While OHS leaders have traditionally focused on formal hierarchies and processes to enable safety decision making, a greater opportunity to influence safety outcomes lies within organisations’ informal social systems, according to David Provan, Managing Director of Forge Works .
“All organisations are foremost complex networks of relationships between people,” he said.
“OHS leaders need to invest the time and energy in understanding the informal organisational networks – where, how and through who business decisions get made.”
Provan said this understanding comes from individual relationships built at all levels of the organisation, which provides the OHS leader with context and influence.
“OHS leaders need to be emotionally and socially skilled to navigate their way through the organisation in a way that continually builds trust and credibility,” he said.
Provan said the starting point for safety professionals should be that ultimately any decision made anywhere in the organisation can impact safety outcomes.
“What we learn from reviews of major accidents is that it’s typically not the ‘safety’ decisions that have the most impact on safety,” he said.
The decisions that are more likely to impact safety, both positively and negatively, are those related to the core operation of the organisation, such as project schedules, maintenance budgets, asset operations, and contracting strategies.
“Typically OHS leaders may find it difficult to influence these business decision making processes based on the way that their role is shaped – organisationally, socially and individually,” said Provan.
Some researchers and educators believe that OHS leaders increase their effectiveness through formal authority, technical skills and independence, Provan observed.
The counter approach – relationships, interpersonal skills and involvement – leads to OHS leaders having greater influence in decision-making processes.
“OHS leaders need to understand that they will not be given a ‘seat at the table’ for many of these decisions, instead they need to earn it through being recognised as someone that adds value to the decision-making process in many different ways, not just by passively providing a narrow ‘safety’ viewpoint,” he said.
“OHS leaders need to make sure that are able to create opportunities to be involved where and when business decisions are being made with a relationship that enables them to influence.”
Article originally published by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety.
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