LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Updated: Sep 27
Throughout our lives we’ve all heard of the importance of leading by example. Whether it is the example set for children, colleagues, or subordinates, leading by example is an effective means to influence behavior. An organizations culture reflects its beliefs, values, and attitudes. Establishing an effective safety culture requires employees, regardless of title or position, to lead by example.
All of us were influenced during our formative years. The formative years are associated with early childhood. During this period, children experience rapid intellectual, social, and emotional development. Much of who we are is a result of observing others during this period. This cycle continues throughout adulthood. Employees often emulate the behaviors they observe. Consider an inexperienced employee observing a supervisor bypass a critical safety procedure, such as lockout tagout. The inexperienced employee may question the importance of workplace safety requirements based on their observations. Leading by example can positively influence safety culture or in this case, weaken it.
Most of us have someone from our past that positively influenced our career. Their actions influenced us more than their words. They treated every person equally, regardless of position or title, and demonstrated concern for others. In other words, they lead by example.
It is important for each organization to establish and communicate behaviors that exemplify “leading by example.” This can be achieved by forming small focus groups representing each level of the organization (i.e., senior management, managers/supervisors, front-line employees, etc.). The goal of each focus group is to define at least five desired behaviors that support the concept of leading by example. For example, behaviors that define leading by example for managers and supervisors may include:
Attending, leading, or actively participating in routine safety meetings and training. This may involve presenting information, asking pertinent questions, and reinforcing concepts discussed during each session.
Starting each day with a review of day’s activities to include a review and discussion of the hazards, safe work practices, and controls that must be implemented.
Actively following up on employee safety suggestions and concerns and taking action to reduce, eliminate, or control exposure.
Involving employees in decisions that impact safety. These decisions are often the result of opportunities identified during inspections, hazard analysis activities, or incident analysis processes.
Spending a defined amount of time in operating areas to engage employees on safety.
Communicating these behaviors creates a clear and concise picture of what “leading by example” actually looks like. Establishing behaviors that are measurable also allows the behaviors to be incorporated into the routine performance evaluation process. This can strengthen safety accountability at all levels of the organization.
Leading by example is a critical component of an effective safety culture. The actions of employees, regardless of their position within the company, have the ability to influence others in either a positive or a negative manner. Consider developing a list of behaviors that exemplify leading by example at your organization. Remember, leading by example takes more words, it takes action!
Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org