As our writers continue to busy away at, well, writing, I’ll continue my trawl through Unit A of the national diploma. Delightfully, we are on to element A7. This is everyone’s favourite. The woolly world of “organisational factors” (aka organisational culture, but could also be called “death by misadventure”). It’s an area that we all know is important – the way we relate to people around us at work and interact with the systems and processes is of equal importance to our technical ability in the job. This is especially important in safety leadership. Leadership is subtly different from management and has more of an emphasis on inspiring and motivating people, rather than the more task focus of managing (but the two are often combined in a role, obviously). But, it is perfectly possible to be a safety leader without being a manager. Safety Advisors know that full well.
So, element A7 continues the theme of leadership (started in A1) and throws in a whole raft of new stuff – theories of safety leadership. As far as I can see, most of these theories seem to be developed by looking at exemplary “admired” leaders and trying to pull out some principles on which they operate. In the old days, there was a perception that leaders were born like that and not made. But, whilst some are indeed naturals, there’s much that can be learned (and many more examples of how not to do it). As you know with leadership theories, there’s a germ of truth in each of them, but hardly any of them work all of the time. That’s because we are all different and to get the best out of people you have to be prepared to adapt your approach to the context. So, think of these theories as “equality and diversity” applied to leadership – treating people right, but trying to get the best out of them, develop them and get the job done at the same time. For example, you’d adopt a rather different approach in an emergency compared to when you have much more time to think and collaborate. In an emergency you needed to have done most of the preparation and engaging well beforehand.
The syllabus here recognises this and includes a section on how to decide which approach to use and when. The syllabus rounds this off with an expanded section on the benefits of safety leadership. This really reflects the greater emphasis on this issue we now see in the revised HSG65 and also from the long-standing HSE/IOD guidance on the same topic.
Much of the rest of A7 is identical to what used to be in the old A6. So, we see again the discussion on essential features of engaging employees (the involvement, consultation of employees especially) and the unavoidably nebulous treatment of safety culture/climate (just try to define “British culture” and see how far you get – so you’ll understand how it’s easier to see than to describe; we all know it when we see it, but a truly good one is rare – a bit like an altruistic politician). The suggested teaching time here is 14 hours. 2 days seems a little long to me to chew the fat.