Carrillo on leadership and communication

Rosa Carrillo of Carrillo & Associates, describes herself as a “thought leader in transformational leadership for environment, safety and health” with a “unique understanding of safety culture and complex environments”. Prior to her attendance as a keynote speaker at the SIA National Convention in September SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to ask Rosa Carrillo about leadership, trust and communication.

Carrillo is aware of the risk of transferring concepts and practices rather than translating them and tailoring them to local needs. She told SafetyAtWorkBlog:

“I am afraid that one of my core principles is that you can’t just take what someone else did to address human behavior and implement it with “minimal translation” even if it was developed in your own country. You can certainly do that more readily with technology, but even then you must customize its introduction. Most leading edge thinkers in the safety field agree that benchmarking leads you down the rose garden path. You spend lots of money and feel you are doing the right thing until the next disaster emerges.”

Australia requires effective consultation (see below) on occupational health and safety (OHS) matters. This has been refined over the last four decades and is an accepted element of safety management. North America seems to prefer the term “communication” to differentiate this activity from the broader occupational category of “consultants” but communication also links OHS consultation with other communication roles and subjects like public relations and risk communication.

Carrillo said this on communication and trust:

“The successful introduction and implementation of change efforts is where trust and open communication are essential… Management creates the biggest barrier by not listening to and responding to employee concerns on a consistent basis (not just after an incident). To a lesser extent employees contribute as well by withdrawing and withholding information because they assume management wont’ listen. To be explicit, however, the responsibility rests on leadership to reopen the path to communication. They have to build the relationships with key employees and establish credibility before information will begin to flow upwards. Make no mistake, if the information isn’t flowing upwards, management is not getting the real time data it needs to make right decisions.”

Cover of Work_Health_and_Safety_Consultation_CoOperation_and_CoOrdinationThe lack of the “upward flow” is something Australian OHS professionals have been aware of for some time and is part of the reason that recent Work Health and Safety law changes have refined consultation to be more of a dialogue. Australia’s 2011 Code of Practice – Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination states:

Effective health and safety consultation also has other benefits:

  • Greater awareness and commitment – because workers who have been actively involved in how health and safety decisions are made will better understand the decisions.
  • Positive working relationships – because understanding the views of others leads to greater co-operation and trust.” (page 4, emphasis added)

In some ways the US has had a long fractious relationship with the trade union movement. Carrillo provided this perspective:

“I have worked in many contentious environments where union and management are at odds. You would think that safety would be the one thing everyone could agree to work on together. And, they do have the common goal of not getting people hurt which is very important. The part that is missing is the mutual respect and a shared understanding of how to achieve the goal.

How do you get there? There is no short cut. Where we’ve succeeded, management has been willing to invest the time and money for extensive dialogues for all perspectives to be heard–these are closely facilitated to minimize hurt feelings. You need to get to mutual respect by listening to each other and really understanding the meaning of what is being said. Then you move into developing strategies to improve safety, not before.

The trust must be earned through consistent follow up and implementation. The leaders have to decide that even if we get off track and frustrated, we will go back to the conversation because the common purpose of eliminating serious injuries and fatalities is the most important goal.”

So unions and business agree on the ends but argue about the means.  The Australian experience is similar.

Carrillo’s comments emphasise the need for mutual respect as the basis for a strong organisational relationship, others may say “culture”. The aim of OHS is unarguable – the prevention of harm – but ideologies and organisational needs produce different perspectives on the same aim. She advocates that extensive dialogues be established which, perhaps, may extend beyond the tripartism that dominates OHS policy making in Australia. The challenge would be how to allow or encourage such broad consultation without one sector dominating the discussion. There is an implication that such dialogue needs to be extensive AND mature.

Carrillo also says that mutual respect and trust is earned by “consistent follow up and implementation”. These are two actions that many find challenging but are basic time management elements or, if one is a consultant, good customer service. A timely response implies that the client’s concerns are treated importantly. It also encourages the consultant’s advice to be more highly valued. This commercial “give and take” establishes a relationship of trust and reliability from which progress can be built.

Rosa Carrillo will offer a fresh perspective on leadership and modern corporate and safety relations. Her discussion on the US corporate communication experience is likely to tell us much about the OHS expectations of Australia’s corporate sector.

Carrillo is one of several speakers at the upcoming Convention who will be talking about “transformational leadership” and other related issues. She is also presenting the 2015 Wigglesworth Lecture. Carrillo was also interviewed about safety and leadership in 2012 in a series of short YouTube videos.

Kevin Jones

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