know their kids.

And so, you build that camaraderie morale, which helps enforce that peer accountability, because it’s not the kind of accountability where you’re, hey, do this or else, it’s the kind of accountability that you’re saying, you’re picking somebody up, because when they’re having a bad day, or when they’re having a misstep, you’re going to step in, provide that mutual support. Because you, because you want them one day to help you out as well. I mean, you want them to see that, because you’re going to have your days as well. So, I think it all goes back to number one, starting at the top, you know, talk is cheap, make let them see you do that. Let them see you support people, let them see you take accountability for your own actions as a leader as well, because I mean, there’s nothing more demoralizing though later than either a can admit when they’re wrong, or even worse, will blame their team for someone they’re wrong. And so, you know, that that’s the first thing. And then the second thing is establishing that, that mutual support within organizations establishing that idea of camaraderie, and, you know, the idea of morale and how we get to know each other. And there’s simple things, just one example. I mean, you know, now, with a lot of people working remotely, and business organizations, especially, you know, it’s a little tougher, we have to make a little bit more of an effort to do that. But even we weren’t working remotely, let’s be honest. I mean, you go to the office, go to your job, I mean, you may see somebody at the watercooler or something like that, right. But it’s like, you know, when you have some time, you know, detach. Nobody likes Mandatory Fun, but encouraging these, you know, whether it’s gotten togethers in the office, or just take 1520 minutes, get the team together and just talk about non-business-related stuff. I mean, Hey, how’s it going? What’s going on your life? You know, what’s, how are things going, I heard your dad was in the hospital, how’s that, you know, things like, I mean, getting to know people, and really establishing that, that, that core or know each other. And then the other thing, I’ll bring an exam from the airlines, one thing we’ve done is basically voluntary reporting. And it’s not even necessarily anonymous, um, we call them Aviation Safety action report. So, say something happens, right? And so, we say, you know, we’re flying along, and let’s say we miss an altitude or missile radio call, and we catch it and nothing bad really happens. We keep going about our day, right? Well, back in the day that have been Okay, great. Let’s just keep going. You know, nobody knows about it. Right? Well, now, not only is it you know, it’s encouraged to say, Hey, you know, report that put those up in one way. It’s, it’s, it’s encouraged by saying, hey, look, if you report this and come forth with this, you know, now say you make a make a minor missed out, or make good, a major misstep. And you put this report in, you’re essentially, you know, you’re kind of raising your hands and hey, look, I messed up, here’s what happened. Here’s what we did. And so now with all the data that are on airplanes, so they can see everything we do, almost, I mean, they get all this data that comes back, they can monitor another key point of safety program. When they when you come back and say, hey, look, here’s where we messed up, your kind of fessing up, you know, right away saying, look, we’re not trying to hide this. Here’s that. So, it’s almost like, you know, we’re not going to come down on you for something like this, especially if you report now, if there’s willful disregard different termination. I mean, that’s a different story. But for the most part, all these are and we get 1000s in my own company, we get 1000s and 1000s of these per year of pilots reporting mistakes there and it’s not anonymous. I mean, they see your name they see you know, who it who did it, but it’s a great reporting for him because what it’s done is it showed a lot of gaps in the system. So, they can fix the system. They can, you know, go back and so we don’t make those mistakes.

Good. But again, it’s about a culture that says, Look, if you can, if we can identify this stuff early up, you know, early on, when these things happen, you know, you’re not going to get slapped on the wrist for this, you’re not going to get any job action taken, obviously, again, you know, there’s a 1% if it’s willful, you know, disregard or something. Yeah.

I was exceptions, but for the most part, that’s one great example of how you, you kind of identify that and bring some of that pure Cambodian Yeah, and love you turn around peer accountability, because a lot of people see this as removing accountability, but it’s not it’s creating a different level, right? ability around it, right. And the reason I say that is because I think accountability gets a negative connotation times, you know, a lot of times it’s, I kind of call it the, you call it the vice print and vice principal approach, Vice Principal, and, you know, school was always kind of the, the hammer, the one that was always winning, right? So, when you think of accountability, always kind of think of advice principle that, you know, the one that’s do this, or else kind of approach, you know, if you don’t do this, you going to get fired or whatever. Versus peer accountability, which is that kind of accountability, that is, is maintained with your peers, your colleagues, even subordinates are superior. I mean, it doesn’t really matter rank. Right ci, again, IT systems-based thinking we’re all trying to accomplish the same mission, the same task.

The same objective, Harvard Business view, actually did a study where they said that in poor performing teams, there’s no accountability in mediocre teams, bosses drive accountability, but no high performing teams, peers and colleagues enforce that accountability. Exactly. And I think there’s an interesting pivot here, because I think a lot of organizations part of the struggle when you talk about that peer accountability and sharing things is, if I think about two pilots, they both realize that they need each other to support and you’ll have the first officer calling the captain at a rank, if he sees something or she sees something that’s, that’s inappropriate, or sees a potential error, right? Where, whereas I’ve seen that sometimes it gets called brother’s keeper, but that’s not the intent of at all, oh, I’ll help you cover it up in dysfunctional organizations, where make sure nobody knows or in some cases, they’ll say, sleep it off. So, if you’re drunk, rather than calling it out, just sleep it off. And in the seat, that’s a dysfunctional view of that, versus what you’re talking about is uncomfortable calling because there’s no ramification if you call it out, but I’m dealing with it because we need each other to be successful. Is that fair? Right? Oh, absolutely. And the example uses, I mean, you know, using the, you know, say that the drunk of your tie, it’s funny, you said that, because what you’ll see now is even an airline interviews now, what they’re looking for people that are, you know, looking out that they’re going to look out for the team look out for the other person in turn. In other words, you know, there used to be a common situational question was, you show up to the lobby of the hotel getting ready to go? And you know, you notice alcohol on the captain’s breath? What are you going to do? You know, your new hire? What are you going to say? What are you going to do?

What they don’t want is someone that’s going to, well, I’m going to call the company right away, I’m going to tell the chief pilot that this guy is drunk, and but what they want you to do is, number one is safety. Right? Do not let that captain, you know, do not let them nearby. For that’s the first thing, right? Whatever you have to do, hopefully, you want to make a scene doing it. And they want you to take that situation. And, you know, de-escalate that situation, in the best way possible. Right? Right. So how are you going to do that, you know, there’s different ways you can phone a friend, you know, you can talk to the captain say, Look, man call in sick, we’ll get this taken care of, you know, let’s just not get you do not get to the airport, you know, you may get you may get a slap on the wrist, but you’re at least you’re not going to sacrifice your license or the company or anything like that, by doing this, that’s the first thing. But the other thing they’re looking out for really, is that you’re looking out for the person, you know, you’re not just going to sell this person out and say, Well, I’m going to, you know, I’m going to call it, you know, company right now and call this person out. So, but you’re exactly right. I mean, that that’s really what it’s about. And when you talk about two pilots working together, you know, you want to establish that really starts with again, like I said earlier started leadership stats for the captain stylish in that tone, not just the pilot, but with a crew, the cabin crew, you know, the maintainers that the ground crew, everybody, you know, establishing that tone of Hey, look most guys and gals I fly with now will say this. They’re like, Hey, you know, if you see some Speak up, you know, no matter what it is, don’t assume I know everything. And that starts with establishing the tone. And he ate and again, talk is cheap. So, people can say that. But if you point something out to someone, hey, and there’s different ways when you talk about, we talk about crew resource management, Career Resource Management communications, you escalate it, like say we’re approaching a thunderstorm and a captain.

You see that thunderstorm? 100 miles out there. What do you think and just kind of, Oh, yeah, we’ll be fine? So, as we get closer, if they’re not turning and are Hey, you owe me.

Ask we can’t get No, we’ll be fine. And so, you keep escalating until it gets to the point of Hey, Captain, I recommend or think we should probably be exactly, you know, you kind of escalate that up, if you will. That’s one small example of how you handle things like that, and how you work together that peer accountability where you escalate the tone, the communication you’re using. And the other thing goes back to just the organization. How does the organization set it up? How does the organization train? I mean, when we train these skill sets, you’re talking about of how we work together, that’s ingrained in our training, how we communicate, how we were going to handle certain situations, how we divide duties, I mean, all these kinds of things go into that.

Right. So that gets me to crew resource management, which is another thing that’s often being quoted, at least in the airline industry as being a fundamental step change. And that occurred, can you share a little bit of some of the specifics there, because that that is an area where there’s been huge leaps, in terms of how you have that communication, front and back-end crews and the cases where it didn’t happen. We know the other incidences of planes getting shot down, etc., because it wasn’t the right communication, right. Absolutely. And, you know, my human factors leadership model is a poll a lot of the attributes, I think of crew resource management, some people call it team resource management, a poll a lot of aspects from that. So, if you carry that I think that that’s important is we kind of talked a little bit about communication, and more specifically with communication and crew resource management, communications, a big, big area, right. There’s a lot of things that I talked about tone, but there’s other things such as, you know, briefing, so you know, what are we expecting to happen really briefing is really kind of looking into the future, predicting what’s going to happen, so we’re better prepared. So, briefing, before we do something, something I call sea three, calm, clear, concise, correct. And clear, concise, correct speaks for itself. But what that really also means is no assumptions. So don’t ever assume anything. Because as we know, in the safety world, human factors, assumptions are always been a something that leads can lead to mishaps. So that’s, you know, one aspect, another aspect is situational awareness. I actually do a whole workshop on situational awareness. And it’s, you know, situation awareness is just that it’s the idea of all those variables affecting your current state at that time, everything from the environment that’s coming in, and how do we take all that in and determine our situation and determine our next course of action? how those variables and it’s a very, you know, when you’re especially working in a complex area, nuclear power aviation, you know, working on aircraft carrier, you name it, all complex environments with many different variables. So how do we take all that in? How do we can, you know, I talked about consistent monitoring, some monitoring, everything, you know, we’re doing some we’re flying an airplane as a crew and CRM part of CRM now is dividing duty. So, you have one pilot flying, and one we call pilot monitoring. Sure, so you’re not just over there asleep, just becoming, right, you’re, you’re monitoring the airplanes on autopilot, but you’re monitoring that aircraft is sure is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing? Correct. Um, and another way I put that is, I call it healthy paranoia, you know, a little bit of, you know, kind of little thing in the back of your head, right, that saying, hey, what could go wrong right now? You know, yeah, we’re flying along straight and level 25,000 feet on Oh, but what if I lost engine? Right? What would I do? You know, what if this happened? I mean, you’re not, you know, it’s not about being paranoid. But it’s about I call it again, healthy paranoia, just kind of an idea of kind of what is maintained to waste awareness. I’m part of CRM, I talked about, you know, pilot monitoring pilot flying his team roles, and team roles, well defined roles, delegation of duties, all that kind of stuff goes into mutual support, right. So, if we haven’t met, we have a critical situation. And this, like I said earlier, Human Factors looks as a human as a way to help mitigate human error. This is a great example, if we have a, you know, when things go normal 100%, point A to point B, great, you know, all the procedures, automation, everything’s great. But what happens when something doesn’t go normal, those non-standard situations, that’s when the human has to come in, that’s when the human has to come in and make that human decision making. And so, when all those things that happen, you start having a critical situation, how do you delegate duties? How do you determine if you have a time threat or a no time threat? So, in other words, do we have time to kind of look into this? Or is our time critical? Do we have a fire on airplane we need to land Pretty soon, we probably don’t have time to look at everything we need to we forgot to get the airplane on the ground quickly? So, you know, understanding team roles, mutual support, decision making, that time no time kind of goes into that when we make decisions understanding the perception before we make the decision. So, in other words, we may have a false perception of something and then if we did, we act on that, that’s bad. So, decision making goes into that a lot.

To that I talked earlier about decentralized execution. So having that leadership back to autonomy is a big part of CRM. And then you know, the final thing I’ll tell you about CRM, which part of the human factor’s leadership model is SRP standard operating procedures, right. So, ensuring were followed, because slaps are critically important, as you know, in HR Oh, and a lot of times I love it. When I bring this up in business. They’re like, Well, you know, the military, you guys have standards? And because you all, you know, your margin aligns, and you know, you do, we’re told and everything’s very structured, I’m like, Yes, but I’m, like, let me let me always give an example of, you know, flying fighters, or even an example of, say, a special operations team, such as Navy SEALs or something like that. And I said, do you think that when they drop a team, a Navy SEAL somewhere, they’re expecting them to follow orders to a tee and know the exact situation they’re going to face? They’re like, No, I’m like, exactly, exactly. They want them to have full autonomy, right? I mean, in. And that goes for almost every military organization, they want us to have that autonomous decision-making ability, because we’re not robots, they want us out there making it. But in order to do that standard operating procedures serves as guide rules, right? So, when you are out there making those autonomous decisions, and you’re saying, Hey, I’m going to make this decision. What you know, you’re at a crossroad, you say, Well, here’s our standard operating procedures wants us to do this. Okay, so I’m going to make this because that’s more in line with how our standards are written how our operating procedures want us to do. I mean, there are some things that are black and white, we have to do, always turn the switch on, always do that switch off, don’t ever do the opposite. But there’s always going to be the human factors that comes in there, and making those autonomous decision. So, making sure we understand the standard operating procedures, and adhering to them is another critical part of that of that CRM. So, communication, situation awareness, decision making team roles, and, you know, standard operating procedures. And I kind of put training under that as well. I love it, I think you brought in a lot of really good examples from the airline industry from fighting for being a fighter pilot. And really, I think this is this is the next leap in terms of safety is getting to that point where you’ve got adjust culture where people are comfortable, feel safe, raising issues, escalating issues, you’ve got the right level of support, and we’re looking at the system, the culture, trying to prevent things. So really appreciate you jumping in sharing your insights, your ideas, and all your wisdom from all your experience.

Well, I appreciate era, thank you so much. And, you know, always good you’re writing. And I think if I could sum it up, I think everything I talked about the way I look at it as human factors is, is really it’s looking at it from a systems-based approach, like you said, so it’s not about I mean, you’re never going to get rid of human error, as long as we have humans involved in it. The other example I’ll kind of leave you with is people say, Well, what about you know, as robots’ computers come more and more, we start seeing more automation? Okay, well, great. But I said, here’s the thing, you know, someone designs out automation, exactly, probably installs that automation, someone has to work on and maintain that automation. Someone designs a software, I mean, there’s always going to be human in the chain somewhere.

So that, you know, it’s all about a systems-based approach, and how we fix the system versus that blame and train approach, which as we found over the years really doesn’t get the results we want. Yeah, you bring an interesting point. Because even if you think about m cast the whole issue on the 737 Max, yeah, even if you go Airbus, and there was a, an issue, I think, was the Paris Air Show with it, where the rightest him thought he had landed, but he hadn’t landed and went into writers app. That’s a technology that’s a system but that’s designed by human that can still make a mistake in resigning. Exactly. And a lot of times we look at that in terms of well, you know, the engineers might say, they could have just done this, and that would have happened well, okay, maybe. But you know, do you really consider in a situation what the human actually sees, you know, you have to process that how much time that takes to go through what are they looking at? And there’s so many things that go into that. So, you’re exactly right. And those are great examples. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining in Brandon. If somebody wants to get in touch with you. How can they do that? Absolutely. Well, to see some more of my info we talked about, you go to my website and plenty material there. And also, my email address B as in Bravo, B. Williams, at lead dash tag COMM and there’s also a way to contact me on my website. But absolutely feel free to reach out more info or anything else for sure. Excellent. Thank you, Brandon. Thanks, I appreciate it.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Brandon Williams is an accomplished and results-oriented leader, top business speaker, executive consultant, and technical expert with proven leadership experience in managing cross-functional teams and organizations. His experiences as a United States Air Force F-15E Fighter Pilot and Officer leading diverse teams of men and women from all backgrounds set the stage for his Human Factors Leadership methodology. In addition to his experience as a Fighter Pilot, Brandon is recognized for his expertise in Human Factors, having designed courses for and taught at several universities. His world-class execution of numerous speaking engagements to Business Leaders from all over the globe consistently deliver superior results in how to lead High Performing Teams through Complexity and mitigate Human Error.

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