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Proactive leadership: the example starts at the top.


"Damn it, what I didn't do?"

One of my former bosses, chairman of an international building and civil engineering group with 70,000 employees, used to say, in the event of a serious accident on one of our sites: "What the hell didn't I do?", whereas other managers would say "What the hell did they do?

Developing a proactive safety culture means ensuring that every manager has the same reaction as this exemplary boss. In particular, it means addressing the root causes of serious accidents and incidents with a high severity potential, since these are linked to organizational and human factors which are the direct consequence of operational management decisions.


Staircases are swept from the top! And safety either starts with top management, or it doesn't start at all.

It doesn't take much to give a new impetus and get your teams to the proactive level:

  1. Highlight the positive, for example, by devoting as much time to virtuous initiatives and progress made as to problems encountered during audits, during seminar presentations, when filming on-site video sequences, etc.

  2. Reacting more effectively to undesirable events, for example, by avoiding the initial question "Is it a lost-time accident? This avoids the perception that the manager is more interested in the frequency rate of his entity and its impact on his remuneration than in the health of his employees.

  3. Adapt your discourse and vocabulary, for example by saying to a worker not wearing his safety glasses "protect your eyes" rather than "wear your glasses". This shows concern for the worker, rather than simply reminding him of the rules.

By implementing these few simple principles, combined with rigorous site preparation, the building and civil engineering group to which I referred in my introduction has seen its number of serious accidents reduced by a factor of 5 in the space of 7 years. This has been made possible by the constant commitment of managers at the highest level of the company.

The same exemplary boss used to say to me, not without mischief: "I dream of the day when I won't need you anymore! He meant the day when operational managers would no longer need the support of health and safety teams to ensure accident-free production... That day has not yet arrived in most companies, which is why I am particularly motivated to continue my awareness-raising activities with Perrier Consulting.


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