The Building Blocks of a Safety Leader

August 10, 2015
by Paul Mitchell, Safety Supervisor

Many people are surrounded by co-workers who are willing to help them learn their trade. I’ve had the luxury during my career to learn from hundreds of guys around the country, and I’ve seen safety leaders of all different experience levels, personality types and titles. This led me to ask, “What makes a safety leader successful?” Over the years, I’ve studied every detail of these individuals to try to figure out what it is they have that makes them successful. One day, it hit me; it is as simple as the ABC building blocks I played with as a kid.


One afternoon, several years ago, while interviewing prospective employees who would be working in a specific division of our company, the division manager of that division told me he was specifically looking for employees with great attitudes. In the end, we hired employees of all different ages and backgrounds, but the one commonality they shared was their positive attitude. As I watched these employees progress in their careers, you could clearly see they wanted to learn, work hard, and succeed as a team. They listened and put any suggestions leadership gave them into action. I made several return trips to work alongside these guys in the years after they were hired. Each time, I saw their skill level increase exponentially, and the one thing that I can attribute that to is their positive attitudes. One year later during a return trip, I was asked to take the utility client around to visit crews for a day. Not only were we his safest group, we were now his most efficient. His first question to me was, “What are you doing different?” My answer: “We hired positive attitudes!”


At a point in my career with WTS, I filled in as a project manager for a couple months. Before starting, the division manager gave me a list of expectations, which consisted of spending time with the GFs in the area, as well as crews and the division manager himself. As I spent time with him, I found that he was leading by example; he spent a large chunk of time with his employees, learning and helping them. Together, we encouraged each GF to do the same with their crews. We saw improvements in safety within that division that still last today. I see our successful crews nationwide using this simple behavior. At any level, this helps create a positive, safe working environment. Lead with your behavior!


While working as a job planner, I was having a conversation about safety with my division manager and division supervisor. They brought up the fact that if we could make safety cool, we could get more employees on board. We knew that wasn’t always possible. While our AWMs are in place to ensure everyone makes it home to their families safely, it isn’t always cool. Employees must also follow the Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper motto by looking out for each other. It takes both courage and conviction for someone to speak up when they see something they don’t think is right. Just as important as the courage to speak up, is the conviction it takes to listen to those concerns. Speaking up and listening are both equally important. We focused on this as a division and within two years had the lowest incident rate in the company. We got where we wanted by having conviction!

Is that all it takes to be a safety leader? Is it that simple? These are the three attributes that stand out as I look at our safety leaders company wide. These are three traits that I try to live up to daily. I know if I do, I will help myself and those around me get home to our families and friends safely. I will continue to keep an open mind and a positive attitude, so I can continue to learn from my co-workers. I will continue to lead by example with my behavior. I will continue to let my conviction drive me to work safely and insist those around me to do the same.

With that being said, I challenge you to do the same!