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Q&A: Finding Your Focus and Priorities as a Safety Professional

Jun 17, 2024

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A person contemplates while holding a pen near their chin, looking at sticky notes on a glass wall in a brightly lit office setting.

Safety professionals are often pulled in many directions, and it can be challenging to set priotities. Shawn Galloway, CEO of ProAct Safety Inc., joined  “The Case for Safety Podcast” to speak with host Scott Fowler about his 10 “focus necessities” and how they can help safety professionals and organizations align safety objectives with business objectives.

Fowler: How can safety professionals determine where to focus?

Galloway: Safety strategy should support and enable business strategy and the trajectory of the organization. All organizations are looking to sustain and maintain viability. Safety professionals need to make sure that they’re part of the conversations around business continuity and growth.

It can't be safety versus business. We need to make sure that we are looking strategically at safety and  focusing on the most important things; the things that are going to move the needle and create value. That’s what strategy is — it's value creation. We also have to ensure that we’re creating the perception of value with the things we’re focusing on.

We want people to see value and have that degree of engagement, so we need decision qualifiers and that has to come from data. That data needs to come from injuries and incidents that have taken place. We also need to be able to have alignment with the leadership team about what success looks like.

Often, organizations aren't aligned about what success looks like, how they’re going to achieve it, who is responsible and over what time period. You have to determine if decisions fit within your priorities, will help you achieve your goals, prevent injuries and recover when mistakes are made.

Fowler: How can your focus necessities help organizations demonstrate the value of safety?

Galloway: When setting priorities, it’s important that you’re aligned at the top of the organization on where you think you’re at today, where you want to go, how you’re going to get there and who is responsible for it. The focus necessities help organizations look at their existing strategy, their systems and their culture to determine the efficacy of their plan and set realistic expectations.

Culture alone takes about 10 years to effectively lead to transformation. You can have great improvement in the first few years, but it takes time before it becomes sustainable, especially with the leadership changes that occur in most organizations.

I often find that safety performance is a symptom. Sometimes it's a symptom that the organization's very healthy and you’ll see that manifest in things like quality customer service and delivery costs. Often if you see things going in the wrong direction with safety performance, it’s from something that exists deeper in the organization — it’s systemic of other things that are going on.

Fowler: What are the 10 focus necessities?

Galloway: I want to encourage people to to read the Professional Safety Journal article on the focus necessities, so I'll abbreviate:

  1. Conditions: Examining your current state and the effectiveness of your efforts
  2. Compliance: Reviewing, auditing against and ensuring adherence to safety requirements
  3. Capital: Analyzing how funds and resources are managed and distributed to accomplish goals
  4. Culture: The shared beliefs and behaviors in an organization
  5. Complete Person: Looking at the mental health and nutrition of your workforce
  6. Captured Insight: Having the right data readily accessible to make decisions
  7. Confidence in System Capacity: Effectiveness at preventing incidents and the capacity to recover
  8. Contractor Safety Management: Effectively managing contractor safety expectations
  9. Competency Safety Technical Acumen: Having the technical understanding to make the right decisions regarding workplace safety
  10. Competency Leadership Acumen: Helping leaders make the right decisions

Fowler: How can safety professionals better align with their leadership teams?

Galloway: If you lack alignment, you may need to increase the technical acumen about safety to help your leadership team think more maturely about what you’re trying to accomplish. Progress begins by thinking differently and there are different ways you could do that, whether it’s researching information or benchmarking.

Thinking continues to evolve. Ten years from now, the way that we think about safety and safety excellence will evolve, just like psychological safety has in America in the last few years. By getting people together, having conversations and agreeing on what you want to achieve, you can establish a robust and forward-looking strategic framework for your organization. You also need to make sure you have the right information and come to agreement on the tactics you’re going to use to create value and  achieve success.

Fowler: How can the focus necessities help organizations continuously improve their safety management systems?

Galloway: Where an organization wants to be is going to evolve over time. Annually, you should look at how have things changed and assess the execution of your plan. The challenge is developing better systems of early detection and early response, so we're not surprised by incidents which often result in a knee-jerk reaction distracting us from what we're trying to accomplish.

Leaders feel compelled to act when something bad has happened, but they have to ensure they have the right information and that it’s providing the insight necessary to make adjustments and add value. The more that safety professionals are transparent with their organizations, the more operational leaders will have a sense of ownership.


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