Which would you be more likely to follow on any given day… a newly minted safety “advisor” who does not know anything about the project or equipment in use, with a generic set of procedures written by an engineer who has never stepped foot in the field? Or a level headed, operationally experienced QHSSE or Site Leader (Company Rep.) who has personal integrity, practices situational leadership, and considers operational safety the most important priority, with procedures and methods which are particularly applicable to the environment which you are working in? Easy question to answer, yes? I’m leading you into it…
Firstly, as a clarification, I say “Projects & Operations” because the full life cycle of oil & gas activities spans both areas – the project being something relatively temporary which is intended to produce specific outcomes (objectives / deliverables), dedicated resources, and within a limited time frame, whether long or short (but with a clearly defined start and end); and operations being all activities outside of projects within the regular day to day of the business before or thereafter. While project engineering management is a complex discipline in itself separate from operations, within the context of safety leadership the same guiding principles apply generally, with a few exceptions.
In the high stakes world of major projects, Upstream or EPC operations (plants, facilities, yards, platforms, construction sites, drilling & wells, onshore and offshore), it is important we realize that safety, quality, and operational integrity are no longer causes for Confrontation, but a call for Collaboration. We’d like to say the days of “cowboy-ing” it are over, but in fact it still exists in some parts of the world where the crews can be ignorant of the risks for various reasons (inexperience, culture, etc), and because of this it is very important that the buck stops with our Leaders in establishing good habits for all teams.
But what does this mumbo jumbo really mean? Is it pie in the sky abstraction? No, it does not need to be…
In both theory and practice, true Safety Leaders must display (and therefore, be, or embody) the following characteristics:
- Competency means little to nothing without credibility!
Ask yourself: Do you actually do what you say, and is what you say, what you actually do? Are your actions consistant and do they demonstrate personal integrity?
- Guidelines or boundaries will not be respected if we are not held accountable.
Ask yourself: Are you fully aware and take responsibility for what occurs on your site, on your watch? Are the roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the project or operations, along with the objectives, clearly outlined and understood?
- Where possible within the context of the project or operations, pro-activity must be the priority, rather than reactivity.
Ask yourself: Are unsafe conditions or behaviors addressed as they are witnessed, and do you actively participate in meetings, investigations, audits, and other programs as necessary? Do you follow up on actions and feedback?
- Effort must be made to maintain team spirit and morale.
Ask yourself: Do you encourage workers to take ownership and be involved in solving critical issues? Do you encourage team members to discuss operational safety concerns as frequently as needed?
- Communication is one of the most basic, yet most neglected aspects of ensuring operational integrity and safety. The way in which leaders communicate effects both culture and performance.
Ask yourself: Is your feedback and communication to team members honest, timely, and does it set firm boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not? Do you consistently encourage clear, unambiguous, two-way communication, and actively listen?
This is where ideas and principles start to converge… Those of you with significant experience will notice something interesting – the 5 strengths above are also the very same attributes displayed by truly efficient and effective Project Managers / Leaders, and Operations Managers / Leaders!
Once teams buy in and establish good practices because of this type of visible leadership, then they are better able to manage (self-organize) themselves, such as stopping a job or a colleague when some anomaly is noticed without feeling like the odd man out or being afraid to do so in the first place. It then, slowly and surely, becomes an expectation and a way of operating, rather than an awkward burden.
Again, safety, quality, and operational integrity issues should no longer cause confrontation, but rather be a catalyst for collaboration between teams working together for the project or for the organization as a whole. It all starts with credible and visible leadership.
So what does safety leadership – in either projects or operations – mean to you?
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” — General Douglas MacArthur