A new survey on CEO attitudes to safety has been released by Peter Wagner & Associates entitled “Safety – A Wicked Problem, Leading CEOs discuss their views on OHS transformation“.
There is some interesting information in report but Wagner is being generous in the report’s title. There are some CEOs who seem knowledgeable on safety management who may be “leading”, but there is at least one participant who would not know safety from clay.
To some extent Wagner’s report is a “mirror” report – one whose content reflects the intended readership. The report is not intended to be independent or representative, although it follows the tripartite consultation model, but to foster debate. Some cynics may claim it is intended position Wagner & Associates as a market leader in business culture services.
In 2005, Wagner wrote the following text that should be remembered when looking not only at CEO safety pledges but at a company’s method of communicating safety.
“…Organisations that decide to pursue safety objectives purely in the pursuit of greater profit or to force through changed work practices need to consider their approach carefully.
Employees are adept at distinguishing the real motives of leaders and respond accordingly. If they can be convinced that the motivation is genuine and values based, then there will be few boundaries that they will not cross to achieve the objective. After all, Safety is one of the top three things most important to them.
However, if there is even the slightest hint that Managers are simply profiteering from the process without real concern for employee safety, employees will turn off and disengage. More than likely, the business will severely harm culture and organisational cohesiveness and runs the risk of permanent damage to workplace relations. Authenticity is critical.”
A weakness in this cautionary note is in the second paragraph where it could be argued that “convincing” the workforce equals spin and rhetoric.
Much of the discussion in the Wicked report should be familiar to safety professionals but the method of interviewing is worth noting. Wagner says:
“Each conversation was conducted under a synthesis of four high-level themes:
- What is each interviewee doing to deliver OHS excellence?
- What do they believe are the strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s present approach to managing OHS?
- How do they see the role and effectiveness of key stakeholders outside their own organisations?
- What key strategies would they employ to transform safety performance in Australia today?”
The summary to the survey at the end adds a different element to the discussion. Wagner says
“This research presented CEOs with the hypothesis that OHS performance in Australia had plateaued and asked whether what we were doing today was likely to lead to excellence in OHS.”
There is no source mentioned for the “hypothesis of plateau-ing” and one has to seriously ask whether such a hypothesis could have skewed any results.
Peter Wagner should be applauded for undertaking such a task and getting such high-level participants but the report comes across as a book about CEO OHS attitudes for CEOs and, as such, is unlikely to progress safety levels in the workplace. Read the Wicked report bearing in mind the caveats above and you may some some nuggets of helpful information
It would have been more useful to have had specific quotes from each of the participants, or even transcripts. Then we would have raw evidence of CEO attitudes rather than packaged thoughts.