In the quest to improve safety records, organizations often rely on motivational posters, classes or training programs to help teams minimize risk and improve safety performance. However, great safety records are not achieved through these efforts alone. Improving safety requires leadership – organizational leadership at the front lines that is equipped to develop a process-oriented and disciplined safety-in-execution culture. The secret is training those front-line leaders in a simple, scalable process. The pursuit of operational excellence through such leadership training is the key to improving safety records.
I have always believed that the most operationally-capable organizations are also the safest. Great leadership at the operational level makes organizations excellent. And it is that same great organizational leadership that enables these organizations to improve safety.
In 2007, I was the commanding officer of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. That year, our ship won numerous awards, including an award for being the most battle-ready aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Fleet, winning prestigious safety awards and being selected Ship of the Year. We also won three environmental awards and had high retention numbers. We were forward deployed in a time of war; yet we achieved the highest safety ratings.
Operational excellence and safety are not contradictory pursuits. They are both the product of an obsession for continuous improvement, not in the C-suite or boardroom, but where the work is being performed. In the Navy, we call this “deck plate leadership.” The senior leaders onboard our ship were able to improve safety by utilizing organizational leadership and the Flawless Execution methodology – which includes developing leaders, improving day-to-day operations and closing execution gaps.
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