A safe work place takes a coordinated effort on the part of all employees. Senior leaders establish safety-oriented vision and values, middle managers create safety management systems, safety professionals develop procedures, and frontline employees complete the work as safely as possible. Frontline supervisors, however, have perhaps the most crucial role. Frontline supervision is where safety comes together: where the vision and values are executed, where the procedures are complied with, where decisions are implemented, and where safety can be seen. It is the moment-by-moment decisions and actions of the frontline supervisor that ensure the workplace is safe, and the work is done safely, or not.
Improved safety performance requires organizations do a better job of setting frontline supervisors up for success. Too often, supervisors are told that safety is of primary importance, but their role in making that happen is poorly defined, their priorities are competing, and they aren't trained in the skills needed to be successful.
It's instructive to explore how supervisors view their role in safety. Too often, frontline supervisors see their job as primarily ensuring compliance with safety rules and regulations. But compliance only goes so far. To create the safest possible work environment, organizations need more than just compliance. They need workers to do the right thing all the time, even when supervisors aren't watching. They need engaged employees. So how can frontline supervisors go beyond compliance and create an environment where the workforce is truly engaged in safety?
The first step is to define employee engagement. While there are many definitions of engagement, it is helpful to define engagement from a behavioral perspective. By focusing on what engaged employees do, it is easier for supervisors to understand their role in encouraging engagement. Below are examples of the behaviors that are characteristic of engaged workers (and exemplary safety cultures).