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Safety Leadership with Sir Clive Woodward and 3 Health and Safety Experts

Safety Leadership with Sir Clive Woodward and the Health and Safety Experts | (Safety Thoughts #4)


“When you operate at that level, and you really lead in that level, you will be a good leader, and you’ll get the buy-in from everyone who’s working” – Sir Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward is one of our main content partners and we welcome him back to the podcast for episode 4 of our safety thoughts series. This week we have a look at leadership in a health and safety context, with a focus on what individuals can do to improve their own workplaces.

Some of the key takeaways include: 

  • the need for safety leaders to lead by example
  • the need for trust and respect throughout the organisation
  • a look at the differences between engagement and empowerment in safety

This podcast has some interesting insights for safety professionals in addition to those in the wider business world. For more interviews from the World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward have a look at our health and safety interviews.

Read full transcript

– [Host] Hi, everyone, welcome back to The HSE Network Podcast. This is the fourth from our Safety Thoughts series, and this week we’re going to be taking a look back at some of our previous interviews and exploring the common themes on safety leadership that we found when talking to experts in the field. Our podcast is partnered with the HSE Global Series, so a big shout to them. And remember that the podcast is also available on iTunes, Spotify and all of your favorite platforms.

Of course, we’re always grateful to our podcast guests. So thank you to Brian Wedemeyer, vice president of Global Soft Trades. Thank you to Gerry Mulholland, HSEQ director of Amey Utilities. Thank you to Sir Clive Woodward former England rugby coach and founder of Hive Learning. And thank you to Professor Tim Marsh of Anker and Marsh. The basic principles of leadership have been taught for years, and to some extent, learnings from different areas can be applied to leadership in a safety context.

One thing that is constantly present is the idea that safety leaders must lead by example as Brian Wedemeyer outlines.

– [Brian] What I see is the supervisors and leaders of the organization that lead by example, and they show the employee, “Hey this is what we expect.” They do it through their actions, and what they’re showing people on a daily basis. Those are the key leadership behaviors that we see to be most effective. And I think that happens on a number of levels, right? First of all, I think it forces that leader to first look at himself before he goes out and tries to correct everybody else.

So I think he becomes a lot more sensitive to the details. I think he gets a better understanding of what he’s really asking for because if he has to ask somebody else to do it, it’s a little bit different if he has to first go show them. So that’s been our mantra, we’re not the first organization to say that, but we definitely espouse that leaders, and strong leaders will lead by example, and they will show their guys, and their women and their folks that work with them and under them what they expect through their personal actions.

– So leading by example not only allows you to empathize with employees, it also helps you get them on board with what you are trying to do. Leading on from this, many question the extent to which safety is best served as a top-down approach or whether a more transformational leadership can drive higher empowerment amongst those at the grassroots level. Here Gerry Mulholland summarizes.

– [Gerry] There is a need for a top-down approach to begin with. But any true safety coach who has what they call distributing the share 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. But in order to get things moving, to get the buy-ins that work, the leader of the organization has to make sure that things are going to happen, so that tends to be a top-down approach.

– The word empowerment is key here. Whilst many need to start with the top-down approach, it can lead to too much of a focus on engagement which is very different from empowerment.

– [Professor Marsh] Engagement isn’t the same thing as empowerment. Engagement is “I’ve had an idea, what do you think?” Empowerment is a much more dynamic interactive process.

– Thanks for the clarification there, Tim. And parallels are also found on empowerment with our interview with Sir Clive Woodward. It is essential to have trust and respect for safety leaders throughout the organization.

– [Sir Woodward] I’m very clear. I just use two simple words, trust and respect. What I say to anybody in leadership position, trust and respect means everything, but your don’t get trust and respect by your position just because I’m England rugby coach, or I’m director of sport in Team GB, that doesn’t demand trust and respect. Trust and respect comes with the quality of your actions, and especially if it’s around health and safety.

You’ve got to read lead on this, and it may not be actually doing the actions yourself, but it’s actually really making sure that you’re taking this part of the business really seriously. You’re putting mechanisms in place that’s really going to deliver on health and safety. And if you deliver that, you’ll get trust and respect in whatever that field is. And it’s just straight forward in that.

I’ve seen interviews about me from the players and all that sort of stuff. If someone said, “Well, you know, we really trust and we respect him,” that’s all I want to hear. But that to me is well, okay, that’s, nothing else. You can’t demand that because you’re the boss, you get that just by the quality of your actions. Everything you do, everything you do if you set the standards in terms of timekeeping, the way you behave, the way you look, the way you go about your business, passion of what you actually do.

Again going back to my talk, you know, great teams make great individuals. You as an individual know, yes, this person is really trying to help me. And if they’re really trying to help them especially in your world you’re making sure they’re operating in a safe, healthy environment, they’ll be fine with you.

They’ll, you know, they’ll respect you, they’ll trust you, but you’ve got to deliver. You got to just not talk about it, you got to really deliver. They are my two words, you know, but I just say to everyone, “You don’t get that because that’s the position you’re in or that’s your title. It’s nothing to do with that. You get that by the quality of what you do. In everything you do, when you operate at that level, and you really lead in that level, you will I think be a good leader, and you’ll get the buy-in from everyone who’s working.

– And again, getting that buy-in is linked back to leading by example as Sir Clive states. It’s not the title that commands respect, it’s the actions. And these actions are paramount when it comes to developing good safety leadership. So why is safety leadership important? At end of the day, the aim of any safety professional is to get workers home safe after a day’s work.

However, the figures make for troubling reading. Whilst minor incidents across the board have fallen, serious injuries and fatalities remain the same. We asked Brian Wedemeyer whether the current approach is working.

– Yeah it is. It’s an interesting position we’ve put ourselves in for the industry because you’re right, most reports are going to show that, like you said, minor incidents are decreasing, and we see this within our own company as a microcosm. Those get driven lower, and lower, and lower, and lower, and so now we’re amassing millions of man hours with no recordable incidents. And I think the interesting situation that’s happening within our industry is even though we’re seeing that, we’re seeing massive, you know, events, and we’re seeing fatalities on the increase and that the data supports what you’ve just said.

One thing that I’m concerned about is as we drive the incident rate lower, and lower, and lower there’s more, and more pressure on the supervisors, and the frontline leadership and the employee themselves to almost continue to support that effort, i.e., be less honest when something happens. So hey, we’ve surpassed 10 million safe work hours, how likely is that employee to report an incident at that point, now that everybody’s been celebrating these big wins and these achievements?

So as a leader, now you have to be sensitive to that and you have to continue to encourage folks to, “Hey, we have to keep our communications open. We have to continue to execute on the basis. And that we can’t overreact because we have a minor incident rate, and then lose our guard because we have to understand the fatality and these other severe threats are still out there, they didn’t go away, right?

And so that’s a very real concern, and I’ll start within our organization and the industries there that we deal with. That is a very real discussion that I’ve had with my president, CEO. They’re keen on the fact that good leaders also will get out in the field and then try to get to ground truth to try to breakthrough those communications issues that I kind of touched on earlier.

– Perhaps the idea of empowerment then must be approached with caution. As Brian suggests, giving those at lower supervisory levels more empowerment could lead to pressure being put on individuals to deliver more favorable results. This is why good safety leadership is crucial throughout the organization. If you’ve got any questions you think the experts could lend a help in answering, make sure you get in touch with us.

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