What terms come to mind when thinking of the world’s greatest leaders? Strong. Visionary. Motivational. Committed
Uncompromising. 

Good leaders are liked by their subordinates because they maintain peace and calm. However, great leaders are respected and adored. People will change their lifestyles and their philosophies to achieve their vision of success.

In order to motivate a group of individuals to achieve a common set of goals, great leaders understand that they must lead by example and never compromise on their beliefs. Great leaders foster a culture of excellence, where everyone not only believes in the organization’s core values, but also practices them in every facet of their work. 

So, how does great leadership relate to construction safety? Quite simply, it is the foundation upon which all world-class safety cultures are built. Without a leader who truly believes that every single injury and incident is preventable—and expresses that heartfelt belief through his or her daily actions—a culture cannot be built where all employees believe they will return home safely and in the same (or better) condition than which they arrived on the jobsite that morning.

Without a leader who refuses to compromise on safety as the core value upon which all decisions are based—be it with corporate management, the men and women in the field or the clients who pay the bills—the systems and processes that make up a company’s safety program and the actions of those on the jobsite become poisoned and ineffective.

Leadership commitment means the president or CEO not only believes that every single injury and incident is preventable, but also works tirelessly to reinforce that belief among all employees.

One letter from an insurance carrier explaining how a company’s experience modification rate (EMR) had increased due to a serious injury stated: “While the primary goal is not to have accidents, some incidents are unavoidable.” When statements such as these invade a company’s safety philosophy, it’s a clear sign the culture is flawed. In this instance, leadership has accepted the perceived inevitability that one of their employees will be injured on the job. They may be committed to a zero-incident jobsite, but they don’t truly believe in it. That works its way through the company and becomes accepted by employees and management, and the results can be fatal.

Uncompromising leadership means a leader refuses to bend his or her core beliefs for the sake of profits or schedules. Great leaders believe and reinforce that safety isn’t a priority, but rather a core value of the company. Priorities change; core values do not. It is the fundamental basis on which a firm operates and for the decisions it makes. Uncompromising leadership manifests itself in many ways:
  • expecting employees to stop work when faced with a potentially hazardous situation and rewarding them for protecting themselves and others;
  • pulling employees from a jobsite if they believe the owner or general contractor has emphasized delivery dates over the safety of their people; and
  • walking the jobsite in full PPE so employees see that even the CEO must follow the policies and procedures that he or she has helped create.
Leadership is critical when transforming a safety program from good to world-class. Without the commitment of senior leadership to achieve a zero-incident workplace, jobsite conditions and attitudes will not change.

Up Next
This is the first installment of a four-part series on achieving world-class safety. The next column focuses on cultural transformation and establishing safety as every employee’s core value.


Chris Williams is safety director for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email cwilliams@abc.org.