In 2021 we interviewed inspirational senior female leaders and gained valuable insights and thoughts from their work in Safety across a range of regions and dynamic industries.
This year, we extended this initiative to cover three practices: Safety, Operational Excellence and Sustainability.
Between January and March 2022, we interviewed 23 senior female leaders to gain a unique insight into the remarkable resilience in not only dealing with an unprecedented situation during and immediately post- pandemic, but their commitment to making a difference through championing fresh thinking and standing up as strong role models. For this report, we analysed all “Women Making a Difference 2022” interviews, gathering 1,125 minutes of discussions and extracted top 5 focus areas:
Focus #1. People
Empower people by listening, caring and supporting them to make the right choices. Recognise strengths, rather than weaknesses. Be committed to developing careers and put the ability to drive change in the hands of people.
Focus # 2. Impact
Understand how inputs across an organisation impacts outputs. Identify strengths and harness those positives to make an impact that is measurable. Take small steps so that the achievements are visible and celebrated. Genuine caring leadership is vital and positively impacts the whole team and company.
Focus # 3. Leadership
It’s only by leadership constantly challenging initiatives and asking questions that a different way of thinking can be triggered. Recognising and nurturing different voices is increasingly essential to improve the business culture and deepen the pool of talent organisations can dip into.
Focus # 4. Technology
Technology and innovation are often seen solely as tools to digitalise and automate, but they also represent a different way of working. Clever use of technology and innovation can help people to learn and grow, creating safer, more emotive and sustainable business practices.
Focus # 5. Culture
A system of values should be the foundation of any company culture and a benchmark for leadership. Encouraging an open culture that focuses on teamwork, preparation and training allows everyone to play their part. To change peoples’ behaviours and habits it’s vital to combine the rationale with the emotive.
Focus on the positives
Having a people-first approach creates a positive atmosphere that puts the spotlight on solutions rather than problems. This helps develop an environment of trust where good culture can develop naturally. Rather than focusing on weaknesses, recognising individual and team strengths can be a more powerful way of achieving business goals. If employees focus more on what they are good at or tasks they enjoy, they will be happier and more productive. This can be enhanced by identifying broader strengths across the company and how these can be utilised to achieve further improvements.
Companies can have a lot of values, but what makes the biggest impact is a leader who genuinely cares by spending time with people. This provides the opportunity to make a real contribution, rather than focusing on strategic paperwork. Working effectively involves mutual respect where opinions are listened to and valued. It’s important to take the time to translate and mitigate potential assumptions and misunderstandings that can often happen with corporate communication. Ambitious targets can’t be met without people’s willingness to contribute.
Be willing to develop competencies via small, evolutionary steps so people see value in their progress. This type of smart evolution ensures the human element is firmly embedded into the process by building up skills to meet the changes and challenges that technology brings. Careful planning and training to enable a continuous change process often works better than trying to take giant steps too quickly. Support, continuous learning and development are essential at the top level and across the business ecosystem. Developing a less linear management structure that offers different ways to progress or explore sideways moves can unlock hidden talent and help create a healthier business culture overall.
Impact can take many perspectives, from people and culture, to finance and environment. With all of these, it is useful to share standards and targets as encouraging tools that add visibility and clarity. Using standards to benchmark progress is vital and is a way of directing energy and initiatives so that efforts are focused where they are most needed.
It’s important to stay focused and understand the priority where the most significant impact can be achieved, then develop a long-term vision rather than focusing on short-term targets. Wider promotion of key performance indicators (KPIs) that show technology’s influence can help foster a better understanding of how even with change everyone’s role can make a difference. Implementing technological change and not fully taking your team with you, provides little value if no one is onboard.
Clear evidence and leadership
Numbers are understood the same way by everyone and so are a useful way of demonstrating impact. Notably, tracking and backing up the impact of transformational actions with clear evidence is critical to success, but leading by example is important too. There’s no doubt that company culture is significantly influenced by how workers perceive management’s beliefs and values. The actions of a manager clearly demonstrate every day to every worker whether core values are lived by. If workers believe that management does not care about their team, the impact is weakened and a strong corporate culture will never be established.
As a leader it’s vital to see what can be better and then to work with people to make it better – for that, transparency on all levels is necessary. It’s essential to have access to the right data and have a standardised, visible way of working that points out where deviations have occurred and what problems need to be solved. Being successful doesn’t mean having to change, but bringing emotion and compassion to the table adds a different dimension. Of course, there’s only so much you can do with passion and enthusiasm at ground level. It helps to have leadership support from the top to meet ambitions.
How leaders behave and how they are coherent with company values is very important. Ultimately communication is not enough. Visible commitment is key. It’s not about what leaders say, it’s about what people see them doing that matters. Leadership commitment is a necessity. If initiatives aren’t aligned with leadership priorities, very little will change in the long term. Leaders’ voice and influence are hugely important in bringing audiences and people with them.
Good leadership means supporting and challenging each team member, helping them to thrive, leveraging their knowledge, engagement and autonomy. It’s less about being directive and more about encouraging and guiding team members to come up with their own decisions. An important element is a culture where mistakes and deviations are seen as improvement opportunities rather than something to get punished for.
There’s no doubt that digital technology and its affordability is fostering innovations that can unlock change. In terms of training programmes, emotional intelligence is a very effective way to reach people; by capturing the new technologies coming from innovation it is possible to create training programmes that are more experiential than ever before. Data management is another area where technology can make a huge impact. But once it comes to sustainability, finding one technological solution for every aspect of sustainability data, eg from carbon accounting to measuring gender equality is not there yet. It’s a case of using technology to collate separate strands of information to gain a complete picture of progress.
In terms of solutions, technology is set to play a huge role in the ability to manage health and safety risks. This is already evident in the use of intelligent safety equipment that can detect danger, or drones to conduct safety assessments of industrial equipment using high-resolution imaging.
Balance is key
Although technology is great for bringing people together, getting the balance of communication and inclusivity can be difficult. This highlights the importance of effective management and leadership. If you get that right, then new technological tools are useful but they can’t be effective without effective leadership.
There has to be a balance. Whilst the technology revolution provides excellent opportunities to improve health and safety, there has to be a clear benefit rather than simply a means to an end. The most important thing to remember is that people who understand good safety behaviours, not machines, make the best decisions.
Humans in general are very complex and trying to change peoples’ minds is first of all about them deciding whether to follow the procedures or not, so understanding people and their mindset is very important. There is no one-size-fits-all for inspiring others to change their behaviours, so resilience to try a range of approaches that resonate with different people is key. This cultural shift takes time, but it’s imperative to adapt behaviours and mindsets to respond to the complex and systemic challenges being faced.
Involve hearts and minds
Company culture is ultimately what delivers real change. If the culture isn’t mature enough to prioritise business goals, it simply won’t succeed, even if a company sets targets that are published externally. But a culture, mindset, and behaviour can’t be changed by simply setting goals and strategies. It’s essential to involve hearts and minds to engage emotionally, intellectually, and operationally. It’s not about transferring training tools to employees or telling them what to do, it’s about moving them to a point where they feel charged to do something and personally want to do it. It’s very powerful to show the personal, community, organisational and macro affects.
In safety, good practices start with respect. If people respect their colleagues, whatever their background and culture, then it becomes part of their values and moral compass to ensure that a safe working environment is the norm, not the exception. When this level of respect is not nurtured, the compassion is lost, and the connection with safety is weakened. Indeed, there is a risk of dehumanising safety when it’s simply a set of numbers on a piece of paper or represented as ‘working days lost’.