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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.

To learn about Safety Leadership Commitment:

The Safety Guru with 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.



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



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


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

Safety’s 21 for 2021 Key Topics

1. Mergers and Acquisitions.

2. SIFs and SIF Potential.

3. BeHop.

4. Virtual & Flex Work.

5. Mental Health.

6. Digitization.

7. Re-engineering.

8. Big Brother.

9. Ownership and No Blame.

10. Rethinking Safety Training.

11. Big Data & Predictive Analytics.

12. Generational shifts in the workplace.

13. Too Much “Lean and Mean”.

14. Developing Safety Leaders Beyond the Classroom.

15. Increasing Safety Leadership Commitment.

16. Safety Supervision.

17. Safety Implications of Returning to Work.

18. Psychological Safety.

19. Learning Environment.

20. Emphasis on Brain Science.

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

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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

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

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

Leaders Owning It for Safety! with Brie DeLisi



Today we are in conversation with Brie DeLisi, Associate Partner with Propulo. Safety Leaders know that Leadership Matters to drive the right Safety Outcomes. In a must listen to episode, Brie helps make that statement real. She demonstrates through her research what Owning It means for safety and how it translates into tangible outcomes. If someone needs convincing on the importance of investing in your leaders, listen in!


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

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Brie DeLisi, she is our associate partner with human performance and business transformation, with years’ worth of experience around safety, safety, culture. She’s done a lot of incredibly powerful work with a lot of different organizations to assess, understand their safety cultures and drive meaningful impact across them. And I’m really excited today because we’re going to talk about a really important topic, which is really around the critical role of senior leaders and how they could drive effective impact in terms of a strong culture.

So, Brie, welcome to the show.

Hello. Thank you for having me.

Excellent. So first, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got started in this career and some of the goals and experiences that you really had that got you to where you are now.

Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s kind of funny. When I originally picked this field, it was because I had a very strong desire of making. I wanted to help people and I wanted it to be sort of scientifically based. And it was a little bit tricky figuring that out. You know, did I want to go in the direction of the medical field? Did I did I want to go into some of the sciences? And I ended up landing on occupational safety because it felt like such a tangible way to help improve people’s lives.

Yeah. And then it was kind of funny because as I progressed into my you know, I studied occupational safety and health initially, and then I went into the aerospace industry to actually practice occupational safety. And something that I found out pretty quickly was that I was not going to be able to make the impact that I wanted to from a health and safety perspective, because I kind of realized that just as a safety professional, I’m not the one that’s really influencing employees on how to work safely.

I realized pretty quickly that it was the leadership that influenced safety the most and how I could go about influencing that. So that was kind of a turning point in my career for me.

That’s amazing. So, tell me a little bit about that and what kind of triggered that thinking, because I completely agree leaders have such an important impact, how they show up, how they speak about safety, whether they’re part of the conversation or the delegate that has such a significant impact. Tell me a little bit about how you got to that realization was the AHA for you.

So, the AHA really came about when I was, I was actually working with two facilities and noticed that one of them, the one that I worked with, you know the most unfortunately was had terrible safety performance. And I was looking at the other facilities sort of, you know, an hour down the road from us that had much better safety performance. And I just couldn’t understand, you know, we all worked for the same company. Why? And we and we had to follow the same requirements.

Why was there such a difference? And it really started to dawn on me when I was taking, I was actually getting my MBA at the time and I was taking a course in later habits. And I started looking at the leader habits between my facility general manager and the general manager. And for both facilities, this was the senior leadership, the manager, the general manager at the other facility as well. They had completely different leadership styles. So, I decided to take it upon myself to do a little bit of a study between the two facilities.

And tell me about that. What did you find when you started peeling the onion behind the two?

So, the process that I took was I had to be a little bit discreet about it because obviously one of them was at my site and it was the poorer performer when it comes to safety requirements. So, I had to be a little bit discreet. But what I did was I looked at a number of items. I took a look at, you know, I had the opportunity to see, you know, my gym’s schedule, how she worked throughout her day.

And I was also quite close with a lot of folks that were on her leadership team, so. They would give me insights as well, and then and what I did was actually pulled artifacts from both locations, so I pulled people, offered up their performance evaluations for me to review. I had the opportunity to look at sort of the leadership practices on both sides. I also looked at some of the inspections there, their audit performance, and then also, of course, their injury rates.

And I did also have the pleasure of being able to interview the senior leader at the higher performing location. She was very gracious in allowing me to sit down and talk to her for two hours about what she. Implemented from a safety perspective and how she emphasized it, and I had some really interesting findings as a result of this study.

And so, tell me more. I’d love to hear those findings. This is really exciting themes for somebody who is passionate about safety. Should be no surprise behind it. But the problem is often it doesn’t get quantified, right?

Yeah, absolutely. So, part of it was I had sort of my qualitative and quantitative sides of this. So, I’ll start off with the qualitative side. So first off, I started looking at sort of leadership practices. And one thing that I found on the for our poorer safety performance facility are our GM there. She would arrive at 7:00 a.m. when the field shift started at 6:00 a.m. So, she was coming in an hour after main operations had already started.

Another thing that I noticed was that she only had staff meetings about once a week and there was no expectation from those staff meetings that those discussions be carried out with the rest of the employees as well. So, it was a very sort of isolated event. Interesting. She didn’t go out into the facility that much. And also, some feedback that I had gotten from employees was that people would be, you know, breaking safety rules right in front of her and she wouldn’t do anything.

She didn’t say anything at all. So that was sort of the one thing that I felt kind of from the leader habit side for her. And then on the flip side, at the higher performing location, that general manager started her day at five thirty in the morning and the field started at six 30. So, she was there an hour before and the main shift started. And what she said was there was an expectation that all of the other all of her leadership team was to be there at five, 30 as well.

And she began every day with a 30-minute staff meeting. And in that staff meeting, they would discuss everything from safety to operations to finance to whatever perhaps quality was included in their just what were the high priority items. And then there was an expectation that that information then flows out to the operations for their start of shift meetings at six thirty. So, it was this continuous flow of communications from the senior leader down through the field. And with that, she also was very engaged with safety.

So, whenever she went out onto the shop floor, she would make a point to talk to employees about safety feedback that I had gotten from their health and safety managers that they had at that location and said that she was the one that was driving a lot of safety conversations with operations. It wasn’t the responsibility of safety to have those conversations. He viewed it as the responsibility of leadership. So those were kind of the quality or the qualitative sides there of sort of how they as leaders showed up differently.

I think this is phenomenal. I think the start of shift, meaning it’s talked about so often in terms of safety, in terms of operational performance, it just shows up in terms of that that element, the transparency, the showing up part. Was there something between the two leaders? And I don’t know if you actually looked at this in terms of that triggered why safety was so critical for her?

Yes. So, this was actually quite interesting at this higher performing site when she had started in as GM, the most alarming metrics to her. And this was in comparison to the rest of the company, to be perfectly honest, their safety performance was terrible. It was actually worse than the site that I was working at the time when she first started as GM. And there was a change also in operations where at that time the head medical staff at that location started reporting to her as well, because they lost that that middle management.

And it was coming to light to her that they had a whole bunch of gaps in their safety systems, in their emphasis on safety. And she had a really good understanding of also honestly what it was costing the facility. So, there is the human side of it that she totally respected. But she also had firsthand views as to how much these injuries were impacting the company, both from a financial and a personal perspective. And on the flip side, at the at the poorer performing location.

You know, she had been in that role for 20 years at that point, and it was kind of, you know, at the at the beginning of those 20 years, you know, safety was not the highest priority. OSHA was kind of at that point, it was definitely requirements for OSHA. Compliance was good enough. Injury rates didn’t matter quite that much, and there was just no motivation for her to change.

Wasn’t it? So, it was not something that she was passionate about that really resonated, it sounds like, versus for the other leader. This was something that was very personal, which is consistent. I’ve definitely seen that all great safety leaders I’ve seen there’s always a very strong personal motivation for safety. It’s not some metric, it’s not a piece of paper. It’s something tangible. It’s about people making sure that you’re not harming them, that you’re returning them back to their families in the same shape or better than when they came in the morning.

Yes. Yes, definitely. And then also on the flip, so that was the qualitative side on the quantitative side. This is what I found very interesting as well, was I actually got access to performance evaluations for the leadership teams, for both of these GMs. And then I also had access to their calendars. So, I got to see how they actually scheduled out their weeks. And a couple of very interesting findings came in. So first off, for their time personally at the poor performing location, the average amount of time that she spent with any touching safety whatsoever, whether it was in meetings, reviewing metrics, having meetings with the health and safety manager, all that came out to about four hours per week now at the higher safety performing site that GM spent 15 hours per week touching safety in some way or another, whether it was in her staff meetings and safety would always come up in her staff meetings.

It was always in that sort of shift, meeting those 30 minutes every single day. And then she would also block out time on her calendar every single day to walk the floor and talk other toys about safety, among other things. But safety was always a pressure conversation. So, she was spending 11 hours more per week focusing on safety. And then on top of that, there was the expectations of their leadership teams. What were their what were they holding their leadership team?

So, I got to I got to look through some of some folk’s performance evaluations. And at the poor performing site, they had four items listed on the on their performance evaluations, and it was weighted at five percent of their entire performance evaluation. All safety items were only six percent. And those items were incredibly vague, like reduce injury rates and follow safety requirements. There were no tangibles there. It was very vague, whereas at the higher performing site, they had 16 items for safety on their performance evaluations and the safety items were weighted at 20 percent of their performance evaluation.

So that meant she there was an emphasis, 20 percent of their performance evaluation. They had to perform for safety and it included specific tasks like conducting inspections, corrective action, completion time, completing safety projects. It was very tangible and accessible for these managers and supervisors to know what the expectations were of them and that would matter for their bonus that they were going to get. And also, it was fabulous that it was tied to mostly more of the proactive and leading indicator types of behaviors.

It wasn’t focused on just reducing injuries.

I love both of these data points four times more, almost four times more time spent talking about safety, leading for safety. That’s huge. I have for four years I’ve been telling leaders, just build a pie chart and say whatever your number one priority is. If you if you keep saying it’s safety, the safety actually represents the biggest chunk of time when you spent or is spending more time on financial is more time in in meetings, on other topics because people notice it.

If you’re spending fifteen hours in a week, people say she’s serious about safety. It’s important to them and therefore maybe it should be important to me. Same thing with you with the weights in terms of that. The importance. Five percent is like, whether I do this or not is not that important, 20 percent is starting to get my attention. I need to do something. And you’re guiding what that looks like. Love it. This is this is phenomenal stuff.

Yeah, absolutely. And after so looking at all of this data and looking at the differences, I’d also like to share what their actual injury rates. Sure. It was. So, they had at this poor performing location at the time of this study their total recordable incident rate or their trial was two point four. So that means two point four recordable injuries for every hundred employees. And over the course of the two years, so it was from 2012 to 2014, they experienced the fifty three percent reduction in recordable injuries, which I will say is quite commendable.

That is sure. That is a great it’s a lot of people would love that.

Yes, yes. At the higher performing location, they experienced an eighty six percent drop in their total recordable incident rate. And that meant at the time that I had talked to them, they had a zero point five try R, which was totally different circumstance. Yeah, completely different. And I will say the two years at the beginning of those two years in 2012, the R who we call now our high performer, they were twice as bad as the location that I was that I was working at.

And they managed to turn everything around in a matter of two years. And it really, really was quite impressive.

This is phenomenal, and I think you’ve really captured so many of the key variables in terms of how leaders not just show up, it’s not rocket science to improve safety. It’s where you show up, what you do, what messages you send. So can you can in your words, what would be the major takeaways from the work, the study that you did here and exactly the same company, same environment. So, in theory, you should have the same culture, but so, so different, right?

Yes. And what I really got out of this was two major learning. So, the first one is that the emphasis that a leader puts on safety will directly correlate to a reduction in injuries and are very important about how that emphasis is placed. So, if it’s a, you know, yelling at people saying reduce your injuries, that’s going to get you very different results. But when you put an emphasis on let’s be proactive, let’s have conversations, let’s make this a learning that’s going to directly influence your injury rates.

So, if you’re if you’re an organization that’s looking to lower your injury rates, you know, take that that proactive and. Almost excited approach to it. I don’t I don’t quite know how to phrase that. I think she was she was happy about it. She was passionate about it and made it very clear to her employees that this was something she genuinely cared about for them. So that was my first learning. The second learning is that, you know, both of them in theory had this had the same management systems.

But the way that you use your management systems, those effective management system practices are crucial. As a leader, you need to be specific about your expectations of your management team and your supervisors. What exactly is it that you want them to do? We don’t want to just say reduce injury rates and follow safety requirements. We want to ask them how are you going to show up as a leader and prove that safety is important to your teams.

And with that, you know, how much time am I spending in my personal day? If safety is such a priority to me, how much time am I spending out in the field? So, we’ve got we’ve got these fabulous management systems out there, but they are only as good as the effort that you put into them and the clarity that you put into them.

I love it. And I think this this element that the tangibility of is showing up. Obviously, we’ve got to show up the right way. Like you said, I need to show active care and things of that nature and make such a difference. And yet this is a choice that day in and day out. I keep emphasizing with leaders and it’s probably the hardest thing to really get in is like show up consistently, own your safety own in terms of the expectations, make it real.

Show to other people that the safety matters to you, right?

Yes, absolutely. And you need to own it as much, if not more, than what you want your employees to own it. They are they’re only going to match what you are role modeling to them. IT leaders don’t understand that sometimes the influence that they have, they are the number one influencer on how their organization performs. And that doesn’t just include safety. That includes quality. That includes your operational performance, your finances. Everything falls under that.

I couldn’t agree more. Fantastic story, fantastic research, data points. You’ve shared the criticality of the role of the leader and can only ask everybody to really start thinking and having a personal reflection. We’re coming into the New Year. It’s time to the New Year’s resolution. This is the time to start thinking of my showing up the right way. Am I spending and misspending the amount of time that I need to spend showing that safety matters day in and day out? Or is it something I’m fluffing off to somebody else? I’m only doing the bare minimum. This was almost four times more time spent on safety, and I’m willing to bet that her performance overall was probably even better, not just from a safety standpoint, but across all the other metrics.

You know, I would be willing I don’t have the data in front of me, but I am willing to bet that you are probably right on that.

Brie, thank you so much for sharing a story. I think it’s a very, very powerful story. And thank you for all the good work that you’re doing to help organizations improve their culture, help leaders realize how they can make a difference. It’s you’re fighting a good fight. Thank you.

Well, thank you so much for having me. It was wonderful having this conversation.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

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Brie is an expert in Occupational Safety and Health, specializing in client safety culture assessments and transformation. She has many years of experience in the Aerospace industry, working for United Technologies Corporation and Lockheed Martin with roles ranging from direct front-line technical support to corporate headquarters program management. Her occupational safety technical experience includes risk assessment, root cause analysis, injury reduction project management, compliance audits, training and program development. Brie holds a B.S. in Occupational Safety and Health from the University of Connecticut and an MBA in Management from Indiana University.