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Gerry Mulholland on the Different Behaviours in Health and Safety Leadership

The behaviours associated with safety leadership | Gerry Mulholland (Expert Interview #9)


In this video, we interview Gerry Mulholland an expert in safety leadership with a wealth of experience in multinational organisations.  We get Gerry’s thoughts on transformational leadership and how its associated behaviours can impact on safety culture.

Read full transcript

– [Paul] Right. Next up on HSE online, we’ll be speaking with Gerry Mulholland, HSEQ Director at Amey utilities. Amey is a United Kingdom-based infrastructure support service provider. Their aim is to make the world a better place to live, work, and travel. Designing, building, maintaining, and investing in the UK services and infrastructure in partnership with their clients.


Gerry has over 30 years of experience in a number of multinational organizations and working as part of the senior management teams as well. Today, we’ll be speaking with Gerry on the behaviors associated with safety leadership that have an impact on safety culture within an organization. This is what Gerry did his dissertation on so he’s certainly well versed in this subject matter.

Here we go. Well, thank you for coming and I really appreciate, obviously, over the years Gerry that you’ve really supported our events, and we were excited to have you a part of the advisory council for HSEU Congress 2019. Obviously, understanding your background, Amey, and of course your dissertation as well which you did on the behaviors associated with safety leadership that have an impact on safety culture in an organization, I was really interested today to have a couple of minutes with you just to ask a couple of questions and hopefully, tie down some and give some of our viewers a bit more of an insight to how you’ve supported and your thoughts and theories on embedding the right behaviors within safety leadership and the impact of safety culture.


So first question I guess is the topic in term of transformation and safety culture comes up quite a lot here. I guess it all comes down to transformational style of leadership. I mean, what are your thoughts in regards to that?


– [Gerry] So from some of the work that I was looking at, Jones produced a paper that talked about transformational leadership needing to inspire, influence, engage, and challenge. And when you look at some of the great leaders not only in the safety field but wider field as well those are the type of things that people would be doing.


– Sure. And I guess with transformation as a subject if you look at safety leadership itself there’s a lot of controversy around whether it’s a top-down approach. I mean, what do you think? Do you think safety is a top-down approach or is it embedding it from grassroots up? I mean, how do you feel safety leadership should be implemented?


– So there is a need for a top-down approach to begin with but any true safety culture has what they call distributed or shared leadership where people are actually empowered to do what they need to do and they get the support of the leadership that sits above them in order to get things moving to get the buy-ins and where the leader of the organization has to make sure that things are going to happen.


So that tends to be a top-down approach.


– Sure. Responsibility within safety. As much as the leader takes responsibility for the incidents, is it the responsibility of the director, of the senior leader, if an incident happens or does the business, does the corporation itself have to take some responsibility for a particular incident that’s happened within the organization?


– The law will always look at an organization for taking accountability and responsibility under Section 2 or Section 3. However, there would be individual ownership for directors. So there’s corporate manslaughter the people would be aware of so on occasion, the fingers could be pointed at individuals who tend to be the controlling mind of organizations as well.


– Sure. Obviously, with HSE statistics itself show that there’s a current plateau and an improvement, certainly, on major incidents that’s not just here in the U.K. but over in the United States as well. And a terminology that comes up quite a lot which I find really, really interesting is this subject on Just Culture. And, you know, investigations have changed dramatically to certainly manage and it’s acceptable, not acceptable behaviors though, you know, certainly this term, Just Culture, how is this impacting safety culture as a whole?


– So we use internally now we use the Just Culture model in relation to the investigations and the effects that we may have or any disciplinary procedure we may be taking with people. So the Just Culture model is about what would be acceptable or unacceptable behavior and then we measure our investigations against that standard.


– Brilliant. And then I guess reporting and I was talking with another interviewee about certain paper-based processes and how perhaps we’re a bit bureaucratic in the way that we do, we process our behaviors. With the influence now on HSE professionals in hiring, what’s your opinion perhaps on influencing millennials, GenZs?


Do you think they will buy into what is, by the way, not my words but just as statistics show an aging HSE sector, are they going to abide by our paper-driven processes?


– We’re all getting older Paul, even you.


– I agree.


– So I think we’re duty-bound as a profession to make sure that we bring in the next generation through. However, one of the things we’ve got to make sure is happening is that we’re picking the right people and the world of work will be changing. The type of individuals who’ll be doing a professional role that I have been doing for a number of years. I think that will look very different in 10 and 20 years time, so we’ve got to make sure that people are more rounded.


Technology will change, the way that we supervise people will change, the way that paper is less used and we’re using more technology will help us to do that as well, so I think the role will change. Chances are they won’t be called health and safety managers anymore, they might be called sustainability or well-being individuals. Who knows what the future might bring for some of the more forward-looking organizations?


– Absolutely. And I guess to the benefit of the viewers, even for myself as well, can you define what Just Culture really means?


– It’s probably around what the behaviors would be that are acceptable or unacceptable within an organization’s constraints.


– Right, perfect. Well, Gerry thank you ever so much. I mean, that’s covered a lot the topics that we’d like to discuss with you today, and I thank you ever so much again for your support and we look forward to welcome you again to our events in the future.


– Thank you very much.


– Thank you, Gerry.