The Power of Clearly Communicated Strategic Direction in Safety
Updated: Jul 17
Effective communication is vital in any organization, especially when it comes to safety. As a safety consultant, I recently witnessed a thought-provoking exchange during an all-hands meeting led by a plant manager. One supervisor bravely asked a question that resonated with many: What is the strategic direction in safety? To everyone's surprise, the plant manager admitted that there was no clear direction. This scenario is all too common, as executives often assume their safety strategy has been effectively communicated when, in reality, it hasn't. In this article, we will explore the importance of clearly communicating strategic direction in safety and provide guidance on how to ensure alignment throughout the organization.
The Illusion of Communication: George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Many well-intentioned executives believe they have successfully communicated their strategic safety direction, but the truth is often far from it. Without a clear, memorable, and repeatable direction, can we truly expect employees to work together toward common safety goals?
Creating a Common Page: During a strategic direction workshop I facilitated with a global organization's executives, the Chief Operating Officer voiced his concern: "I just feel we aren't all on the same page in safety." I responded with a simple yet profound question: "Well, where is this page?" For all levels of an organization to align, collaborate, and measure their performance against desired targets, they need to work from the same page. The challenge arises when that page has yet to be created.
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Communication: To assess the effectiveness of your strategic direction safety communication, consider the following questions:
Who contributed to the creation of the strategy?
Has the strategic direction been effectively conveyed to all levels of the organization?
Is there a sense of ownership and belief in the direction at all levels and in all areas?
Is the direction actionable by individuals at any level within the organization?
How frequently is the strategic direction behaviorally reinforced throughout the day at each level?
Are there balanced consequences (positive and negative) for those who contribute or act against the plan?
What motivators or demotivators exist within your systems and culture that might impact the direction?
If your workforce were quizzed on the direction in safety, how many would be able to recite it from memory?
The Challenge of Articulating Strategic Direction: Stephen King once wrote, "The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings." Establishing a believable and repeatable strategy in safety is one of those challenging yet crucial tasks. While having a great plan in your head and passion in your heart is admirable, it's not enough.
Clearly communicating strategic direction in safety is a fundamental component of achieving sustainable safety improvement. It requires honest evaluation, effective knowledge transfer, ownership at all levels, behavioral reinforcement, balanced consequences, and an understanding of motivators and demotivators within your organization. By creating a common page and ensuring everyone works from it, you can align your workforce, instill consistent values, and propel your organization toward safety excellence. Remember, articulating a clear strategy is not just about the words you use, but about the actions that reinforce it and the collective commitment to achieving safety goals.