Quality front-line supervisors are the key to drive safety success in organizations. They are the employees most familiar with how teams operate, and they act as the closest level of management on the ground with workers. This gives supervisors the unique ability to act as a bridge between upper and lower levels of an organization.
This access affords supervisors the ability to directly champion safety directives from management to employees or pass insights from employees back to management to create new initiatives. This is how supervisors act as the backbone in organizations — passing critical safety information between an organization’s head and heart while maintaining structure to ensure the entire body stays safe.
Part of understanding what makes good supervisors so important to an organization’s safety program is stepping back to consider the impact less skilled or trained supervisors would have. As Ray Prest puts it in his piece from ohsonline.com, “The most commonly cited workplace safety challenges include recurring injuries, a lack of worker engagement and buy-in, employees taking shortcuts or not following rules, a lack of personal accountability for safety, and competing organizational priorities. Pick any one of these issues and consider how the problem’s impact would change if every supervisor in the workplace had strong communication skills, understood advanced safety concepts like human factors, and had experience with empowering their team to improve on the issue…Now picture the opposite: a set of supervisors who lack the ability to have difficult safety conversations with workers, who aren’t able to spot safety issues (let alone anticipate them before they occur), and who are unpracticed in leading with a safety-first mindset.”
The concept that Ray highlights about having skilled, qualified, and knowledgeable supervisors as a direct defense against safety issues is one that organizations should take seriously. Because having the right supervisors on the front line with workers will positively impact safety performance and prevent injuries. Part of this is recognizing the potential in workers to naturally become supervisors and leaders. But there also needs to be a push to boost supervisor skills and talents with quality information and education.
It’s important that supervisors start on the right foot with employees. This means boosting their talents by participating in the leadership education necessary to establish strong safety knowledge and communication skills to interact, direct, and influence employee attitudes about safety. Education from safety experts lays a foundation that supervisors can draw on to better explain safety concepts to workers. It also provides a framework for supervisors to identify potential risks while working that could be missed without a skilled eye. But supervisors also need direct support from management to ensure the entire organization is committed to safety.
Supervisors stay on top of safety concerns and work with their employees more often when they know the information and concerns they present to management leads to serious action from stakeholders. Organizations that respect what supervisors say and act upon it to help employees with resources like workshops, trainings, or updates to the safety program will find their supervisors working harder to support the organization and its goals.
The important role front-line supervisors play in a safety program and leadership team cannot be overstated. Focusing on the value of front-line supervisor’s insights into day-to-day operations and utilizing their unique access to risk data leads to increased employee participation, continually safer working conditions, and hitting safety KPIs with greater precision.
Supervisors maintain the strongest ability to directly influence employee focus on safety and serve as the direct pipeline between upper management safety goals and employee action. And partnering with safety management professionals at hones supervisor’s leadership and safety knowledge skills to make this communication pipeline run more efficiently and ensure safety directives are followed at every level of an organization.