8 things a CEO should do

What can CEOs say and do on a day-to-day basis to demonstrate better leadership on health and safety?

Below are eight things a CEO can do to improve their leadership of health and safety.  These actions come from an evidence-based model of world-class health and safety leadership created for the Forum.

Click on the headings to reveal more details about actions you can take.

Also check out the Forum’s guide on how CEOs can lead on health and safety. 

Clarify the vision and focus

Be clear that nothing is more important than the health and safety of your people. Communicate that in a compelling way, fostering a sense of urgency. Set a personal example for others to follow.

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  • Personally review the health and safety vision and reflect whether your actions and words align with this vision
  • Run workshops with staff to collectively review the health and safety vision
  • Organise an event to revitalise the vision, and invite board members along
  • Be prepared to withdraw from ventures or locations if health and safety standards can’t be achieved
  • Attend a safety leadership programme
  • Set aside regular time to reflect on your safety leadership practices. Ask others for feedback
  • Keep asking what could go wrong and how do we know we are working safely

Understand health and safety is an investment

Commit the necessary resources – people, equipment, systems, information and time – to strengthen safety culture and performance.

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  • Include your health and safety plan in your business plan and business cases
  • Question your existing performance and set annual improvement targets
  • Resource the safety function with sufficiently dedicated professionals
  • Identify, and remove, obstacles that prevent your company from achieving its health and safety goals
  • Make health and safety performance a key factor in selecting senior management
  • Highlight the strategic benefits of health and safety; promote improving your company’s safety culture as a long-term investment
  • Ensure your board and senior management focus on improving health and safety outcomes
  • Network with other chief executives to develop alliances; identify best practices to bring back to your business

Get personally involved

Actively seek opportunities to be involved in activities like incident investigations, frontline safety meetings and safety briefings.

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  • Challenge unsafe behaviours and practices at all levels of your company
  • Proactively address health and safety issues; be available to discuss health and safety whenever needed
  • Know what influences a strong safety culture. Initiate and support activities to build a strong safety culture
  • Make time to reflect on your safety leadership practices and contribution to your company’s health and safety performance. Acknowledge your shortcomings and be willing to learn
  • Use safety leadership coaching to improve your knowledge and leadership. Visit other successful companies to share health and safety learnings

Engage your organisation

Inspire and work with your people so that you all go the extra mile to achieve common safety goals.

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  • Personally provide constructive, positive feedback to employees for a job done safely
  • Check that people are satisfied with responses to any health and safety concerns raised
  • Think critically about health and safety performance and seek continuous improvement. Do not accept that the status quo is as good as it can get
  • Support the development of health and safety learning opportunities in the organisation and in the wider community (e.g., health and safety training, attending health and safety related conferences)

Recognise contributions and safety achievements

Take time to identify and acknowledge the effort people put into safety, and look for meaningful ways to celebrate safety successes.

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  • Be on the lookout for good safety behaviours and practices and provide individuals or groups with immediate, positive recognition
  • Take time to talk to people at all levels of the organisation about their safety practices and achievements
  • Provide the resources and/or funding to celebrate health and safety achievements at all levels of the organisation
  • Look for new, creative, and meaningful ways to celebrate health and safety successes (e.g. family health and safety days)
  • Keep a close watch that recognising and rewarding health and safety achievements does not encourage over-reporting of positive outcomes and under-reporting of negative outcomes

Manage the risk

Ask the right questions and insist on timely, accurate and impartial information to ensure opportunities and risks are balanced.

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  • Speak your mind honestly and openly and expect the same in return. Ask to be given honest and unfiltered information about health and safety, even if it is not good news
  • Monitor how you respond to health and safety information that is not positive
  • Check the detail, accuracy, independence of investigations of all incidents and near hits
  • Make the changes recommended by independent health and safety assessments
  • Provide the board with accurate and transparent health and safety information, even if it will not be well received
  • Ensure that health and safety opportunities and risks are balanced

Monitor the right outcomes

Regularly monitor process and performance, and change the way you do things to reflect what you've learned.

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  • Track the time taken to resolve health and safety issues and the effectiveness of corrective actions
  • Track health and safety performance against internal and external benchmarks and against sound, evidence-based criteria
  • Develop an analytical mind-set, questioning what the health and safety measures are really saying, looking for patterns and trends in the data
  • Be preoccupied with failure, constantly asking ‘what could go wrong?’
  • Take time to ‘get on the balcony’ and view health and safety performance from a distance to gain a more encompassing perspective
  • Monitor safety leadership competence and commitment across the organisation

Let your people get on with it

Give your people the tools and responsibility for making the business safer and healthier, and hold yourself and them accountable.

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  • Make it clear that everyone is responsible for a healthier and safer business, assigning responsibilities as appropriate and delegating authority
  • Hold yourself and others accountable for achieving a level of performance that is aligned to their specific health and safety goals
  • Empower everyone to challenge authority and stop work if that work is perceived to be unsafe. Practice this yourself to demonstrate that it is okay
  • Participate in health and safety processes as a team member not as the leader
  • Encourage staff to exercise leadership in all directions: Lead up, lead down, and lead sideways (e.g., ask employees ‘who have you influenced today?’)
  • Include health and safety criteria in everyone’s performance review and make health and safety a criterion for promotion into leadership positions
  • Engage and work with your senior leaders to build a safety culture that will deliver the health and safety vision
  • Resist pressure to take responsibility for solving health and safety problems off others’ shoulders. Rather engage them to work with you to find adaptive solutions