(Note: This is the first guest post published on the site. Brad Mercil is an inspiring EHS professional and currently with the Wyoming Air National Guard. Like the post? You can reach Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here for his LinkedIn profile.)
In his book “Linchpin”, Seth Godin argues there are no chefbooks, only cookbooks. His argument is that cooks simply follow the steps which they are provided. We are taught if we get the right ingredients and follow each step, we are almost guaranteed to create a dish which is certainly edible, while not burning down the kitchen. On the other hand, chefs push the boundaries of cuisine through continuous trial and error. Chefs use techniques and recipes which have been developed over thousands of years to create new dishes which contain the spirit of the original recipes. There is no argument that cooks and chefs are both highly trained in cooking techniques, but you will never become a chef by simply following the steps.
This same logic can be applied to safety managers and safety leaders. Managers are adept at following the rules, while making sure their safety program fits squarely within the constraints of established guidelines. These same managers take a situation which they encounter and determine if it’s right or wrong by trying to fit it within a box of rules and regulations. They know that if the book says its wrong, then it must be wrong. On the contrary, if the book doesn’t say it’s wrong, then it must be OK!
Safety leaders, on the other hand, are skillful at taking words off the pages of the law books and wrapping them around situations. They understand that rules and regulations cannot, and should not, be established for every situation which they might encounter. Therefore, they use their training, experience, and knowledge to find the intent of the law. Each decision made is done with the spirit of protecting people and resources, not out of fear of being right or wrong.en
Colin Powell once said “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care.” Safety managers conduct spot inspections because the book says they have to. Safety leaders conduct spot inspections with the intent of building a trusting relationship with employees. Safety leaders know that they cannot find and fix every hazard within the workplace. However, they trust that the relationships they create will ensure that every employee is confident to raise issues to them. In Powell’s line of thinking, if your employees are not bringing you issues, you are not leading them.
Are your employees bringing you problems, or are they hiding them from you? Are you leading a safety culture, or merely managing safety program? Are you a cook following the rules to make a compliant safety program, or are you a chef whose safety culture is ingrained within every employee you lead? At the end of the day anyone can be a safety manager, but it takes courage and commitment to become a safety leader.