Understanding the new world of the CEO

OHS professionals are very keen on advocating a change in workplace culture as a base requirement for safety improvements.  They also regularly quote the need for “top-down” leadership (however that is defined) to generate the  cultural change.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has already may some comments about leadership today but an interesting article has been brought to our attention that, although it doesn’t discuss safety, talks about how the role of chief executive officers over the last decade and some of the agents of change.

The  Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology released an article on 23 November 2009 concerning the selection of CEOs and succession planning.  The article says that the days of the “imperial CEO” has gone as (US) legislation has required a the process of complaisance to be shared.  Perhaps there really is “no I in TEAM”.

Randall Cheloha summarises the variety of forces and obligations that now must be considered when running a corporation.  Occupational Safety is not included but could have been.

“There are more constituencies to satisfy. In addition to major shareholders, financial analysts, employees and former executives, some companies, particularly those that received large government bailouts, have directly or indirectly been asked to change directors and add new players to their boards to represent the new constituencies, including the federal government and unions.”

Not only have the constituencies multiplied but the demands have changed as well.  Many of the groups suddenly have the ear of the executives and realize from past experience that the window of opportunity may not last.  The risk is that they go in too hard and too fast and create their own resistance.

Australian corporations had a habit of always looking overseas for CEOs, implying that the local executive pool was deficient.  That has changed recently where well-qualified local candidates are getting serious consideration and, some, appointments.  The SIOP article refers to the weakening of corporate culture by feeling the need to look outside for candidates.  Cultural continuity is equally valid and safety is part of that.

Hopefully the days of CEOs taking pride in nicknames such as “toecutter” or “the axe” have gone the way of “razor gangs”.

There is the risk of “cronyism” with internal CEO appointments but that risk is minimised if the cultural work on the company has already been undertaken.

Australian conferences have recently been pushing for “CEO days” where CEOs talk about the importance of safety and culture in their organisations.  To some extent, the safety professionals in the audience are the wrong audience.  Perhaps it is the CEO conferences that need to hear from a safety spokesperson who can use bad OHS management as a case study of how executive decisions created a toxic culture that led to injury and death.  Sadly, such case studies are not hard to find.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, continuity, culture, executives, Leadership, OHS, safety, safety cultureTags , , ,

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