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Elevating the Strategic Impact of Safety at Executive Table with Dave Ulrich

elevating the strategic impact of safety at executive table



In this thought-provoking episode, we tap into the expertise of Dave Ulrich, one of the Top Management and Leadership Gurus who has been ranked as the #1 most influential person in HR. Gather key insights from his approaches that have helped elevate the role of HR into a more strategic function in leading organizations and grasp how Safety Executives can leverage similar approaches to increase influence in the C-Suite.


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 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 honored to have Dave Ulrich with me. He’s widely recognized as one of the top management gurus in leadership. He has been called the most influential HR leader of the decade, the father of modern human resources. He’s named one of the 20 most influential business professors in the world and ranked the number one management educator and guru by Businessweek and listed in Forbes as one of the world’s top five business coaches. Dave Ulrich is the Rentis Lyker Professor at the Raw School of Business, University of Michigan, and a partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm that’s focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. He is born of Herman Miller company for 16 years perform workshops for over half of the Fortune 200. In addition to coaching successful business leaders. I had the honor of collaborating with Dave nearly a decade ago on an executive development program and saw his genius come to life with a very senior audience. Dave, what struck me was really how you made the complex simple. I’m truly honored to have you join me on the podcast today.  

I have to first ask you; how do you accomplish so much and leave such an amazing legacy?  

I eat a lot. Food is the fuel. I’m not sure I’ve left a legacy, but I have an engine inside that somehow keeps driving me. And I think so do you. I should go to you. You’re the Safety Guru so I could ask you the same question. I love ideas. I think ideas are the oil of the world and it’s fun to shape and discover ideas. And I want to learn with you today. Eric, this is going to be a great discussion. 

Excellent. So, Dave, you’re widely known in HR circles. Everybody that I’ve connected to an HR thinks of you in really high regards. Somebody could wonder why I’m inviting you to this podcast that’s focused on safety and leaders focus on safety. And I think it’s really simple. You’ve had such a tremendous impact on transforming the role of HR many organizations, and I think it really could serve the blueprint for how safety organizations that have very similar corporate roles have an equally impact on team members. And so, in my experience, many safety organizations haven’t yet elevated their role to be a strategic partner in the same way that HR has done over the last few years. So, if you could share a little bit about some of your insights around elevating the role of HR and turning into a very powerful engine towards strategy.  

Again, HR is not all the way there yet, but let me try to do that with an example. In the last three weeks, we were teaching a course at the University of Michigan where I’m privileged to teach, and about 25 people came in for a two-week course. And we said, what do you want to learn? And they mentioned the HR issues. I want to learn about leadership development, executive compensation, changing a culture, Dei, big issue, hybrid work. And then at the end of the week, the two weeks, they said, good, I’ve got a template. I’m going to go back to my business leader and show them the work plan for name one of those diversity culture, leadership. And I’m going to show them the plan. And I said, wrong. When you go back to your business leader, you do not start with your plan. You start with the question, what’s the business issue our company is wrestling with. What’s the business issue? The business issue may be cost, it may be innovation, it may be global distribution, it may be digital, it may be technology. What’s the business issue we as a member of the business team are wrestling with and then show how what you know and do in HR will enable that business issue. 

That mindset is a different shift. So, culture, leadership, executive, comp. Yeah, they’re all critical, but you start with the business. The other thing that might be helpful for your audience, our audience for the next few minutes is two words so that people came in, they wrote on a flip chart. Because I’m old and we still use flip charts in person classes. I want to learn about hybrid work. I want to learn about culture, the great resignation. And I said, go to the flip chart and write two words so that that’s it. So that and unless the so that leads to a business outcome, you’re not going to have the impact. Business leaders don’t care as much about some of the technical issues in HR. And every time I say HR, in my mind, I’ve seen Eric is replacing the word safety. They don’t care as much about the technical issues in HR, but they do care about the outcome of those issues. That’s the headline. My headline is HR is not about HR. It’s about helping the business succeed in the marketplace. Safety is not about safety alone. It’s about helping our business be successful in the marketplace where we have to be successful. 

I think that’s a really important point. The other element is the role of elevating. Safety is much bigger than just having rules. It’s also getting into the culture space. It’s thinking about how to elevate the role of leaders. But we also know from organizations that have done safety very well that you actually create a great learning organization because safety is really about learning, understanding events that happen, making sure they don’t happen again, disseminating that information. So, shifting as well the conversation and not just be about an injury rate. If I’m hearing you correct, it’s also so that we can connect to some of the other business priorities. 

Yeah. I mean, let’s play that out. I’ll play it out with you. We want to manage our injury rate, which is critical. Right. So that what! let me play it with you. I want to manage the injury rate. That’s the data that I see. So that what. 

So that our team members are happy to come here, feel safe, and know that they’ll come home to their loved one’s day in and day out. 

And I’m going to keep going. That’s still inside the company. 

So that we have a better employee experience and that’s teams, members, safety and et cetera. 

So that what? So that when you think about what you were just talking about, the great resignation, that we can keep the best talent within the organization.  

By the way, I’m being obnoxious.  

I love obnoxious.  

Let me tell you where I’m going. I think until the soldier gets to a stakeholder outside the company, we’re not fully engaged. For example, I want to do safety incidents so that our employees have a better experience and they can return home safely with their loved ones so that our customers have a better experience. And the correlation between employee experience and customer experience is very high. And I want a customer experience so that our investors have a better experience. If we get a higher customer valuation, the investor value goes up. And suddenly I’ve created a value chain, and the Soviet forces me to get outside the company to not just say it’s about safety and wearing harnesses. Those are events. But so that gets me outside. By the way, the other place is fun to start is to say to the business leader, what is it you’re worried about today? What is she or he worried about? I’m worried about innovation. Then you say, because of what’s going to drive innovation in my company because of financial resources. Great. Because of employees, because of their safety and their wellbeing. 

And I can go so that or because of and starting with either the safety or HR activity or the outcome. And suddenly I’m building a bridge, and it’s that bridge. And by the way, I didn’t mean to be rude to you, but I think that so that really pushes the assumption. It pushes the assumption. And eventually the so that should almost always be customer. My headline is, I’ll give an example I use in HR, and you can translate the safety.   


What’s the most important thing that HR can give an employee belief, meaning become growth, belong, community, or all the above or none of the above, and everybody votes all the above.  


And it’s wrong. The most important thing you can give an employee is a company that succeeds in the marketplace, because unless and until you succeed in the marketplace, there is no workplace. By the way, you’re lucky to have not worked with me in the company that I’ve often worked with. I’ve worked in towards our Circuit City, Eastman Kodak. I’ve worked in so many great companies that don’t exist anymore. And you know what? They had great internal practices, but they weren’t connected to the customer. And unless we succeed in that marketplace, there is no workplace. And I find HR people get really offended. Well, I’m here to make people feel good. No, you’re not. You’re here to help succeed in the marketplace, because if you fell in the marketplace, that’s the most dehuman. Well, I’m here to humanize the workplace. No, the most dehumanizing thing you can have is 100,000 employees out of work.  


That’s dehumanizing. You go out and you build your system so that you succeed in the marketplace. By the way, I got passionate on that. I probably should be more temperate, but I just think sometimes we get so enamored with our activities and what we do. Now, the second point you raised, which I love, HR is often seen as an event. It’s a pay event. It’s a training event. It’s a hiring or promotion event. You got to change the event into a pattern. And the pattern is the culture. There’s a lot of isolated events. Safety is an event, but the culture is when that event becomes a sustainable pattern. And that pattern is embedded in how we think and act and feel, and it drives the events. It’s not about an event. It’s about a pattern that allows us to be successful over time. And I’m assuming you’ve been in companies. Well, I’d love to ask you, because I want to learn from you. Can you think of a company where safety is an event or a pattern? What’s the difference in those companies?  

I think the organizations where safety is an event is everything is geared and act. Everything is around. Somebody had an injury, and we mobilized to understand how to resolve it. Right. So, it’s very incident driven. A pattern is where it’s a true learning organization. We’re learning from events before anything actually happens. We may have had a near miss. We may have seen something that could have gone wrong, and we start thinking about how do I prevent it from happening before something more serious happened?  

I love it. So, an event is almost an afterthought. A pattern is an anticipation that I can predict. That’s really helpful, Eric, because I see that in HR as well. And we have a whole lot of events, but they get strung together with a string of pearls to create a pattern. And I think that’s where HR suddenly gets helpful. Is that it becomes an ongoing pattern of how we think about treating our people. It’s not an event. Gee, on Tuesday, I’m going to call Jody and tell her she’s great. No, that’s an event or we’re going to have a succession planning day at the board. No, it’s a pattern of treating people with respect. And I assume that same pattern has to occur within safety. You got to get a safety pattern. Now what does that require? A lot of things. I mean, we’ve looked at how do you sustain initiatives? I just got asked. We’re doing some work-on-work tasks. And how do you change the nature of work? Do not focus on the job or the person, but the task. And there are some lessons we’ve learned about making change a sustainable pattern. 

Happy to share those. But, boy, this has been great. Number one, safety is not about safety. It’s about helping our company succeed in the marketplace, too. We do that by creating a pattern, not a set of discrete, isolated events. That’s really helpful.  

Absolutely. And I think that’s the same element where you’re advocating is really bring the role of HR. I would argue safety is the same. Elevate it think more strategic, connect with the executives to have access to that C-suite because we’re solving the issues that matter there. How does an organization transform towards it? How has successful organizations shifted the pattern from more administrative practices to strategic?  

There’s a lot of initiatives in a company, dozens of administrative initiatives. Safety ESG, lots of initiatives we’ve studied. How do you make sure that those initiatives become sustainable changes? We’ve identified seven things. Now going through seven is going to bore your listeners to death. So, I’ll try to make it interesting. Think of this, by the way, the metaphor I love is a pilot’s checklist. Imagine you got on a plane and the pilot’s door was open and it never would be. And the pilot said, we’re too busy today. Let’s just skip the checklist. 

No, you don’t want that.  

I give up. Or the pilot says, let’s do every other item. Now, here’s the seven things, and they start with where you focus. One, you got to have leadership support, right? I got to have a sponsor and a champion who says, this is something I personally and using my status and role and title, stand behind in HR. You’ve got to have business leaders who adopted, who adapted, who make that part of their identity. And so, a business leader in safety has got to model safety. You’ve got to live safety. You’ve got to talk about it. Number one, leadership. Number two. And these are going to be so obvious. I share these with senior executives, and they go and I say, that’s the pilot checklist. Your pilot says, wow, what is that rudder? You don’t want this to be educational. You want it to be disciplined. Number two, you got to create a business need, right? What’s the business case for doing safety? Safety is not just about caring for our people. There is a business case. That’s what we started with. How will it add value to customers? Investor number three, you got to have a clear vision and direction.  

What does safety mean? And I think what do we mean when we say we’re going to be more safe? And I hope it’s not just physical, but I hope it’s also psychological. 100%, yes, that safety is a multi-dimensional concept. And let me just stop with those three for a minute. You got to have a leadership support champion sponsor. You got to have a business case, and you got to have a clear sense of what safety looks like. Those three make sense as a starting point. 

100% makes sense. And I agree with your commentary on psychological safety because what I just shared before, where it’s a pattern, people are speaking up. They’re questioning the work in front of them if something doesn’t feel right so that we’re learning before anything ever happens.  

Actually, that’s really helpful. You just hit a third safety, one, physical safety, which is no question that’s ladders and physical harm and death and also covert and injury. Psychological safety, which is mental health, emotional well-being, which I think is growing right now. I think the pandemic comes down to be an endemic. And we talked earlier. I had to look up that word. But the emotional mental health issue is going crazy. The third safety you just mentioned is social safety, that an employee feels that he or she has a right to speak up, that I share your socials safety net, that I can tell my boss what I’m feeling without the repercussion. That’s actually very interesting to think of. Physical cycle. Okay, leader, I’m going to give my checklist now. I’m a pilot. We have a leader. Do we have a business need? Do we have a vision? Number four, which is the most critical? Have we engaged everybody in the process? Safety is not a random event. It’s getting everybody connected to making it real. It’s not a communication. It’s not a random actor. And we talked about that. Engaging everyone is so critical.  

Number five, have we translated safety? I got to go back to number four, engaging everyone in the HR space. Things happened. We had tragedy with diversity, with death and tragedy in the Ukraine, there was a tragedy and companies send out a broadcast. We stand with Ukraine George Floyd. We stand with these issues. To be honest, those are not very helpful because they’re isolated events. Sending out a safety announcement doesn’t do as much. So, you got to really engage people. Number four. Number five, you got to identify decisions. Now you’re the safety expert, not me. In the next 30, 60, 90 days, what decisions can we make that will drive safety? In HR? We do the same thing. What decisions can we make and get clear. Number six, we got to weave it into our systems, budgeting system, talent system, huge. It can’t be a standalone event. It’s what I just said with the George Floyd communicate. I don’t disagree with communication, but I do think it’s got to be woven in. And finally, number seven, you got to monitor progress and track it. You got to keep track and learn and grow. That’s your learning organization.  

I’ll do it quickly. You got to have a leader. You got to have a business need. You got to have a direction. Number four, you got to mobilize commitment. You got to get people bought into it. Number five, you got to translate it to very precise decisions. Number six, you build systems around it. And number seven, you create learning that we grow. Those seven dimensions are not new. But in fact, when I’ve shared those with business leaders, they go, I’m paying you for this insight. I could have come up with those seven in ten minutes. And I said, why would it take you ten? It takes you two. But the discipline like a pile of checklist to do. That is what really helps. And I hope safety is about disciplines, it’s about protocols. And that’s the actionable protocol we’ve seen.  

I think the element you talked about touching the last two, weaving into the budgets so important because simple decisions around I need to reduce the cost. And this PNL, and I don’t think about what could go wrong. We saw it with a Boeing 737 Max not so long ago. In terms of decisions that are intended for the right reason to maybe reduce costs, improve profitability, can have the wrong impact if you don’t think about what could go wrong. Right. And then you talk about monitoring. One of your books touches on some of the metrics of the leading indicators. The leading indicators, to me is key because the Lagging indicator is interesting but not useful. It doesn’t tell you how your performance is going to go. You want to think about how am I adding value? How am I engaging employees around improving their safety practices, how we’re learning? These are all leading indicators that I think need to be embedded in the business and elevated.  

I totally agree. I love your first point there around, we often cut what looks simple to cut. For example, in the HR, we’ll cut training, and that makes sense. But remember, the training and development is the fuel that drives the engine and you run out of fuel and the engine doesn’t work. And I’m sure the same would be true in safety. There are investments that we have to make. What would be some lead indicators? Again, I’m spoiled because I get to learn from the Safety Guru what would be some lead indicators that you think people might want to track around safety?  

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There’s certain things around how many employees have been involved in improvements, right. So, you had a book many, many years ago on workout, which was really about creating boundaryless organization, really about employee involvement and engagement. Same concept. Just are we leveraging our employees to drive improvements? How many near misses are we seeing? Are we really learning? So, you talked about aviation at checklist. There’s about 60,000 year misses are reported by the FAA every year. And then your miss could be something benign, could be something a little bit more substantial. But people are comfortable raising issues, right. So, we forgot this item on the checklist might end up being a near miss, to use your earlier analogy. And so, an organization where people have the psychological safety and the social safety, you’re going to see a lot of those near miss reporting. People are going to look at it, they’ll stop work and say, what just happened? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? Just a few samples.  

I love that. And you use the word earlier. I love learning. Create a learning culture. And we’re using Airlines a lot. I fly quite a bit, or I used to fly quite a bit before the last couple of years. I always got mystified that when it rained, everything shut down. And I thought, these executives have some form of corporate Alzheimer’s. It’s rained before. Don’t you realize that? We’ve had rain and we can actually manage. And it feels like we’re not creating a learning agenda. And I think that’s really cool about near misses. So how do we learn? And hopefully nobody ever loses a life or a limb or something tragic. But how do we learn to avoid that? And anticipate. I really like that idea. And I see companies not doing that very often. The other thing I’ve seen in safety is to get the symbolism of safety there. I mean, you know this and I’m telling safety people obvious stuff, which shows I’m not a guru in safety. In a lot of manufacturing plants, every meeting begins with a safety discussion, right?  


Now let me throw something out to think out loud. Medtronic’s is a firm that makes stuff that you don’t want to have to use. It’s heart valves and things in your body, medical devices. They like to begin most of their meetings with a customer who comes in or patient and says, thank you, your valve saved my life. It would be interesting to try to elevate safety, not just here’s a safety minute, which is a great idea safety moment, but to talk about what that means a family member or somebody outside the company. To say, let me just tell you how important safety is. Let me give one example. As I’m thinking out loud, a number of years ago, GE, they still make aircraft engines. One of their engines went bad and the pilot was close to death. I mean, because the engine was bad, and you could hear his tension in his voice. And the plane crashed. He bailed out and was thankfully saved. What GE aircraft engine did was very clever. They brought him in to speak to every employee group and stood up and he said, let me share the last five minutes of the cockpit conversation where he is literally scared to death.  

You hear it, you hear the tension, you guys goofed. Something didn’t work and it almost cost me my life. When you talk about quality or TQM, whatever it is, it’s not abstract.  


The people who saw that in the Cincinnati plant many years ago said we’ve heard so many statistics about quality and we’ve had little lectures on quality tools. Nothing means much more than a pilot coming in and saying, what you did here almost cost me my life. Get on board now. He said it in a more positive way, of course. 


It would be fascinating to have some of that. 

And some organizations have done that, and they’ve done it in terms of either somebody who got injured or even reflections as to who do I stay safe for? Because there’s an element of personal choice. Right. So, internalizing that motivation. The other theme that I’ve seen work really well in the organizations is beyond the safety moment. Don’t go on a ladder with that. Whatever is start pushing some reflections. Tell me about a leader that really influenced your safety. What was unique about them? More open-ended questions to reflect on where I’ve seen good happen. Maybe where I’ve had some shortcuts that I’ve taken in the past, recognizing that I’m not perfect and talking about where I’ve made maybe the wrong choice or a good choice where I’ve been influenced by. 

I love it. And again, I said I was going to learn. Nobody can see this because we’re video. I’ve got a page of notes. I’ve got two notes. Strike me, then put a face on safety. Personalized.  

Yes, I really like that. 

The second is use reflections to anticipate. What did I do today that worked? What did I do that potentially increased risk? So, I like that. Put a face on safety and use reflection time to get ahead of what could go wrong. I love that anticipation is about risk and companies are doing risk audits all the time. Safety should be a part of that risk audit. And what are the reflections that I could anticipate where things might go wrong, by the way, I say that and I look at my office where I’m sitting right now and going, oh my gosh, look at all this. But again, we don’t want to overbear it. We don’t want it to be overbearing, but it goes back to where we started. Why do we do this? We do this so that an employee has a good experience, so that a customer investor have good experiences, and it begins to make a difference. 

I really like that you shared some great ideas on the strategic relationship. How do I elevate the conversations? I think the other element that I see with an HR that’s important is also the HR business partner model and how I’m aligning in HR with each line of business to understand their priorities and connecting with them to make sure that I’m adding value. Could you maybe share some insights there? Because I think that same approach works in corporate functions. In terms of how do I become that thinking partner for the operational leader? Maybe at a site?  

Let’s go back to the case I started with of somebody who left our program at Michigan and sat down with their business leader and said, the business partner starts with, what are we trying to accomplish as a business innovation, digital transformation, whatever the business is. Then the second question is, how can I help us make that happen? Notice it’s us, not you. How can I help us make that happen? And I then bring some of my tools to that agenda. This is what often happens. The business leader says here’s what I want. I want people to do this. I want people to do that safety. Here’s what I want. 


I think I can tell you more not just what you want, but also what you need. By the way, this is a broader issue. I think people are feeling a little bit entitled right now. They want to work at home. I don’t want to drive 401 to Toronto. That traffic is horrible. I’ve been there. I don’t want to drive on that road. I want to work up north. I want to work in wherever and just work remotely and get paid the same. Well, what you want is good business leader. What you want is good. But I also can tell you some things that you need. And I think the challenge is responding to what people want, but also guiding people on what they need. And that’s what we’re helping HR people do. For example, I want you to go hire people. I want you to train people. I want you to pay people. I want you to do career management with people. And the HR businessperson says, that’s great, that’s great. We’ll hire, we’ll train. All of that will do around people. But let me tell you what you need. You’ve got to build a culture. 

And if all you do is those events around talent, you’re not building the team. You’re not building the capability. So, what you want is to treat people well, don’t disagree. What you need is to turn people into a high performing team. And when you can make that happen, you’re going to have more success. I hope in safety, we don’t just say, here’s what you want. You want lower incidents; you want harnesses on ladders? No. Here’s what you also need. And I’m going to bring you some ideas that will help make that happen and then describe it in a very simple way. You said, I turned complexity into simplicity. Thank you for that. I hope so. To say, let me give you two or three things you might do. I’ll give an example of that. Sure. We worked with a person doing HR, and their business leader was traveling around the world visiting ten countries on tour. Those things happen, and it could be a plant visit, it could be site visits, whatever. The HR person went to the person coordinating the senior executive trip and said to that person, when she or he visits a plant, would you mind asking a couple of questions? 

How’s the culture here? How are you treating people? Almost didn’t matter.  


But when the business leader went out on that tour, they asked those questions. And by asking the questions, the business leader began to behave as if he was committed, or she was committed to the human resource issues. Safety, simple action. Get your business leader to begin to ask the safety questions, to begin to probe safety in their daily routines. How’s the business doing? Oh, it’s great. Well, our profits, our margins, our customer scores. How are we doing with some of the safety issues? What are you thinking? Just not a big deal. Just throw it in. Don’t say the world is going to stop. We’re now going to do 20 minutes on safety. No, we’re going to make a part of the routine. By the way, that business leader came back after visiting ten countries and said, wow, I got some great insights. So that’s kind of the idea. When you get people to behave as if they’re committed in a public way, they’ll become more committed. And when you get people to behave as if they’re committed to safety in a public way, they’ll probably become more committed to it.  

I would say many of the questions you shared on those tours are the exact same ones that somebody that’s committed on the safety side should also be asking how people treating you here when there’s an issue, how are we solving it? Things of that nature, asking for input is so critical, the safety component as well. But even the broader culture elements. 

One of my takeaways today is often when I think of safety and I have a narrow mindset, I’m broadening it. I think of physical safety. I’ve got psychological safety, and I really like that idea of social safety. Are we creating a social work setting where people have a safety to voice their opinions? I think that’s a critical piece and I love it. I know we’ve gone a long time. You are so good at this. I can see why you’re the safety guru. 

Thank you. Dave. You have so many great ideas, and I think the element I would also advocate is there is so much opportunity for better collaboration between the HR groups and the safety groups because both need to bring culture to the forefront to be able to drive impact. Both care about how the leaders show up because we know in both cases that has such an impact. And there’s opportunities for better collaboration because at the end of the day, when you talked about psychological safety and social safety, these are themes that are critically important for safety but also for HR, no question. 

We did some research what makes a great HR Department, and guess what? The structure of the Department didn’t matter very much. What mattered the most was the relationships between the HR people. Do we collaborate? Do we work well with each other? Do we have a positive, related the example I love, and this may or may not apply to safety? I assume it does. There’s a tool called Rasi, responsible, accountable, consultant, informed, and you go through it. I’ve been married 45 years. I’m old. Not once in 45 years have my wife and I sat down Sunday night and done a formal Rasp laundry, shopping, cooking, paying bills, caring for kids. You know what? We have a relationship. Last week she was swamped. She was really busy. So, here’s what I do, and you do the same thing. I went shopping, I Cook food, I did laundry because that was my relationship. This week I’m a little busy, and so she’s doing that. I mean, we’ve got to build relationships within safety, between safety, HR, it finances, and with us and the business leaders. And when those relationships work, the roles don’t matter as much. If you have clear roles but not a good relationship, you won’t get things done. 

So, I know we’ve gone over I really appreciate a sensitivity to safety and using safety so that our employees have a better experience so that our customers, investors, and communities have a better experience. 

Dave, thank you so much for coming. I think you brought some really great ideas from the HR space that really apply in the safety space. I encourage anyone to pick up any of your titles, your books, you publish, Leadership Code, Results, Bayless Leadership, the one on Workout. As the list goes on. You’ve got a lot of great insights that I think applies when the safety world. And I really encourage people to pick up, reflect and see what could work for them.  

You got it. Thank you so much. Thank you. 

Thank you, Dave. 

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Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and a partner at the RBL Group ( a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.  He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. He edited Human Resource Management 1990-1999, served on editorial board of 4 Journal and on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller (16 years), has spoken to large audiences in 90 countries; performed workshops for over half of the Fortune 200; coached successful business leaders, and is a Distinguished Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources. He is known for continually learning, turning complex ideas into simple solutions, and creating real value to those he works with in three fields.

Organization.  With co-authors, he has influenced thinking about modern organizations (Reinventing the Organization) by empirically showing how organization delivers 4 times business results over talent (Victory Through Organization), defined organizations as bundles of capabilities (Organization Capability) and worked to delineate capabilities of talent management (Why of Work; Talent Accelerator), culture change (GE Workout), learning (Learning Organization Capability), and collaboration (Boundaryless Organization).   

Leadership.  With colleagues, he has also articulated the basics of effective leadership (Leadership Code and Results Based Leadership), connected leadership with customers (Leadership Brand), shown how leadership delivers market value (Why the Bottom Line Isn’t), shapes investor expectations with an ability to measure leadership (Leadership Capital Index), and synthesized ways to ensure that leadership aspirations turn into actions (Leadership Sustainability). 

Human Resources.  He and his colleagues have shaped the HR profession and he has been called the “father of modern HR” and “HR thought leader of the decade” by focusing on HR outcomes, governance, competencies, and practices (HR Champions; HR Value Added; HR Transformation; HR Competencies; HR Outside In).  He spearheaded a “gift” book on the future of HR (The Rise of HR) distributed to over 1,500,000 HR professionals), in which 70 thought leaders freely shared their insights.

Most recently, he posts new articles and insights each Tuesday on LinkedIn (over 150).

Honors include:


*One of top 30 People Analytics leaders by Perceptyx

*#6 (out of 200) thought leader in leadership by LeadersHum


*Lifetime Achievement Award from Institute of Management Studies

*#3 (out of 200) thought leader in 2021 by PeopleHum

* “Most Influential Global HR Leader, 2021” sponsored by PeopleFirst and HRD Forum

* “Honorary Member” of IFTDO (500,000-person training/development organization)


*Distinguished Fellow (one of 15 total), National Academy of Human Resources

*Michael R. Losey Excellence in Human Resource Research Award by SHRM

*Honorary Doctorate from Utah Valley University

*Initiated the Dave Ulrich Impact Award by the Academy of Management to honor contribution in HR


*Named one of the 100 top influencers in HR (in leadership & development category)

*Named one of the top 20 influential HR leaders

*Ranked #1 thought leader in HR by HRD Connect


Named one of the 20 most influential business professors in the world by top-business-degree (#13)


*Named to the Thinkers50 “Hall of Fame”, a recognition of lifetime achievement in influencing management

*Chartered Fellow of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand


Presidential lecture “in defense of organization” for Utah Valley University


*Named the most “influential HR thinker of the decade”

*Listed in Thinkers50 as management thought leader

*Commencement Speaker Southern Virginia University


*Ranked #1 speaker in Management/Business by

*Commencement speaker, University of Michigan Ross School of Business


*Lifetime Leadership Award from the Leadership Forum at Silver Bay

*Listed in Thinkers50 as a management thought leader


Lifetime Achievement Award from HR Magazine for being the “father of modern human resources”


 *Ranked #1 most influential international thought leader in HR by HR Magazine

*Listed in Thinkers50 as a management thought leader

*Ranked in Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Leadership Behavior


*Nobels Colloquia Prize for Leadership on Business and Economic Thinking

*Lifetime Fellowship in Australia Human Resources Institute (AHRI)

*Ranked #1 most influential international thought leader in HR by HR Magazine

*Kirk Englehardt Exemplary Business Ethics Award from Utah Valley University

*Why of Work (co-authored with Wendy Ulrich) was #1 best seller for Wall Street Journal and USA Today


*Listed in Thinkers 50 as a management thought leader

*Ranked #1 most influential person in HR by HR Magazine


*Ranked #1 most influential person in HR by HR Magazine


*Lifetime Achievement Award from American Society of Training and Development (ASTD)

*Honorary Doctorate from University of Abertey, at Dundee Scotland


*Ranked #1 most influential person in HR by HR Magazine in vote by influential HR thinkers

*Dyer Distinguished Alumni Award from Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Management


*Ranked #2 management guru by Executive Excellence

*Named by Fast Company as one of the 10 most innovative and creative thinkers of 2005

  • President, Canada Montreal Mission, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Ranked #1 management educator and guru by Business Week


*Lifetime achievement award from World Federation of Personnel Management

*Listed in Forbes as one of the “world’s top five” business coaches


*Society for Human Resource Management award for Professional Excellence for lifetime contributions

*Lifetime achievement (PRO) award from International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruitment, and Employment Management Association


*Warner W. Stockberger Lifetime Achievement Award from International Personnel Management Association

Dave and Wendy live in Alpine, Utah, have 3 children and 10 grandchildren.

Contact e-mail:




New Year Special Episode – 4 Safety Megatrends for 2022 with Dr. Josh Williams, Martin Royal and Eduardo Lan

New Year Special Episode_The Safety Guru



As you prepare to ring in the new year, tune in to this special episode featuring safety experts Eric Michrowski, Martin Royal, Eduardo Lan, and Dr. Josh Williams from Propulo Consulting. They take the time to discuss important topics such as how to return to the workplace safely, learning organization, investment in safety coaching, and the evolution of Human and Organizational Performance. You are sure to gain beneficial insights as each expert highlights a specific safety megatrend to focus on in 2022.

Happy New Year!


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-suit. 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 today. I’m very excited as we start preparing the countdown for the new year to have a great episode lined up for you. It’s four safety megatrends. Trends for 2022, 22 is the year ahead is two plus two. So, we have four experts with us that are going to share four key megatrends to start looking out for in 2022. 

Wow. Are you ready? Let’s go. Three, two, one together with me. 

I have Dr. Josh Williams, who’s been on our show several times. Josh, do you want to say a quick intro to yourself, everybody? 

Yeah, I’m happy to be here excited for 2022. And I’ve been doing this 20 something years, getting old. But looking forward to our session today. Thanks, Eric. 

Excellent. Well, thank you. And also have with me, Martin Royal. Martin Royal has been with Propulo for well over ten years. He’s been doing a lot of phenomenal work with leaders as part of organizational change. Martin, do you want to do a quick intro to yourself? 

For sure. Thanks, Eric. Glad to be on the show today and looking forward to discussing more about learning cultures today. 

Excellent. Thank you. Eduardo, who is coming back on the show, partners with Propulo Consulting, has been doing phenomenal work or driving organizational change more specifically, last 15-20 years, specifically around safety culture. Eduardo, welcome back. 

Thank you, Eric. Happy to be here with you and the rest of the audience really looking forward to this conversation and to helping leaders create environments where people can work safely and do so because they want to not just because they have to. 

Excellent love that. Okay. So, four topics, as I promised, looking at 2022. First one, we’re going to talk a little bit about the new normal with COVID. What is back to the workplace means how it’s impacting mental health, stress, fatigue and active care and what that means for safety. Then we’re going to talk into Behop with Dr. Josh, leading the conversation around some of the evolution around behavior-based safety integration around human performance. Then we’re going to go jump into Martin, who’s going to talk about learning organization, one of the key themes of a great safety culture and moving on. Really where the rubber hits the road. We’re going to pass it on to Eduardo, who’s going to talk about supervisory skills and how do you Hone those into 2022 to get real impact? 

So first, let me start a little bit on the new normal. So obviously dates have been changing for returning to the workplace. New variants are up in the news as we record this episode getting ready for the new Year hybrid remote work, return to work. Who really knows what’s happening? Some businesses have set on it. 

Some are still migrating. Well, what does that mean? From a safety standpoint? First, from a mental health standpoint, it’s so important. We’ve talked about another episode of The Safety Guru. Mental health is critically important, not just from wellbeing of the workforce, thinking about all the effects that mental health has taken over the last two years or so. But it also has a direct impact when it comes to safety performance. If you’re maybe distracted, there’s things on your mind. You’re not focused full attention on your job that poses a safety risk. 

And so that’s whereas a safety professional, it’s really important to start bridging that divide between mental health, which is often discussed in the HR field with the safety side of the equation. And that’s really where active care matters. If I know who my team members are, I notice that maybe somebody’s off a little bit today. Maybe I need to check in to see how they’re doing. Are they okay? I love there’s this quote in Australia where the way they talk about mental health is simply with the expression, Are you okay? 

So really reflecting connecting with your team members, knowing when something is a little bit different, something’s a little bit off and having the courage to jump in and really check in with them. So mental health, I think, is going to be hugely important as we start getting into 2022. The next one is really around stress and fatigue. We’ve talked about a lot. We’ve done some work internally on our list of the five key drivers of human error. Number one on that list is stress and fatigue. 

Stress is obviously incredibly present. Over the last 18 to 20 months, people have been mostly working harder, longer hours. There are more changes in the workplace that drives stress that also drives fatigue. If I’m not getting a good night rest, then I’m going to be more fatigue, which we know can put me in front of greater risk when I’m not fully there and fully focused, which really gets me into active care. And really that theme around something that most organizations have been talking about for the last 2030 years around safety. 

It really does matter. I talked about it before in terms of mental health. I know my team members; I know how they’re showing up. I’m more likely to be able to notice that something is different. I wrote an article just a few weeks ago. It was published in Forbes magazine. We had done a survey several months back and 80% of businesses that we had surveyed. We had talked to obviously, on the more mature side of safety, cultures reported that they had shown some improvements around how leaders showed up around active care. 

Phenomenally important. What’s important is also how do I embed that into the business? How do I start thinking about those themes, capturing the learnings and really making it real in the day to day? If you haven’t checked it out, that’s on Forbes. ( You can have a quick look and really around active care is really this element of self-leadership. And how as a leader, I’m building in a conversation how I’m being recognized and that has a direct correlation to outcomes. We were doing some work with one of our clients. 

And what was really interesting is we started seeing a strong correlation between outcome indicators of safety performance and whether team members had interacted over the last month around safety. Perhaps with coaching conversations. That element of felt leadership was so directly correlated to outcomes really critically important. Josh is going to talk about it very soon when we start talking about conversations he shared just this morning with me an article that talked about how having good conversations around observations can lead to 47% improvement around Sith’s and a 60% reduction around hazards showing up in the workplace. 

So, on that note, I don’t know if any of you have anything to jump in on this theme of mental health, stress and fatigue and active care. So critical as you start looking at 2022 and really bridging the gap between what’s traditionally the domain of HR and the domain of safety. Yeah. 

I mean, my experience I think we could all in this collection relate to. It is when we’re talking with folks, whether we’re doing assessments, interviews, focus groups, we’re hearing stress more and more. Ever since Kobe hit everybody we talked to; it seems like doing more with less. It’s tough. So, we feel for people out there. Everyone’s kind of in the same boat struggling through it. And the felt leadership is a big part. But we’re going to talk about human performance and how that relates to default leadership. 

And, Eric, if I can let me just jump in for a bit, human performance is all the rage right now. People are talking about hop, or we call it Bee hop. So just a quick. I’m just going to do a quick background on behavioral safety, kind of the evolution and human performance and what that means for the good conversations we need to have with folks and this notion of felt leadership, how we transform a culture. So just back in the old days, when I was coming up, behavioral safety was taken over. 

Before that, there was a lot of emphasis on attitudes and motivation. Those are important things. The challenge was, what do we do with it? Sometimes you get a one and done motivational inspiring presentation or whatever or training. But then that’s it. What do we do? So behavioral safety came in. And of all the research out there, if you want to get nerdy and start looking up statistics and research in the safety field, you’re not going to find more than you will on behavioral safety. It has been studied for decades. 

There’s all kinds of science and research showing the benefits of behavioral safety and what it did was kind of transform the focus, not just in teams of what I’m thinking and feeling, but what am I doing? As we all know, if you minimize risky behaviors on the front end, you minimize the chance of something bad happening on the back end. I mean, I hate to be cold talking about human life, but in many ways it is a math equation. Fewer risky behaviors in the front end equals less chance of something going wrong in the back and doesn’t guarantee it. 

But it makes it a lot less likely. So, focusing on behavior is smart. And so behavioral safety comes along. And there’s science behind it. And one of the biggest benefits is you’ve got checklists that are used to see what’s going on, what’s working? Well, what’s not working? Well, theoretically, we’re getting input from people doing the work, hearing what they have to say and making changes based on it’s a beautiful system. Martin is going to talk about learning culture in a moment, but it’s a beautiful system when done properly to get that input, to create a true learning culture on a regular basis, as opposed to kind of one and done training sessions. 

The challenge is it’s not easy to do so as we transition to talk about Bee hop and human performance. On the behavioral safety side, three big things happened that made it difficult to do. First are implementations being poor. It became a commodity, so people are buying and selling behavior-based safety. So, people are throwing out checklists without the proper training with no discussion on conversations, essentially saying, here’s a checklist and go use it very quickly. When I was in graduate school, we did research with funded by NIOS at a company. 

Half the group was given a card and said, Go use it. The other half created their own checklists and rules for use and other things around it. We call it the participation group. They use their cards seven times more than the people that were simply told here’s a card and go do it. And too often with behavioral safety failures, there was not a proper implementation on the front end. It was here’s a card here’s how you fill it out. Go do it. So not surprisingly, it didn’t work. 

That was the first big. The second big issue was technology, and it’s great to have technology help us whom we’re doing various functions on the job. But these behavioral checklists got increasingly long because it was easy to fill out on technology. So, I’m filling out a 50 or 60 item checklist. That’s crazy. Nobody’s doing that properly or very few people are. It became a problem became all about the cards and the checklists and the quotes you get you one in at the end of the month. 

So now that you got the system of quotas of pencil whipping and a larger problem of this black hole where we’re feeling stuff out and we never hear back. So, employees are not talking to each other first. But second, they’re bringing up issues that are important and no one’s getting back to them. So not surprisingly, behavioral safety. There were some struggles. The third issue was simply it’s hard. It’s hard to maintain something long term. So, we got to acknowledge that, particularly on the behavioral side. So, as I’m trying to go quick on the hop side, on the Behop side, we’re talking about human performance and the two big tenants there one quit blaming people for getting hurt, Demi said this years ago. 

Don’t blame people for problems created by the system. The second part of that is to fix the system. The first response when someone gets hurt is not who screwed up. It’s where the system fails. We’ve got to reorient our thinking to understand that we all operate in a context. And if we improve the system, it influences our behavior. The very quick story. I got to do one sports analogy really quick. Random lost, great receiver, troubled guy problems throughout his career on and off the field goes to the Patriots. 

Not that I’m a Patriots fan, but they’ve got a tight system overnight. He’s a night and day guy. He’s out in the community doing all the stuff for charity. Now he’s on TV doing this stuff. Total transformation. Same guy in a different system behaves very differently. If we improve systems, we’re improving the likelihood of better attitudes and better behaviors out there. So, I just want to kind of point that out really quick. Two more thoughts here before we transition over here to Martin in terms of the Bee hop, what we call it, it’s behavioral and human performance. 

There’s a lot more emphasis on people talking to each other. As Eric mentioned earlier, it’s about having good conversations, these cards that we use when we roll it out with clients. We’re talking four or five things. What scares you about the job? What do we need to do differently? What would you do differently? How can we help? These are open ended questions, getting people talking. And if we respond to that and address issues based on those comments, you don’t need incentives and all these other gimmicky things to get people to fill them out. 

They want to because stuff is getting addressed. So, the Behop is all about conversations and being responsive to concerns when they’re being brought up. And again, mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, as opposed to occasions to punish. It’s all that just culture people are talking about in a nutshell that’s what it is. So, the last point really quick is positive accountability. Some of the concerns that people have with human performance is we’re getting any personal accountability when mistakes happen. It’s not true. We’re just trying to reorient to the first response being address the system factors and supervisors. 

It’s a tough role for supervisors who are trying to keep. They need to set clear expectations and use positive means to maintain those expectations that we’ve all agreed on. That’s positive accountability. It’s doable it’s hard, but it’s doable. So, the end of this is essentially when be hop is done properly, we’re improving Felt leadership. There are various tools like leadership listening to us. Leaders are going up asking questions. They’re not going around saying good, bad or indifferent. They’re out there asking questions, trying to learn that creates an environment of openness, which is part again of that felt leadership saying felt leadership is one thing. 

Using listening tours is actually doing it. So, there are some tools and human performance that help with that felt leadership we mentioned as well as good conversation. So, with that said, I’ll turn it over. Martin, we’re going to talk more about learning culture. 

Yeah. And I think before I go there, I just want to emphasize I think your point around Behop is really key. A lot of people have implemented some form of observation program, many of them it’s not working anymore. People aren’t using it. They’re mailing it in, don’t throw it out with a bad water. It’s time to start thinking about how do you re energize? How do you get better conversations? And I love your approach, Brad. Deeper questions to ask people to reflect on what’s dangerous, about what you’re going to do today and really start deepening those relationships, but always keeping those elements from the behavioral base safety side that does work. 

So, thank you, Josh. Martin. So, you’re going to talk to us a little bit about learning organization. Probably one of the key themes of a great safety culture. 

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 

For sure. Thanks, Eric. And I’d like to share a bit more today about my prediction for the future of learning organization, but also to combine that with our focus on discretionary effort, the employee experience and safety. Because for our listeners probably are aware that at Propulo, we focus on discretionary effort as a way for our clients to gain a competitive advantage when it comes to safety and safe production. And what we know is that when it comes to workplace behaviors that drive safety, there are those that are we call our compliance behaviors completing hazard assessment form following safe work procedures, wearing the right PPE. 

But what we found it’s not sufficient for the workforce to engage in compliance behaviors to drive exemplary safety performance. These, beyond the minimum behaviors, are more difficult to measure, and they often involve positive safety behaviors that are targeted toward achieving your safety goals, like staying vigilant in the face of changing conditions, supporting the team, sharing safety information. And of course, we won’t see any of these behaviors listed on any employee job description. But a lot of our organizations that are doing extremely well safety wise will have employees or greater proportion of employees that demonstrate this behavior. 

And what’s interesting about this Krishna effort is that it only emerges when there’s a high level of workforce engagement and commitment so that discretionary effort is the behavioral manifestation of engagement. I wanted to share some insight today around the concept of worker experience, how an organization that focuses on learning and how can we increase that discretionary effort in our workforce? Now, why is the worker experience? What does it matter? I would say the employee experience is the hallmark of learning organization because the emphasis is on developing the mindset, the behaviors and systems that are conducive to have an optimal employee experience that will encourage high safety performance and discretionary effort. 

Now for the listeners that are maybe familiar within the Its industry. So, software companies have talked about the user experience for quite some time. It’s to describe the experience of app users how they engage with the app. It’s a concept that focuses on the emotional response of users and how they interact with the features and functions Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Masters of this to create engaging users’ experience. Now, the same ideas we can take four employees in the organization. So, employee or the worker experience just simply describe how employees think and feel through every touch point during their time with the organization could be recruitment, onboarding development, performance to things like long absences of work, remote working on boarding or things like incident investigation, injury, radiation, disciplinary action. 

Why we want to look at this employee experience is simply that the employee experience underlies the commitment and engagement that we need to drive discretionary effort. And you could think about it that your employees experience with safety management system will determine at the end the extent to which they will adopt, use and improve on the system. I wanted to share an example that remind me of our clients of ours, a European zinc and silver mine that I happened to visit. I think five, six years ago and their agency team would share with us their concerns that the miners were not reporting near misses, not anything that surprising. 

We’ve heard of these kinds of concerns before now, putting the mindset aside around reporting names when you look at the process of reporting narratives at that point, it was quite cumbersome and at first we have to understand the workers operated at 500ft below ground, and there was no way for them to fill out any form whatsoever. If any incident or near misses were happening. These near miss forms were in a building adjacent to where the miners would meet before taking off. At the end of the day, the form itself was convoluted. 

Workers would drop it off in a box to preserve anonymity, which is good. But then no one would hear back from these reports or if any, corrective actions were taking place. And so, while many leaders are often tempted to blame workers for poor attitudes towards incident reporting or lack of motivation, when you look at these workers experience of the near miss reporting system, you can see it’s quite easy how someone might just feel frustrated, disempowered to submit these kinds of reports, let alone even appreciating the value of doing so. 

If we want to build on more positive employee experience around safety system, a couple of things that we can look into. One is looking at the factors. The main factor that may drive that positive experience could be the safe work procedures, safety policies, tools and equipment learning and reporting system safety communication teams, the reward and recognition system field oversight. I would even go to look at the coworkers and peer relationship, and the goal would be to determine how workers experience the system and whether the system is supporting their intended goal, which we’ll presume. 

It is about encouraging error identification, prevention and mitigation. Now, what if I’m a manager and I’d like to improve my employees experience? All right. So, a couple of things for me, I would say as a leader, I would say, start with yourself, how are your employees experiencing you? Do they feel they are treated fairly? Do they feel that you value their opinion and contribution? Do they feel they’re encouraged and supported? Do they feel that you provide them with opportunities for development? Do they feel that you hold them accountable for high safety standards, or even do they feel that you should have the concern for them as individual? 

I say that’s the first and as Josh mentioned earlier, basically, it is about going and talking to our people, talking to workers and getting that sort of feedback. But here’s the thing as a second step. So, I would say that you start with yourself as a leader. Second, is you could do the same with your front-line supervisors and also try to get that feedback is how are the workers experiencing your front-line supervisors? Same kind of question to start to get a sense of how or why are they doing the things they do? 

And are there elements around the leadership that could be improved now? Third, might be around the system that you want to gather feedback on, which often requires to get out in the field. Get the feedback. Seek to understand the experience of this system what works and what doesn’t work. My experience is we need to ask all the right questions, especially if the workers have not been accustomed to providing any input, especially to senior leaders. So, questions might be things like what gets in the way for you to work safely? 

How can we improve our approach to report safety incident or name another safety system that we want to look into? What do you think we could improve? What are the things you think about our recognition program? So, I’ll recommend you pick just a different list of systems that are more critical that you want to get feedback on and just go out there to get that feedback. Now, one thing I’ll say, though, you might need for in certain workspaces might need to build a trust first. If trust is in there. 

One of the reasons is if people have had some mistress or senior management, they may not open up. And so, we’re going to need to start building that trust, building a bit of the commitment that if the feedback is provided that’s something will be done about it. And so, as a leader, I would say the goal is not to make commitments to make massive critical infrastructure improvement, but more small improvements that demonstrate that. Hey, we listen to you, and we are going to take action to make things better. 

So, we’ll see later on a note that my colleague will Home in on the supervisor’s experience. But I wanted to share that as a learning organization at the end of the day, it’s really about looking, how are we operating and what’s the impact on our workforce? And if we want to give them a better experience, what are some of the changes we can take on? 

Thank you. Thank you, Martin. I think this whole theme of learning organization so key to safety and definitely should be an area of focus going into 2020. Eduardo, you’ve talked last time you were on the show, you talked a little bit about supervisory skills, couldn’t agree more. It’s really where the rubber hits the road. This is where safety culture really manifests itself and how you have impact is going to be how the supervisor interacts with team members. And too often I’ve heard team members saying they’ll trust a supervisor. 

They’ll do what their supervisor does. They’re more important to them day to day than the CEO even is. So, Eduardo over to you. 

Yeah, absolutely. Eric. And thank you, Martin and Josh as well. Yeah, it is really where the rubber meets the road. And I understand what you’re saying about what workers comment in teams of their relationship to their supervisor. And he or she is being more important than the CEO. Now, this is logical, because oftentimes they don’t even know the CEO. They’ve seen them on a pamphlet on a brochure. They’ve heard him speak, maybe, but they don’t know him or her personally. And they do know the supervisor. And so that person, really the supervisor is where the rubber meets the road. 

I would say for two reasons, one because they are in direct contact with the worker, and thus they are able to influence that person and they do for good or for bad constantly. And second, because supervisors are really between a rock and a hard place. And Josh was mentioning that we feel for people, and we feel for supervisors because we understand the challenges that they face between producing and keeping people safe. And it is a challenge. It’s not easy to handle that challenge, but it can be done. 

And we know from experience and from working with many, many organizations that when organizations and supervisors and other more senior leaders focus on safety, people work better. They produce more they produce with higher quality. But if supervisors are really where the rubber meets the road, we need to invest in them, and we need to train them, and we need to develop them. And unfortunately, that is usually not the case. Supervisors are usually promoted through the ranks in organizations because of what they know because of the type of worker they are and the level of performance they have. 

Which one? In one sense, it’s important that they know the job, that they know the technical aspects of the job, because they’ll be supervising people directly. But oftentimes many of the things that made them stand out as individual workers get in the way of them being effective leaders, because being an effective worker is really about getting stuff done by yourself, being assertive and as a leader, you really need to get stuff done to other people, and that requires leadership skills and leadership skills are very different from technical skills. 

We’re talking here about your capacity to create relationship, your capacity to interact with people, your capacity to listen to people, to get people thinking, to get people speaking to get people. And that discretionary effort that Josh and Martin were talking about is key. And there is no one in the organization that has more power to really generate that container, that environment where people are willing to go that extra mile, to be creative, to think about things, to stop and pause before they do the work, then supervisors, so really investing in them and developing them as leaders is key. 

Now to do that, we need to give them all these skills that I talked about. And one key skill that I think is crucial is helping them to become better coaches, because, in essence, and with the type of work that people do nowadays in industry essential, that their direct leader, that is their supervisor and be able to coach people so that they themselves can become more self aware, become better at managing themselves, really coaching people to think about the work that they’re doing and to consider what are the risks, what are the hazards that they will be facing and how they will be mitigating those risks. 

Now again, unfortunately, because these are not necessarily skills that we have. Naturally, some supervisors develop them naturally, and we’ve seen Rockstar supervisors, but many don’t. They’ve never developed them, and they’ve never been taught. But these are really skills that are essential because it’s in those coaching conversations that supervisors have with workers that you will get workers to really look at how they work, look at their behavior and really get them to think about what they’re doing so that they don’t get hurt on the job. In this regard, we’ve come up with very specific skills that we teach supervisors, and we do so both in a classroom setting. 

And this is not your typical classroom with lots of PowerPoint slides and lots of concepts. No, these are about supervisors having conversations about what challenges they’re having with people, what it is that they want workers to do that they’re currently not doing and what they can do to get workers to do this. And these classes are full of role plays where they act out that relationship between worker and supervisor and how to have those conversations. And ultimately, we even develop supervisors through field coaching, having them practice these skills in real life situations. 

And some of these skills have to do. We come up with an acronym called Dare, and we call it Dare because it really takes courage to lead in this way. First off, because we’re not used to leaving in this way, and it’s going to be uncomfortable starting out. Second of all, because we’re asking supervisors to step away from this traditionally authoritative role of I’m the boss. I’m the supervisor. I’m going to tell you what to do when you’re going to do it to more collaborative relationship. 

And so that takes certain things. It takes the ability, as I said before, to create relationship. As you’ve all mentioned during this conversation, it really takes an ability to not just care for people which most supervisors do. We don’t doubt that, but to actively show that care and to delegate work in a manner that promotes safety. Now, what do I mean by this? Telling people what to do and how to do it does not work. First off, you don’t know whether the other person heard you, and you certainly don’t know whether the other person understood you and so telling someone what to do and how to do it. 

And then we tend to ask people or supervisors tend to ask people, did you understand? And of course, people are going to say yes, I should, of course. But that doesn’t mean they understood. It just means they’re saying that because they don’t want to look foolish. So, delegating work effectively means telling people what to do, but asking them how they’re going to do it, and furthermore, asking them what risks they will be facing and how they will mitigate those risks. Second, and this again takes courage because it’s not something we’re used to the A in there is about acknowledging safe work, and this is really key. 

We know from years and years of studies in various fields that people really thrive in an environment where they are recognized, they are appreciated. They’re acknowledged for the things that they do. And yet traditionally, we don’t do that. We just focus on what’s wrong. Now, here’s the problem with focusing on what’s wrong. Many people will say, well, that’s where I need to focus. That’s where the gap is. I need to talk about what’s wrong. The problem is it’s unfair and it’s counterproductive, and it’s unfair because people do more right things. 

They do more safe work than they do dangerous work. And thus, speaking to them always about what they do wrong. What they do unsafely is unfair. And second, it’s unproductive, because if I Eric, I’m your supervisor and I come to you and I correct you, and then I come again and I correct you again, and then I come back and I correct you again. What’s going to happen? The fourth time I come around, are you going to be all happy to see? 

I’m sure I’m going to be thrilled to see you. 

Exactly. You’re going to hate me. So, it’s really important to do that. The next aspect is redirecting at risk work, and that, of course, is important. We need to redirect unsafe behaviors. We need to redirect unsafe conditions, but it takes skill to do that such that you can redirect without offending the other person in a way that not just maintains but actually strengthens their relationship and really has the other person take the message to heart. And finally, the E in the Dare acronym is engaged. And its really what Martin was talking about of generating this learning culture, where there’s this back and forth with the organization and with the people that are really the experts of the work itself, which are the workers. 

So really teaching supervisors to create environments to create conversations where people are willing to engage are willing to speak up. And that’s really what this is all about. So yeah, really passionate about helping organizations upskill their supervisors, because as I said at the beginning, this is really where the rubber meets the road. And if we get this piece right, a lot of good can be done. 

I agree. I think you tied everything together. Edward. I think the element of how a supervisor starts interacting create a safe environment, how they’re coaching links to some of the themes that Martin was talking about earlier in terms of creating a learning organization where people want to put in more discretionary effort towards safety, where we’re constantly learning from what could go wrong, which ties us back to Josh was also talking about conversations and really those coaching interactions. And really the element of how do we start looking at things from a just culture standpoint? 

How do we start removing a lot of the risk and the blaming of the employees, but still continuing to do some of the good stuff around behavioral observations, driving better conversations? And then at the front end when I was talking about really the key element around mental health, wellbeing, really bridging that divide between safety and HR, really addressing some of the impacts around stress and fatigue, and then really the active care and self-leadership. All those key pieces, I think, are really the four core mega trends to focus on in 2022. 

So really appreciate all four of you. Joining me today. Eduardo, Martin, and Dr. Josh great conversation. Great topics to explore and wish you a happy New Year! 

Happy and Safe New Year. 

Happy and safe New Year to everybody. 

Happy New Year everyone, I would say Bonne et année!  

Let’s count down together. 10 – 3, 2, 1 

Fireworks, Champagne, and Happy New Year! 

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on c-suit 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. 

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Dr. Josh Williams, Martin Royal and Eduardo Lan are Partners with Propulo Consulting, the leading Safety and Operations Strategy Advisory & training firm. Tapping into insights from brain science and psychology, Propulo helps organizations improve their Safety, Operational performance and Culture.

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

Martin Royal: Martin is an expert in Human Performance & Business Transformation, coach and facilitator who helps clients create a committed and mobilized workforce to achieve their operational excellence, safety and wellbeing outcomes. Since joining Propulo Consulting in 2011, he has delivered well over 400+ safety culture change workshops and training programs centered on the development of employee empowerment, difficult conversations and leadership skills for global clients in North America and Europe. Martin supports Propulo Consulting’s contractor facilitator workforce and internal consultant team to enable them to deliver exceptional safety engagement training programs. He also supports the development and client-customization of Propulo Consulting’s various leadership and employee training offerings. Over the years, he has been involved in leading safety culture improvement engagements with various clients in industries such as aquaculture, construction, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, and utilities.

Eduardo Lan: As an accomplished organizational consultant and safety leadership coach, Eduardo has extensive experience in safety culture transformation, leadership development, and high-performance projects and operations across the United States, Europe, Canada and Latin America. With over 20 years of experience in Leadership and Organizational Transformation, Eduardo is truly an expert in Organizational Development and Change, specifically safety culture and leadership. He has designed and led seminars, workshops, coaching sessions, and entire programs on personal and organizational transformation for hundreds of organizations and thousands of people and works with leaders and teams on identifying limiting behaviors that thwart high performance, assisting them in producing breakthrough bottom-line results. He holds a master’s degree in Organization Development and Change from Pennsylvania State University and multiple certifications in consulting, coaching, safety, ontology, MBTI, integral theory, appreciative inquiry, adaptive leadership, and mindfulness. He is a frequent columnist for multiple business and industry publications.



Connecting with your Safety Audience with Tricia Kagerer

The Safety Guru with Tricia Kagerer



In conversation with Tricia Kagerer, the author of The B Words, discussing women in non-traditional roles in the workplace, including safety and risk management. Topics covered include workplace diversity, corporate social responsibility and servant leadership. Tricia advocates for the importance of financial literacy and bridging the missing link regarding the impact of safety and wellbeing initiatives on the bottom line. Listen to discover how to gain freedom from society’s prohibition and from your inhibition, to drive positivity and achieve success! 


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. My name is Eric Michrowski, your host. And today I’m very excited to have with me Trisha Kagerer. She’s the EVP of Risk Management for Jordan Foster Construction and also the author of the B-words, a recently published book. So, Tricia, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me this morning.

Absolutely. So, tell me a little bit about your story and what triggered you to write the book and also the work that you did in safety that got you to where you are today.

Sure, absolutely. So, I have been what I call the only for a long time, I’ve been in safety and risk management and most recently in the construction industry for more than 20 years. And I found myself in a pretty lonely place as an executive of a construction company working both in safety and construction. There really weren’t a lot of women throughout the course of my career in the 20 years in whether it be construction, whether it be the safety industry.

And so, as I said, the more I am as I got better and got more career oriented and started climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, I realized that there really wasn’t anybody that I could ask for advice or go back and try to network with. And so, I realized that it was maybe I had something to say about that. And I’ve always had a passion for writing. So, I decided to come up with the idea of writing the book called The B Words.

It’s 13 B-words women must navigate for success. The goal is to really just my goal at this point in my career is to open as many doors as I possibly can for women in nontraditional roles in the workplace. I’d like to actually do away with the term nontraditional roles. I would like it to be where people from an inclusion perspective can pursue the career that they believe is most valuable to them. And so, this is my contribution to that mission.

That’s phenomenal. So, when we were talking originally, you talked about some of the words within it. Some of the is one of the themes that really resonated with me was around this theme around bridges and really the link when it comes to women in the workplace, but also even in terms of safety professionals in the workplace, is the world is changing around us and we’ve got to adapt how we connect with audience. Tell me a little bit more about the Bridges chapter and some of your thoughts there, particularly as it relates to how people in safety can have bigger impacts on outcomes.

OK, so absolutely. So, the reality is I started writing this book right after the me-too movement, so but I had a clear intention in mind. I didn’t want it to be a male bashing book. I think there’s a lot of stories. Every chapter is presented with a word and some statistics related to that word and then women’s or just stories that promote it. And then each chapter has a breakthrough, which is solutions. I don’t like to present problems without solutions.

So, with the Bridges chapter, I realized that if we discount 50 percent of the population because everyone’s just angry and that we’re never going to facilitate any change at all. And so, I realized that I wanted this book to speak to both men and women and how we can work together to create opportunities that, yes, there are definitely some challenges that we have a lot of work to do. So, one of the things that the Bridges chapter touches on is the reality is the world is changing.

So, as and executives are running companies and with the intent of making a profit so very similar to safety. Safety is a way to when we do safety right. And we have safety and productivity and quality all working in conjunction. We don’t have money going out the back door that that we don’t recognize. It’s the same thing with diversity. There has to be our customer base is changing. Our workforce is changing. And quite frankly, if the only people making decisions all look the same and are all out of touch with our culture of our organizations, they’re not going to be profitable.

And so that’s kind of where it comes from.

But I think it’s a really important topic is really the diversity that you bring has to be connected and is so critical to the changing workplace. You’ve got different generations of people of different backgrounds. You need to find a way to connect in in all spaces, but definitely in the safety space.

Absolutely. So, if people in the chairs at the table, at the proverbial table are all, well, quite frankly, male white men in their right over 50. But our workforce is diverse and our industries and our customers and our external partners are changing. There’s a disconnect. So, we want to open that table and pull up a chair to the next generation. And it will look different than what we’ve had in the past. And that’s really what I speak to.

And the breakthrough talk about how do you do that partnership? Just recognizing and there’s a bit of an issue with sometimes I think there’s an issue with the status quo. So, for the if I open a chair at the table for someone who doesn’t look like me, then that’s a space that can’t be taken, that’s taken by someone else. But I just really believe that there’s an abundance of opportunity for everyone. We just have to shift our mindset and then recognize some of those bias, which is another B word.

Right, that are holding us back from making those changes. One of one of the challenges, too, is a lot of companies say, OK, I have a diversity program. And the reality is, if the culture isn’t ready for it, just like safety, you’re going to fail. So, you try to realize that. Are you really in tune with those that you’re intending to serve and as your culture ready for it?

And how do you how do you drive that forward so you can bring that diversity as well to the table, which is really important.

Absolutely, it’s critical to the future of organizations and with everything that’s going on in the world now, I really think that organizations that don’t get it and don’t buy into potentially change at some point that it’s a risk. I’m in risk management, too. So, it’s a risk that they won’t survive. I don’t believe that people are getting more savvy about who they’re working for, the products that they’re buying, and they’re looking to organizations to step up and care about things like inclusion and diversity and how we treat people in the workplace, which it’s time.

And I think the other element is, is if you want to attract the best talent and there certainly be choosier, what am I seeing at the table and who’s showing up? That best talent is probably going to be also the safest talent at the table. And if I start being choosy, I remember there was one project that I went to visit on the Gulf Coast and it was an incredibly progressive project. It was a phenomenal site. People wanted to be there.

The leadership was incredibly in line around safety, but just the culture was phenomenal. And what was interesting is nobody wanted to leave. They had access to the best talent that almost no attritional no issues around absenteeism compared to all the other projects around them. But a lot of it was because people chose to be there. So, lo and behold, it was also the safest site you could possibly get to.

So absolutely, that’s huge. It’s really huge to create a place where people want to stay. It’s exactly it’s all about the money, but it’s not it’s really about being a part of something bigger than ourselves and feeling like we’re appreciated and that we are. And safety is the best way to do that. Right. So, when we when we’re when we’re empowering people to be safe, as this is the way we are going to approach our business, there’s nothing more rewarding.

Right. But to get it right, you have to you have to consider all of it. It’s a bigger picture so than just compliance.

I agree, so the topics. Is this concept of servant leadership and building more relationships, connecting with the audience, which is very much linked to what we’re talking about, bridges, can you can you share some of your thoughts, your wisdom around kind of the theme of server leadership? How do you make it happen and the importance of it?

Absolutely, so I stumbled upon the term servant leadership maybe 10 – 15 years ago and realized that I didn’t know that there was such a, you know, a concept of it, like it was established. It was just something that I think my parents raised me to service in that way. And so, it came naturally to me that it didn’t I didn’t know it had like a title or something like that. So, I started reading quite a bit about it.

And but it’s just treating people the way you’d want to be treated yourself, whether that comes to safety. So, I think the days of safety professionals running out and writing people up and being, you know, with the hammer, there’s a place for discipline, but it’s not the place to create lasting change on projects. So, I do believe that there has to be an education approach and in service to others approach and kind of what we’re doing. And toward Fosters, we’ve created a field safety leader program.

And so not only we’ve identified leaders without a title. So, there are people that are in the field after the daily huddle who are who are the guys going to say, OK, now, what did they just say and what is it that we’re getting then? And we’ve identified those leaders and we’re training them not only to help the eyes and ears related to all of the necessary things we need to do on the safety side of things. But more most importantly, in my mind, is how to communicate, how to conflict resolution skills, leadership skills, knowing yourself to lead yourself.

How do you become a leader that people would want to follow? And what is it like being on the other side of you? And so, I think we’re one of we’re really having a phenomenal success with this program because instead of it being, oh, we’ve given someone a vast and power and now all of a sudden, my coworker is out to report me that that’s how a lot of these initiatives end up with the with the servant leader approach, where you’re giving people tools to be better communicators in service to others.

It really resonates with everyone.

I love it, this is this is really phenomenal, and can you share maybe a little bit more about how you’ve been able to increase the impact of safety by connected connecting to the language of business? You alluded a little bit around it when you were talking about bridges. I think this is something that’s really important is how do you connect with your audience? Had you spoken to the C-Suite around the importance, the criticality of driving safety forward, what are some of your tips or pearls of wisdom around that topic?

So basically, having worked my way up to the C-Suite, I realized early on that I was more kind of going back to that sort of leadership concept. I wanted to do things for the greater good of the people. But if I didn’t speak the language of money and finance, oftentimes I would find myself not resonating with the decision makers. So and so I and I see this as something when I’m out meeting with safety professionals. I think you have to learn the language of money as well.

You have to speak the board. You have to speak to how your initiatives are going to impact the bottom line. So, for example, years ago I wanted to do a wellness program and I was so excited about it because I thought, oh, this is going to be so great. We’re going to be in the field. We’re going to bring resources to people that have never received those resources before. And it’s going to be wonderful. And I went and I pitched it exactly that way to the CFO and he said, that’s great, Tricia, and that’s really, really nice.

But how much is it going to cost me? And so, I went back a few months later. So of course, the answer was no, because I didn’t have an answer. So, I went back and did my cost benefit analysis and looked at how we were going to reduce incidence and we were going to reduce claims related to soft tissue and all of these other issues that that could potentially have dollars, again, going out the back door and was successful the next time around talking about the bottom-line performance.

So, I think that’s a missing link. Often with safety. We know so much as safety professionals there’s this wealth of information that we have to be experts on. And yet if we can’t speak the language of money, it doesn’t resonate. I talk about that in the B words, too, for women as well. One of the challenges is our society and our culture. The reality is with many in many cases, women are raised to think that someone else should be responsible for them for their finances.

And I empower women to, whether you’re married or not or single or you want to start your own business, whatever it is, you need to learn to speak the language of money. So, I learned that in the safety world. And then I translated that message to the boards, too, because it’s the most important thing in the world when you know where you’re going and you know the financial aspect that you need to attain to get there. It’s funny, people say, I want to start my own business.

The next question is how much money do you need to do that? And they say, I don’t have enough money. And that’s a limiting belief. Well, if you don’t know what you need, then you’re never going to get there. And it’s the same thing with a safety budget. So, it just kind of its parallel in both of my universes.

So, it gets me to my last question. Your book is really about how do you break down barriers? How do you make a difference how you build a more authentic life? Can you share a little bit about women in leadership, some of the key topics that you cover in in your book?

Absolutely. So, I start with a foundation of self-defined success, so my success doesn’t look like anybody else’s, and I think that there’s a tendency for people to always look and say, well, this is what I want or there’s why would that person work when they should be home and all of those things? There’s a lot of that. So, I start with my success isn’t doesn’t look like anybody else’s. And that goes back to beliefs. And I think that one of the core chapters of beliefs is what is prohibition?

What is our society telling us we can’t do? And what is inhibition? What is that voice in your head telling you can’t do? And once you tap into those, if you recognize that voice and you can, you can change it. And you can also realize what and this is for men and women. What is it, a limiting belief or who told you? What if it’s wrong? What if it’s not true? What if there’s a doubt that is not true?

Then it opens the door. So, if women aren’t supposed to be engineers or women aren’t supposed to sit at the table, for example, I know we’ve made a lot of progress, but the same things are still resonating with this year with covid. I think we’re losing women. Women are leaving the workforce. We’re broke. But that goes back to organizational cultures. Where can we create environments where we do? The reality is we do need to now until the vaccine is out, take care of our children.

Somebody needs to educate them as well with the help of our teachers. If we’re not looking at that, you’re going to miss out on most of your workforce. So, I touch on bias. I touch on, of course, the biggest proverbial B word of all is bitch as I grew from in my career and became much more confident in my opinion and my knowledge base there, it suddenly becomes. So, wow, she’s a bitch, you know?

So how do I deal with that? So, I talk about that from a male and a female perspective is what’s going on in your head that why is it that if a confident, assertive woman is seen as a bitch, so there’s lots of sides to that as well. And then everything from bullies to bad ass, what does it take to become a badass and embrace your own personal view of the world? Because there’s something to be said for people who are confidently showing up every day and are comfortable in their own skin.

And that’s my goal, is to create a generation and do my part to help women in particular achieve that.

Yeah, so I think thank you for taking the time to write the book, to share your messages. I think there’s some very, very strong, important messages here for organizations, for individuals and really in terms of how we can comment on the limiting belief is a very, very powerful one. And it applies into so many spaces. You see it even in the safety space where people have this limiting belief of, I can only improve safety or quality productivity, whichever you’re trying to chase, as opposed to saying how do I improve all of them at the same time.

So, you see it in. Of life, people create these beliefs that I can’t break through this, but you can, you absolutely can. And it’s all it goes back to changing what someone decided is the truth and questioning it. And I think that’s safety. One hundred percent. If it’s all about compliance, it’s never going to be part of how they do business successfully. And therefore, you will always be separate and siloed. And so, the goal is to create an environment where safety is a part of how operations is successful.

So, it’s a predictor of success as well. Right. You’re going to be successful in life if you believe you can do you can be successful. If you don’t, then odds are you won’t.

Absolutely. It’s a much it’s a much better way to go through life being believing that in possibilities than shooting yourself in the foot before you even let yourself dream.

So, but there’s a lot of negativity out there. And so, this is my goal to kind of break some of those barriers and maybe by writing about it, it can potentially change someone’s mind and maybe somebody will adopt a different way of thinking. So that’s really what it’s all about on a person. And I really appreciate you, as I said before, kind of putting your thoughts in your books, giving some ideas, this incredibly important topic.

And thank you as well for the work you’re doing to improve safety in the construction space. So, Trisha, it’s been a pleasure to have you on the show. Wish you continued success both with your book as well as in your career. And thank you for joining us today.

Thank you so much. The books available on Amazon, the B word. Thirteen words women navigate for success or on my website, Tricia Kagerer Dotcom.

Excellent. Well, thank you very much for joining and then encourage you to pick up a copy of the book.

Thank you so much. It was great to be with you today.

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.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Tricia Kagerer, Author & EVP of Risk Management at Jordan Foster Construction

Tricia is the Executive Vice President of Risk Management for Jordan Foster Construction a large construction organization that performs civil, multifamily and general contracting across Texas. Tricia leads the risk management, safety and leadership teams.

Tricia is a construction industry expert and speaker on various leadership, risk management and safety topics, including crisis management, emergency response best practices, education across cultures, and servant leadership and diversity.

She holds a master’s degree in dispute resolution from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and her bachelor of science in business administration and bachelor of arts in communication—public relations from Regis University in Denver, Colorado.

Tricia is the author of the book The B Words: 13 Words Every Woman Must Navigate on the Journey to Self-Defined Success” where she highlights challenges and breakthrough strategies for women entering non-traditional roles in the workplace.

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Lessons in Leadership from a Career at NASA with Donald G. James

The Safety Guru_Donald G. James



Donald G. James, author of the recently released book Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t shares great insights from his lengthy career at NASA. From stories of how the Challenger and Columbia incidents shaped his view of leadership and blind spots, to sharing ideas for leaders to reduce these very blind spots and create environments where people are comfortable speaking up, this is an engaging podcast filled with stories and insights on the importance of Psychological Safety.


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 and today I’m very excited to have with me for great conversation Donald James. He’s the author of a book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t. He’s incredibly passionate about careers for students and through his 35 years’ worth of experience at NASA, has seen how much NASA can inspire people around the world. But here we’re going to talk about some really interesting insights from his career at NASA.

And Donald, welcome to the show, first of all. And I’d love for you to tell me a little bit about you and your career with NASA and most importantly, the thoughts that you’ve got around the importance of a manor’s linking it back to the book you recently published.

Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be on your program, and I really appreciate the opportunity. I enjoyed a wonderful career at NASA at 35 years, starting right out of graduate school. Interestingly enough, at the very beginning of my career, I didn’t know that I want to stay with NASA. It wasn’t until the 1986 Challenger tragedy that I found my calling in the agency when it had to do with a personal experience, I had with the post Challenger activities that NASA was doing.

I was invited to participate in some of the educational activities that the backup teacher to Christa McAuliffe, as you know, who perished on challenger Barbara Morgan. She was going around the country speaking to teachers and students, and I got to join her on that journey. And it was during that experience that I realized that NASA could inspire so many people. And it was at that time I said, I’m going to make a career at NASA, that I’m going to do my part to inspire the next generation.

So, I’ve had a wonderful career and delighted to talk to you about any and all of it.

Excellent. Well, you touched on the challenger. Obviously, there was also the Columbia incident. How has it shaped your view of leaderships and blind spots? Has your book really talks about the importance of I would call it grounded leadership, but tell me how those incidents shaped your view of leadership, particularly when it comes to safety?

Yes. So, in my definition of manners, I take a very broad view of it. I first want to say that, yes, I think it’s important to develop common courtesies, you know, please and thank you staff and things of that nature. But I view manners much more broadly and deeper than that. I view it as a way we show up in the world, our sense of awareness, how we engage people. And as a leader, I found that it was critically important, particularly when it came to safety matters, to pay attention, to pay attention very closely, because sometimes you can see problems that are right there in the plane view and a lot of it from one of our former astronauts, Jim Weatherby, who showed charts that they were presented earlier after Challenger.

And he showed how if you actually look at certain parts of those charts, you can see red flags that some of the engineers were sharing but didn’t come out right and see it. So, you have to develop a heightened sense of awareness about that.

I think that’s a phenomenal point and so, so critical when it comes to leadership, but most importantly on the safety leadership side, is creating that, as some people call it, psychological safety, the environment where people are comfortable speaking up, but also that you’re aware of some of those potential blind spots. One of the things that really impressed me when we talked initially, it was a lot of your insights around how you can reduce those blind spots, some very tangible ideas.

You mentioned some FBI body language training. I’d love to hear some examples that you’ve got in terms of tactics that have worked with you and your career.

Yeah, so I’ve learned to develop and cultivate a sense of awareness around, for example, body language. We know from research that communication is not just verbal, it’s also our body. And you might be in a situation where you’re talking to somebody about a particular issue and you can tell by how they’re carrying themselves, the degree to which, for example, they’re very concerned about an issue and it could make a life-or-death difference. I had a specific example where a colleague was sharing with me a concern about another colleague who actually had a drinking problem.

And this particular colleague was in a situation where he was around students and also around equipment, equipment that could be dangerous. And I could tell by how she was carrying herself that she was really, really concerned about it. But after speaking, she was being a little bit more measured, probably because she was, you know, dancing on some very sensitive things here. And so that’s the kind of thing, as just one specific example of truly trying to pay attention to the whole range of communications that you get for blind spots.

I’ve learned to try to reward people who point out blind spots that I may have. That seems like a very simple thing. But you find that your people may not want to bring things to your attention because they feel that, you know, as the saying goes, they’re going to the messengers are going to be shot, so to speak. Whereas in my experience, I tried to reward them sometimes publicly by saying sometimes by mentioning their names or not.

You know, I really appreciated that so-and-so presented to my attention that I didn’t understand and appreciate and thank them. Then the staff knows that you value that and they’re quite likely to bring things to your attention that they might not otherwise do.

I think that’s an incredibly important point. I wish more leaders did that because it’s really about demonstrating, setting the stage recognition, incredibly powerful vehicle for that in terms of how you get people to understand that it’s safe to challenge, to raise issues, to see opportunities or look at things differently.

That’s right. That’s right. And NASA, we developed after Challenger a whole separate structure, engineering and safety structure that ran parallel to the program management so that the issues of safety could be brought up a separate chain of command and the issues involved in the program management. And this allowed people to raise issues to a level where somebody can question or stop something that wasn’t necessarily driven by concerns of budget and schedule. And you know very well that budget and schedule is what often drives us to make poor decisions or to operate with blind spots, because what we’re rewarded for is meeting a schedule or making budget.

We’re not necessarily rewarded for avoiding a mistake because it’s awfully hard to know when you’ve actually done that. And yet when you do make a mistake and it’s costly, then it can actually be deadly and people lose their lives and their jobs.

And I think it’s a point that’s incredibly important, a lot of the it’s still the early stages, but a lot of the investigation of what happened behind the 737, Max. And the recent episode speaks to two similar themes. It was about meeting a budget and a meeting, most importantly, a timeline, because it was huge pressure to make sure they would be beat Airbus in launch of a specific upgrade to the aircraft. And that’s where certain things maybe didn’t surface.

That’s right. And I’m particularly sensitive to that because my brother, who’s also my collaborator, is a 737 captain. In fact, he’s flown the 737, Max. So, when this came to light, of course, you know, I peppered him about questions, many of which either couldn’t answer, didn’t know, or you got tired of answering. But for me, it brought home very deeply that a problem that could have been caused by who knows what and where it could have ended up costing somebody that I love very dearly his life.

And fortunately, you know, there were only two catastrophic accidents and now they’re just in the process of retraining their pilots on the new systems, on the max. And so, I have faith that, you know, they’ll get it right. But these problems have deep roots, and it’s important for leaders to have, you know, an imagination as to how problems can actually come about like this or that. You don’t intend doing that. But obviously, a good place to start is looking at pressures on budget and schedule.

And you know that that was a lot of issues with NASA as well.

And when we spoke before, you had a very inspiring quote that had shaped a lot of your thinking around this, and it had to do with essentially when somebody says as a problem, to what degree do I trust that problem? And can you share maybe a little bit about that that quote and some of the thinking behind it?

Well, I’m trying to remember this specific one. Maybe you can help me out here, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here. But I do know that, you know, there’s times when if you’re involved in an operation or a system, particularly a complex system, an engineering system, and you’re aware that there is a variable that’s present that probably wasn’t present before. So, if you take the example of Challenger, the variable that was present that really wasn’t present before was the very cold temperatures on launch day.

And so, there was concern about the impact on the system, particularly the O rings that ultimately failed. And so, what I what I took away from that was that if you are aware that there is some type of variable in the mix and you’re had a consequential decision, it behooves you to kind of pay attention and ask, how do I know this is going to going to work just the same? So, you think about the 737, Max. And I just want to be clear.

I am not an expert on that aircraft or systems or the accident or the and neither am I. But I I would I would start with the idea that what’s new is that they had developed some type of a safety system in the plane. And the way they approach the training of that, they felt that it was a simple software thing, that it could it could work just fine and it didn’t work fine. And I’m probably over abusing my knowledge of what actually happened.

But I think the lesson from leaders is and this can be applied in many circumstances, that if you see that something is new in the dynamic, if you do things over and over again and you don’t do something new, even if it’s a software thing, you need to ask yourself, what is the possibility that this can have an unintended consequence and then explore that a little bit and find the naysayers, find the people who are concerned to make sure that you got it right?

Because I’m telling you, when you’re a leader and issues come to your desk, they’re usually not easy. That’s the reason they’re on your desk. President Obama said this. You know, when you when I get a problem, it is a hard problem because of the energy problem. It would have been solved in the Lomi. And that’s just the price you pay as leader. You have to be able to deal with complex and confusing information.

And I think the coach just said that you chaired had to do with somebody in Houston and that the comment had to do that. Sometimes when somebody raises an issue that it may not appear as strong, they may downplay the importance of severity of it. And part of it is to read between the lines.

That’s right. And I’m like, yeah, I’m not remembering this specific example, but the point is, is very well taken. It’s important to triangulate the information you get, you know, and this is hard. For example, if you get an email and you’re not sure if the email is telling you something that you’re not reading, you need to check it out with different, different people. And I always did that, particularly with consequential decisions. I would ask different people in the entire organization what they think about things to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.

And sometimes I did miss some things. So, body language is an example where, you know, you’re in a staff meeting. Sometimes I walk into a room for a staff meeting and I started on my agenda. And I can tell in the meeting that something is wrong because people are being very quiet. They’re all in their iPhones. We call it the iPhone. Crouser, you know, they’re just like their heads are buried down there in your table.

Nobody’s looking at anybody. And I can tell that something is not right. And what I learned as a leader is that if I don’t stop right then and there to try to check out what the issue is, I’m probably going to end up with a problem down the road because people aren’t paying attention or we’re not going to be focused on what we need to do. Then most cases in my example, the consequences were more dangerous. We’re talking about flying astronauts.

Blind spots can be deadly. And I know a lot of astronauts and I know when there were some close calls. And you can’t afford to be wrong when you’re in space because it is unforgiving.

Absolutely, in your book, you mention also you have you have a chapter that speaks to what you call a pink suit. I think it would be great if you shared a little bit more about what that idea.

Yes. So Pink Suits is a metaphor. And I talk about wearing a pink suit and how there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to go to a store and buy a pink suit. Now, with all due respect to, you know, creative people out there that wear all kinds of different colors. This is not you know; this is not a criticism of the attire. It’s meant to be a metaphor. And the point of the metaphor is to be willing to try on an idea or something, even if you don’t want to.

You feel uncomfortable, you feel strange, and you might be embarrassed. Sometimes trying it on gives you an insight that helps you. Let me give you an example. That’s not an example. There is a story that’s well documented that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, got a great deal of insight into new fonts for Apple in the early days by taking a calligraphy class. And he did it as a fluke. He wasn’t doing engineering any of that kind of nature, but he went on to explain how he appreciated doing something different like that, gave him an appreciation for how he could apply those skills in a different environment.

By the way, just a little fun aside about Steve Jobs, and I like to share with the listeners the reason Steve Jobs got interested in computers is his father took him on a tour at the NASA Ames Research Center where I used to work, and that’s where he saw his first computer and that got him excited. So, if you don’t think you can inspire people by just taking them on a tour or showing them something, think again. You could end up creating the most valuable kind of.

Wow, I didn’t know that story. That’s a that’s a phenomenal story on the on the on the power of the NASA. That’s right.

That’s right.

So, you’ve shared a lot of ideas about increasing how people on your teams get more comfortable speaking up. Do you have any other pearls of wisdom in that regard? Because it’s so, so critical at NASA in that we talked about the 737-max scenario. But in all industries where hazards are present, there’s constantly this theme of I wish I had spoken up or leader saying I wish I had listened.

Yes, it’s fact. You know, NASA is a very technical organization and we’re never going to hire you to be an astronaut because you have good manners. You have to know how to fly the spacecraft. But I can guarantee you, and I know this for a fact, that if you don’t have good manners, you could be stuck on the ground. I know for a fact that there are astronauts who actually went all the way through selection, but somehow mysteriously were never selected to fly.

And I used to think it was only because they weren’t trained for the right mission or any number of cases. Now that I’ve been on the inside, I know there’s one or two cases where the reason that they were not manifested for a flight is that they had something lacking in their manners, skills that the leaders of the organization that puts the crew together decided it wasn’t a good fit. I happen to know that there is one astronaut who did fly and he will never fly again because the crew did not like that person and how they interacted.

And I want to be careful here because I’m not here to out anybody. That’s the point is that manners do matter. But you do have to know how to fly the plane, right? My brother says that, you know, he works as a 737 captain in a very technical field that’s bounded by the laws of physics. But manner set the tone for interactions with the most important resource, and that is his flight crew. And, you know, NASA even did a lot of research on flight crew, crew interactions and provided to the FAA some suggestions about how to change certain protocols.

So, it’s not just the captain is the only one who says this is how we’re going to do it. They’re actually trained now to take in opinions from other people, even dissenting opinions when they’re faced with certain challenges. And this is actually shown to save lives. So that’s my argument, is that manners are a skill set that’s very important to learn. It’s part of a range of skills that are important. It’s just not good enough to be smart if you want to work in a place by NASA.

And I would argue it’s not good enough to be smart to work in a lot of other places. You need to develop these skills. And that’s why I wrote this book, because I wanted to share this with students and early career professionals and I hope there is something inside it that will help them take them, you know, where their brains of money.

What I think is a very important point. They are very familiar with the airline industry. That’s where it started in the safety space. And you’re absolutely correct, the impact of crew resource management, how people can challenge each other, how they speak, the dynamics so, so critical to saving lives. And we’ve seen time and time again where that dynamic was not well balanced, how it cost in several cases, hundreds of people’s lives due to a fatal error.

And what are some of the approaches if when we’ve talked before, you really talked about the importance of those range of skills that are needed to be great leaders, how does one start cultivate that that broader range of skills, not just that the technical skill set?

Well, I suggest that one place to start is and I have a whole chapter on this called Who is on Your Team? It’s Chapter 10 and that’s proactively cultivating a group of people around you that you invite them to really support you around manners and other aspects of you as an individual. And I make a couple of points about this. First of all, I don’t mean team like a sports team where you get together at the same time and you meet when I’m talking about is a set of people from different areas of your life.

And I have a model in the chapter about the different sources that you can find team members. But the key is. What you asked them to do for you, the key is to ask them to please be sincere and honest about what you see, even if you think I don’t want to hear it, which means that you have to be willing to risk your relationship with somebody because they may tell you things that you don’t want to hear. I’ve had a personal example of this that I share in the book that in some circles, in many cases, probably could have gotten my boss fired from what he told me.

And yet I realized after I was upset with what he said to me, I realize he was giving me some wisdom that to this day has helped me greatly. That’s the kind of relationship that I talk about. So, the sources of those relationships are you can be your family members, you could be your friends, it could be your professional networks, it could be professional experts. It could even be your higher power. But it’s important to cultivate those relationships and ask people to mentor you, but not just to be your friend.

You don’t want your friend just to tell you, Eric, you know, you’re great. Don’t worry about anything. You want them to tell you the truth as they see it or to affirm things you think you’re doing right and to call out things when they think you’re doing wrong. And then it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to change in order to do it. So that’s one place you can start as a team. One other quick example in terms of interviewing, because most of us have to interview.

I have a whole chapter on interviewing. And my hypothesis in that chapter is that you’re always interviewing, so just be mindful of that. But I particularly talk about the importance of doing mock interviews and being videotaped, because it’s amazing that when you see yourself on a video, you look you look very different than you look like. It’s sort of like someone showing you a picture of yourself when you’re naked and you’re like, oh, my God, you’re like, that’s horrible.

And yet you look at yourself every day when you get out of the shower. Right. And you don’t think so. It takes an external source to show you a version of you that you don’t see to help you realize maybe I better get in shape or even your body language, how you show up in videos, etc. completely agree. Haven’t done the exercise. As much as I despise the activity, I think it’s a it’s a phenomenal if we’re only important tools.

So, I think these are very good ideas. Thank you. Thank you so much, Donald, for sharing this wisdom, putting a put it together in a book to help young professionals orient themselves from a career, bringing a lot of your learnings from your experience at NASA in terms of how to become a more well-rounded leader. And the book Manners will take your brains and money.

Thank you so much. Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing about your experience and your thoughts around you.

Thank you. I appreciate it. It was 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 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.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Donald Gregory James, an executive leader, a manager, a facilitator, a public speaker, a mentor, and author. Donald began his 35-year NASA career as a Presidential Management Intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland in 1982. He transferred to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA in 1984 where he served in a variety of roles of increasing responsibility and complexity, including Public Affairs, Government & Community Relations and Education.

Donald decided to make a career at NASA after the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Asked to support the post-accident speaking tour of back-up Teacher-In-Space Astronaut Barbara Morgan, Donald was so inspired by the overwhelming love and support for America’s space program – and education – that he realized NASA was a special place where he could make a difference. His journey of public service would take him from being an intern to the senior executive service and member of NASA’s senior leadership team.

James served as Ames’ Education Director from 1999 to 2006. In the Fall of 1996, James co-led the record-setting Open House at Ames attracting over a quarter of million visitors in one day. In early 2006, James worked on the Orion crew spacecraft at NASA Johnson Space Center, where he drafted the program’s first project plan. Later that year, James was named Project Manager for NASA’s (successful) bid to host the International Space University’s 2009 Summer Session Program (ISU- SSP), attracting an ISU SSP best 136 students from over 33 nations, involving over 15 corporate and non-profit partners.

In August of 2014, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden selected James to serve as the Agency’s Associate Administrator for Education where he led an enterprise comprised of 75 civil servants, over 250 contractors organized to strengthen NASA and America’s future workforce. Under James’ leadership, NASA learner and educator engagement reached over a million people a year. James retired from NASA on March 31, 2017.

James holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was awarded a three-year graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue his MA in International Economic Development from the American University in Washington, D.C. James also studied economics and history at Cambridge University, England, and attended Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program. He is the recipient of numerous awards and citations for exemplary service. 

James was inspired by the places he’s lived overseas, including Ghana, Thailand, Kenya, and Niger. He’s also traveled to Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Spain, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.

His forthcoming book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t: Lessons from 35 years at NASA and Momma’s Wisdomwill be released February 2nd. Donald and his wife Tanya live in Pleasanton, California. They have two children, 28 and 25.

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Safety Leadership: The Holy Grail of Safety with Michelle Brown

The Safety Guru_Michelle Brown



Everybody talks about the importance of leadership to drive Safety Performance. In this must-listen to episode, we explore tangibly how leaders need to show up to drive safety outcomes. To be a great safety leader, you need to care deeply about your people, understand your personal WHY for safety and regularly demonstrate the value of safety through your actions. Michelle Brown shares her insights about transformational safety leadership and actions to shape, develop and improve these skills to become better safety leaders.


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 Michelle Brown, who is a chief operating officer at Pinsight, one of the leading and most sophisticated platforms for leadership assessments and development that delivers a lot of great leadership essentials for organizations that want to make sure they’ve got really their top talent in the organization. The reason I’ve got Michelle here, she was probably one of the most influential thinkers around safety leadership that I’ve come across over the years in terms of what she’s thinking, how she’s influencing a lot of leaders. And I wanted to have a conversation with Michelle around leadership and the role of leaders in shaping safety and safety culture. So, Michelle. Welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having me. Eric, it’s absolutely delightful to be back talking with you and about a topic I have so much passion for. So, tell me a little bit about that passion because you got into the safety space a long time ago, touched a lot of leaders across that journey. Tell me about your passion for leaders and for safety. You know, it’s a bit of a funny path and probably not a linear one. My first career was as a clinical psychologist. I was working in health care settings. I was working mostly with children and families and certainly nothing to do with safety at that point. But what became really clear for me is that incredible relationship, that dynamic between a parent and child, is incredibly transformative things that the parents do. They say the way they act has a huge impact on how children behave, grow and develop, think and feel. And over the course of my career in clinical psychology, I had the chance to transition into working in workplaces, bringing a lot of the same fundamentals of psychology and decision making and job relationship dynamics. And I just sort of landed, if you will, in working with safety. And what I thought was not a hugely taught connection, in the beginning, was an 11-year incredible career, working with some extraordinary organizations and absolutely inspiring leaders, and had the opportunity to blend that passion for psychology with my absolute fascination in the way of leadership and team member dynamic that’s phenomenal. So, you’ve worked with a lot of leaders globally, seen some phenomenal safety leaders. What are some of the key themes that were consistently visible across all those amazing leaders? You know, the amazing ones, the ones that stand out, the ones that I would sort of leave a day of work with and just think, wow, you know, they really get it. You know, I think the thing that I observed with leaders that could have a really incredible impact that could really, you know, shape a culture that could really move people to think differently and feel differently and behave differently. These are the leaders that were incredibly self-aware, you know, when I say they got it, but they really understood that their role mattered, that it wasn’t just that they had a position of authority or that with the boss. But I think they really kind of got the awesome power and responsibility of being in a position of leadership. And they took it very seriously. You know, they had colleagues that I used to work with that would tell leaders, you know, the good news is, is that you have more power than you think. And the bad news is that you have more power than you think. And I think it’s the leaders that were really incredible for me to watch was the ones that really understood that power and that responsibility for people and their safety. That’s amazing. So were there any other themes like one of the parts that I’ve noticed and I know we’ve talked about this before, is the importance of there’s a desire to leave a legacy, there’s a desire to do something with that power, that ability that I’ve got to shape other people’s lives with. Was there something there as well? Yeah, we often, you know, we come together and. You know, when we work together and talk about those leaders that were really, we just had such optimism for their journey and their ability to create change often because they would start at the core of people, you know, I have you know, I can list off some extraordinary leaders that I’ve had the ability to sit with and work with and support. And it’s always talked about their love of people that they really understood that that safety, the people’s ability to work, to go to work, to do good work, to feel productive, feel engaged and to be harmed free at the end of it was really starting at their desk that that, you know, safety, leadership and safety management was very rarely done with a pen or a policy, but it was their words and their actions. And, you know, when they got that and they could really understand that their words and actions were going to make a big difference. You know, many of them really wanted to harness that power. They wanted to do good with that power. And some of those leaders were coming from positions where they really had been confronted with either a terrible workplace event or they saw the tears in children’s and spouse’s eyes when they had to tell a spouse that know somebody that wasn’t coming home from work or that were critically maimed, that they felt that serious impact of their actions. And I had often called them legacy leaders, that they were really conscious of wanting to leave that legacy and do good and make the company better and safer through that leadership. Interesting. And so, the ultimate question is, can that leader be made, or is that somebody who comes that way? So, can you harness some of those skills in those capabilities and a leader, or are you better off finding somebody that you’re recruiting for that skill set? Well, that’s such a good question. You know, this is at the heart of I think most organizations struggle when they’re trying to create change in safety, culture, and safety outcomes is, you know, who takes the lead on doing this? Where are those leaders, not managers? So, I use that term deliberately. And how do we build them and cross them? And I kind of have a bit of a theory about the effectiveness of safety leaders, that it’s sort of you know, if you sort of an equation of the effectiveness of safety leadership is that that passion and that why multiplied by the skill. And so, I think you have to have both to be most effective. I think some of the most effective leaders have really got that clear. Why I’m clear in their head, they understand the awesome power and responsibility of their words and actions. They have a deep passion to do well for people that have a deep passion to never have to bring news to a family. They have a deep desire to make people’s lives better, and they know that they can do that with leadership. So, I think that’s part of the equation. The other part of the equation is absolutely skill, that leadership skills like riding a bike, learning a language, learning a musical instrument is a set of skills, things that we can all learn with focus and practice. I think the big difference is, is that if you don’t have a driving long and a deep desire to be included, to be an effective leader, you’re probably less likely to invest in developing those skills. But I, I certainly can be effective if I really focus on developing the skills. But that does the multiplying effect of that passion and desire as well. Hmm, interesting. So, the other element you’ve often talked about is this concept of transformational leadership. Can you talk a little bit more about what that is in a safety context? Yeah, I think that this is where this notion of skills really comes to the fore. And the debate I’ve had so often with organizations when thinking about, you know, they have a desire to create change in safety. They’re unhappy or unhappy with their lost time injuries. They’re disappointed with the number of people that are getting hurt or harmed in their workplace. And, you know, they want to at first bring in more groups. They want to manage safety well; they want to manage injuries, or they want to manage risk. And they first want to do that through policies and consequences and harm and. Training and telling, and, you know, they desire to manage a ride like that where a lot of people stop, but then that’ll get you a little bit of the way, but not all the way into a sustainably strong, self-sustaining, strong and positive safety culture. And I think this is why, you know, my background in working with families and that through did between parent and child was a natural blend for me to be jumping into Sipi leadership. Because what I think those leaders struggle to contend with is that relationship between the leader and the team members that died in itself is also transformative. There’s a wide array of literature out there that says that the parent-child relationship, that dynamic in itself, is transformative for both the parent and the child, the way they interact, talk, and behave with one another. But the same is true for leaders and team members. You know, next to our parent’s relationship, the relationship I have with my managers and my leaders is probably the second most important relationship and the transformative relationship we have to have in our lives. And I think we all have a story or two about, you know, a bad boss, but also a great boss that helped us with our esteem that we you know, we’ve opened up our opportunities. We grew new skills, we developed empathy. We you know, we grew as humans inside the you know, the leader member, the boss subordinate relationship. And so, if we want people to grow and make great choices and to manage risks and to speak up when they’re unsure, you know, all the behaviors that we want team members to employ, you know, those behaviors come out of safe and productive and trusting relationships with these leaders. And I think, you know, that’s kind of when I come back to that, the notion that legacy leaders, those leaders that really get the awesome power that exists in that did, they’re the ones that want to harness that. They’re the ones that are paying attention that sure you can’t manage safety just with a handful of policies that you pop in a bonder and hope people read and follow it. It’s not how it’s done. It’s done through leading. And if I can deviate just for a moment here, I think that the current circumstance for whenever folks are listening to this session today, we’re talking about a time in the middle of a global pandemic where the hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. And I think while the debate has been this has been a pandemic about science, I think that this is a pandemic about leadership. Sure. I think we felt the impact of leadership, you know, how leaders’ message and what they message about how they communicate, what they role model, what they pay attention to, what they know, what they measure, what they don’t. This, I think for all of us, we’re seeing, you know, the impact of leadership in how it transforms our perceptions, our decisions, our choices, our feelings, what we do in our lives and in our backyards and our in our decisions is impacted by leaders and the health outcomes follow. This is sort of a meta-study for what goes on with safety inside organizations, what leaders talk about, what they don’t talk about, how they talk about it, what they pay attention to, what they measure, what their role model. These are the transformative elements of safety, leadership, and in leadership literature. We call these transformational leadership behaviors transformational safety, leadership behaviors because they are the things that transform other people’s actions. Ways that people can really change the way that their team members and their organization think about things, feel about things and then behave and the choices they make interesting. And when you bring up the pandemic, it brings up two thoughts to mind. One of them is a number of leaders I’ve spoken to talked about how in the span of six months, they did more to empower or they had more impact, more positive impact in terms of their safety culture than they could have probably imagined in six years because they had to demonstrate active care. They did all the right things versus others who threw their hands in the air and thinking, oh, this is all happening to me. And the other piece was really interesting. I was reviewing some work with one organization, and it was really interesting is despite the pandemic, those leaders who spent a lot of time on the floor connecting with team members, interacting with them, those who previously spent a lot of time continue to find ways to spend a lot of time connecting with their team members. But the interesting piece is those who spent less than 40 percent of the time doing it, that drop; they found excuses not to be able to do it. It’s a choice that you’re making. And I think they set it right; there is the choice you’re making about where you invest your time as a leader. And I think that there’s some interesting, you know, other research similar to what you’re saying, that, you know, great leaders produce great outcomes, poor leaders that don’t do a lot of this investment in these skills of transformational leadership has poor safety outcomes, but even mediocre kind of wishy-washy leaders that sort of dabble in a little bit of safety leadership, but not consistency. We very frequently they don’t have mediocre outcomes. They also have poor outcomes because people find them inconsistent and in genuine ways there. With your guidance and I think this a talking with some other colleagues in this space recently where they’ve said, you know, this pandemic has been a real macrocosm, if you will, of how much leadership influences health and safety outcomes, that this is not a medical crisis. This is like a leadership issue. And yeah, I’d say it’s I think we can all study this one from a how do you make a change in safety performance? You pay attention to the leaders that have got it right here and around the world and in leading to this pandemic. Absolutely. So, what are some of the things that leaders can do to become better safety leaders if they want to take action the way they want to make a difference? What are some of the things that you’ve seen really work in that space? Yeah, I think the first thing is if leaders, I think you should do a little self-reflection on why they want to do this. And this comes back to this notion of those leaders who have consistently, through their career, really worked hard and struggled through even when it’s tough and to get in touch with building a legacy and having a positive impact on people. And so, I think it’s it can be a useful exercise for leaders to tap into a Y for the Saudi leadership. Why do I want to do this? And obviously, I’m going to say that motivations like bonuses and pension and getting fired probably are not going to be massively sustainable for you. But it should sort of, you know, tap something meaningful for you. Sure. For me personally, when I started working in safety leadership, it was because I saw an ad in the newspaper back in the day when ads where I was running the newspaper, and it said, you know, to travel the world while you’re changing it. And I said, yes, I want to change the world. I want to have an impact on people. And I have this you know, I wanted to finish every day seeing someone have an aha moment and or hearing the stories of people saying, you know, that story you told all that research you did or that thing that you mentioned really made a difference for me. And I always thought, you know, if I can change the trajectory of someone by one percent, you know, you know, in terms of vectors, that can be a big difference down the line. So, I think leaders should probably start with getting in touch with why is safety leadership important for them? How does it along with their personal values and what they want to bring to the world? So, I think that’s a starting point. I think it’s a phenomenal starting point. And I’ve certainly done it with a lot of leaders. And it just struck me that everybody good at this always had an incredibly. Wider to surface, there was always some motivation, sometimes it was around Soviet leadership attributes. I was around a great father, mother that had this lasting legacy, or if you said it was somebody got injured in the traumatic event and they would never want to see that again and they realized the role they had as a leader and. Absolutely. Do you in your experience, or do you think that that is also required? Do you think that that is a foundation piece to effective safety leadership with the leaders you’ve worked with? I personally have not found a leader that didn’t have a strong why that was able to communicate generally their desire. In theory. I’m not sure if you could fake it like an actor or learn a script and create your way. But I think the problem is you wouldn’t have the passion behind it. You may be able to have the words in in your messages, but you wouldn’t be able to truly have the drive behind your actions because it’s unique that the leader is I’ve seen that have this why it’s incredibly powerful and they can relive it like there was one there was one zero I was talking to you and his wife had to do with when he was an early supervisor in his career, and somebody had passed away on his shift and he could relive it moment by moment, the drive. And it was the longest drive of his life to see that supervisor that person’s that employee’s wife. And then he can recount 20, 30 years later walking down the path, and then his wife coming, running towards him, thinking that he had arrived for there to congratulate them on their newborn. But instead, he was there to deliver a horrible message that the husband was never coming back. So that ingrained in him. And he could relive that moment basically step by step, like a movie. And it could mean it was such passion, and it shaped all his actions. But the thing is, you can’t make that up unless you’re Hollywood. But the problem is you still need the drive to take action to do something with it, which you can’t script. And I think that’s I think it’s a really good point about not being able to script. And I think it’s when you are really operating from that position of personal values and personal mission and legacy, that it sorts of fuels you consistently, that you’re not sort of a fair-weather safety leader of, you know, I only show up to the safety meetings and, you know, that’s like stand down. And, you know, after an event or, you know, I’m the only kind of vocal about it on Safety Week or, you know, I think that it’s the consistency of folks that have really tapped they’re why that keeps them going and keeps them faithful even when maybe it’s not a good run, or there’s been an injury and, you know, they’re not going to throw in the towel and say, well, this isn’t working. This is a journey. It’s like safety is like health. You don’t just jump on the treadmill once a year and say, well, that’s it, I’m good, I’m healthy. Now, you don’t eat one salad, and the rice is run on your health. It’s a daily activity of activities. And, you know, I think it’s important for the safety leaders that are listening in to this instance is, you know, you don’t have to be confronted with a traumatic event to find out why. You know, I think there are plenty of leaders that have unfortunately walked through those fires metaphorical and literal, and have come out with a deep understanding and a deep desire to never do that again. Desires and their values are never to repeat that situation. But there’s also leaders there that also have a tremendous amount of fuel and passion because of the opportunity they want to harness that it isn’t that they’re trying to avoid an injury. They’re also really invested in saying, you know, like great safety. Leadership also has some remarkable byproducts that, you know, this is spillover. A great safety leadership is, you know, employees tend to perform better, and they’re more productive, and their quality of work is higher and their well-being is better. They’re more engaged. They stay in their roles longer. You know, all of those sort of business outcomes aside, that people are happier and do better work great. And that’s great for, you know, our communities and our workplaces and our society at large. And leaders, just with their words and actions, can and do so afterward. Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that’s the first thing that that leader, if you want to do this well, you can really sit with this to get in touch with their own. Why does safety matter to me? Why does my safety matter to my team, and what does it mean in the alignment of values? So, I think that’s the first journey for leaders to start to walk. Yeah, I would completely echo that. I think it’s a personal reflection. Like you said, it doesn’t need to be a traumatic event. There could be just a deep desire to make the world a better place to change people’s lives, whatever that drive is. But there’s got to be something that’s there in your thoughts, in terms of leaders, in terms of once they’ve got defined their way and they clear on it, what would be the next step then? I think it’s a process of looking at the things you could do, you know, like the actions one can take, you know, the why and the purposes is really going to be the few, you know, the energy and then the actions are what turns that energy into an impact vector and thrust, if you will, like, you know, like you got to do something with that passion. And I think your story about even just being observant of how much time you are spending with your employees, it’s very difficult to have an impact on them if you never see them, never talk to them. I don’t really, you know, like I said, a great email. And I hope that really change the world. It doesn’t get like that. It’s all right. Leadership invites human to human, not email to email or not, you know, of speech to the audience. It’s very human interaction and so requires an investment of time. And so, from a really very practical level, like check your calendar every week, like being conscious of how much leading opportunities you have and they can sneak up on you like a leading opportunity can be in a meeting. There’s an opportunity to role model there to see some impactful things there to show care. You know, you might just be in a meeting, but that’s an opportunity for Sipi leadership. You might be doing some task reviews. Well, there’s great opportunities there. So, check your calendar in. How much time are you putting aside for investing in safety, leadership, and being cognizant of how you want to show up to each of those opportunities? So, you’re actively planning your behaviors ahead of time, and rather than getting caught short at the end of the week and thinking, oh, golly, I’ve got to go do a quick safety walk, hand out a couple of like safety pats on the back. And then I’ve done Friday for the very best. Go and do a quick take five out there, and then I can take off my safety leadership activities, and it’s now probably not going to get it done. So maybe intentional with their time. And then I think, you know, it’s as easy as really looking at the transformational leadership skills. And I keep coming back to that one because it’s a great model for redirecting leader’s attention away from the tasks that really do feel like our responsibilities. Check these schedules, budgets, all you know, the management of projects and productivity, transformational leadership really says, you know, you have an impact by just doing something role-modeling, just being the person that wears the PPE consistently just by being the person that wears their mask consistently, by being the person that does a range of things. That’s plenty of stories. When I was in the field with so many employees, and they could say, you know, a lot of things about their safety leaders just by watching them, you know what I’d say? You know, describe the safety leadership around here. So many of them were full of stories of this person, spoke at a meeting about safety. But then I saw them blow the stopwatch up. You know, as I was reading through the stop sign, leaving the office. And so, everything they say is B.S., you know, it being consistent with your words and actions that really can make a huge difference. And so just role modeling, those behaviors that you would want for people even above and beyond, and even when nobody’s watching, even on the weekend, when you crossing across work, making it part of who you are is pretty important. So, role modeling is, I think, really key. Its people see the actions of leaders, and if they’re not aligned with their words, it can tip over quite quickly. It’s an interesting comment you make is in conversation. Recently, I was talking to somebody who had interacted with a leader that had worked with the late Paul O’Neill when Alcoa is going through his great transformation in terms of safety and safety culture. And the part that struck me as one of the stories of that person, I have met this person personally, but. So, it’s secondhand knowledge, but one of the stories that was shared that was the most impactful to them that Polonia was real at, that safety was real for him, is they had heard early on in his career, apparently there was a fatality at the site and a CEO. He pulled everything out of his calendar, and he was there not to yell at people, not to be angry, but to learn how we fail. He was asking people to understand why we are failing, really role modeling, the learning organization. Well, what’s interesting is we’re probably talking now 20, 20, 25 years ago. And that’s the story that stuck to that person’s mind. It’s how they prioritize that safety was real to them. And as a CEO of a huge company, I’m willing to put everything to put my mind where it matters. Absolutely. You know, I think that folks that have had the opportunity to work alongside or around great safety leaders have those real stories about those moments that matter when, you know, those leaders made a tough choice in the instance when they didn’t sort of follow the traditional path of how things might get managed. But they’re prepared to be vulnerable and here uncomfortable things and to have uncomfortable conversations in the effort to get them to acknowledge that this isn’t a journey, it’s not a race we’re going to win. We never get to declare victory over safety. So, we have to continue to be vigilant about it and be tough about it and to examine ourselves and be rigorous and uncomfortable and I think yeah, I think for those people who have had the opportunity to work alongside great leaders like Paul O’Neill would certainly have boatloads of those great stories. Great. And I’d love to share. Finally, in terms of communicating, how does those leaders communicate? Is there a common theme around how they communicate, the stories they share, the insights they share with their groups? Yeah, you know, I think this is a lovely one to think about, you know, being that we’re chatting in a podcast here that, you know, a fundamental form of human communication, the way that we transmit knowledge and meaning, more importantly, how we transmit meaning to one another is through great storytelling skills that, you know, I can think of very few PowerPoint presentations that have really struck me. You know, I’m not going to be on my deathbed telling my grandkids about an extraordinary spreadsheet that really felt like, you know, we don’t have those kinds of experiences. But, you know, humans communicate with one another when they’re mindful that they’re communicating with other humans and how human brains work, that we are inherently social human to human beings, that we are people that care about being safe and care about meaning and purpose, and that we are filled with a range of needs and desires and complexities. And I guess that when people communicate with the idea, first of all, in mind that they’re communicating with other people, other humans. And so, I think, you know, one thing that great safety leaders can work on is there I’m going to say communication skills, but sort of more their storytelling skills here, the way they craft a narrative, the way they build a you know, a message that has impact, a message that can land for individuals. You know, I think there’s some great people that have distilled this into some to some easy points and thinking of Senex Golden Circle and says, you know, when you’re trying to tell people about what it is you’re trying to tell them, start with why and not necessarily the why for you, but why. Then why would someone want to listen to this thing that I’m talking to them about? And, you know, what should they remember that’s important and what should they do with this information? So, it’s important that, you know, I often think where leaders can go wrong is that they believe that their job is to sort of be the voice-over track to a corporate message. You know, they’re the voice over to a spreadsheet, or they’re you know, they’re just adding a couple of additional words to a document that they don’t really understand the again, the awesome power they have within them to change people’s minds about things that with a good message, a good story, people can say. Oh, yeah, I’m going to do something different today. Oh, yeah, I think I’m going to take a different approach to that. And so, I think the ability for leaders to be really thoughtful on how they communicate the message they want to communicate but to just really hold this idea in mind that those humans communicate through stories, really through graphs or stacks or, you know, the corporate words and PowerPoint presentations that, you know, things that we’ve relied on to look like we’re getting the job done. But at the end of the day, that’s good management work. Leading work is when the message that I have sent is landed for someone, they’re nodding their head. We’ve had a connection. We’re meeting the minds. We have a shared idea about an experience, or there’s an emotional reaction where someone will sign Ops is in their brain who connected together. And they will quite a little bit different, like quite literally, that they are a little bit different because of the message that they’ve that I received. I think that that’s really where leaders can craft some incredible power and love that message because the power of stories is so, so important. I think it also links back to the way if you’ve got a strong line, you can articulate and it’s a story or even if there’s a few different stories around it, I think it also makes it much more powerful. But how do you make that long-lasting? How do you make it beyond that one experience at one moment where I had a great story, great example, no disrespect to Tony Robbins, phenomenal speaker, but I went to a presentation? It’s life-changing. It’s amazing. And then you walk away. It’s the same thing next day. How do you make that stick? Yeah, I you know, I am so glad you asked that because I know I’ve been to plenty of safety conferences and had some great inspirational speakers. And you think, oh, well, we did see you guys later. What do I do with that? And, you know, in my own leadership practice, some of the values we have is about taking care of customers, deep customer care in a number of levels. And so, we have a cultural practice in at the beginning of every meeting about customers. We take a couple of minutes to acknowledge to one another a moment that we’ve seen, however small or large, where we’ve been demonstrating that value. And it serves as a moment for some storytelling, not presenting like a chart of how this might have improved our input. You know, I’m saying, you know, I talked with Kelly and we had this conversation. She said this and I did that. And this is what happened. And, you know, so we tell a true story. We get a chance at that time to reinforce small behaviors, small attitudes. And, you know, we’re not talking about hitting targets and goals. What we’re talking about the attitudes that we bring to our interactions and the behaviors that we express. I went above and beyond. So, I you know, I went just did this additional layer of risk. So, it’s our chance to, again, sort of notice and pays attention to the types of behaviors that are important that contribute to our ultimate goal. It’s a time where we pat each other on the back and get some social support and active care and check in with one another to need help with that. And well done. What a great example. You know, what became, you know, what was a bit of pulling teeth in the first months, probably even a year, maybe even 18 months of me doing this now has become a habit, a habit inside our team and our companies where we tell stories about what’s important to us. And that’s, I think, turning that leadership passion and those transformational activities into organizational habits. And they look small, and they can look geeky and kind of funny. But we couldn’t have a meeting that it just feels off. If we don’t start without burdens of storytelling, celebration, pats on the back, sometimes calling out ourselves and tooting our own where we did something well, but ultimately living our values in the things that are important. So that’s I think with communication and communicating, the impact can become so sustainable when it becomes part of your habits, not just this once-a-year safety meeting. Yeah, I think that’s incredibly powerful story. And I think that’s also the element of the safety moment when you start a meeting in a lot of organizations is you have known. But what I love is what you’re sharing is really about stories, not some random safety moment that you just pop through. You’re really getting much more into thinking of how did I show up? How did it? It back the customer in that instance or so forth, so really checking into your attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets around safety. Absolutely. And it’s the less of the moment of, you know, what I caught someone doing wrong or an issue I have fixed, which I’ve had plenty of safety moments where like, well, I saw this problem and I fix it. And there’s some great stories. There were opportunities where people have closed the gaps, but they also should be moments of celebration that we want to sort of pat each other on the back and say, hey, well done, your part of who we are and what we do and how we do things around here. And, um, but it becomes part of the fabric of the organization then, not just an event that happens. And we get used to noticing when we’re doing great things, paying attention to one another, caring for one another, rewarding and recognizing people for the great things they do. It’s a great opportunity to start an upward spiral of safety, leadership and strong safety culture. So, I think it’s really good design. I mean, it’s really the elements of even appreciative inquiry we’re back into as an organizational change vehicle is all about how do you get those the stories to start surfacing? I think what you’re sharing is how do you get into a daily, weekly ritual where you’re reflecting. You can even follow in with some powerful questions, I think, to see how your leaders are showing up in a particular way, not an interrogation, but through stories. So instead of one of the questions was, I often prefer asking is rather than saying when was your last observation, which is a binary response, you say, what have you seen from your last observations? What concerns you? Where do you think, the next potential incident is going to happen next injury? Because it pushes people to actually observe, to think. And at first you might stare, but eventually people are going to have to do something with what they see. Absolutely. I love that idea of being thoughtful about the questions that we’re asking that binary like how many safety observations would be done? When was your last year? OK, those are just numbers, right? There’s a simple thing you can put on a spreadsheet for sure. But this is I think the point you’re making is leaders have the opportunity with their questions to engage, thinking, to actually engage the neural networks that people have in their brain that are in charge of decision making in analyzing information and making good decisions and solving problems. And if you get people thinking this is the old adage, you know, sign-ups as a firing, sign-ups as wiring, the more you are having of those conversations on a repeated basis, the more that becomes the way you are. You’re inadvertently wiring people’s brains for risk awareness and for safety problems. And that’s just so cool by changing one word of how many safety observations to what were your safety observations? What did you observe? A small change in the way we ask questions. What concerns do? Exactly what positive change have you noticed over the last month in your observations? I think there’s a quote that somebody shared with me, which I think is phenomenal. This is what interests my boss fascinates me. So, if it’s interesting to me to ask those questions and it’s going to be fascinating for me, and then I think that’s how you cascade your message around safety and safety culture. Absolutely. That’s very true. Well, thank you so much, Michelle. It’s been a phenomenal conversation. I think your passion for safety, leadership and now passion for leadership in general in terms of how do you get the best talent and organization, had your influence, how they lead and how they shop is so powerful. I’ve definitely influenced me in terms of safety, leadership and my thinking around it. So, thank you for coming. Thank you very much, Eric. And it’s just such a great joy to be thinking about and talking about such an exciting topic like what we do here. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

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Michelle Brown is the COO of Pinsight, a HR software solution providing businesses with critical insights into their current and future leaders. Michelle is also a professor at the University of Denver, specializing in organizational behavior and leadership. Michelle has degrees in both psychology and business, and uses this perspective to ensure the scientific methods used at Pinsight are translated to practical and effective solutions for HR professionals, businesses and their leaders.