The physical presence of a leader can prevent accidents on the job

March 7, 2015 By and    

Leadership can be an isolating position, especially when safety is at stake.

With so much on their plates, leaders and managers sometimes hide from the very purpose of their position – to command respect for policies and compliance at the plant, in the field and in the office every day. You cannot command respect if you are not present.

A leader’s presence communicates that they are in tune and able to consider challenges faced by employees. The concept of management presence takes many forms. In some instances, it may mean stopping by to check progress on a job, reviewing paperwork from a previous job or following up on Department of Transportation requirements. The very thought that a leader might spot check could increase the level of total compliance. Other ways to be present include recognition, discipline, occasionally socializing and simply being seen doing your job.

Successful leaders double-check their safety presence and understand that their presence is a great tool to leverage safety compliance and accident-free results.

Presence is a balance
One of the challenges of safety leadership is the isolation that can creep into the job. This means we have to constantly look in the mirror at our own actions and activities to check on whether we are in tune with the safety process or are hiding, hoping bad things won’t happen.

One of my former clients was a master at planning events and circumstances, so much to the point he created trust and presence. He arrived to work in the morning before anyone else. He greeted the employees with personal presence, including light questions about family and interests. He planned weekly recognition socials that promoted a team concept of taking pride in doing things right. Somehow he managed to work in the week’s challenges, reminding employees about his personal concern for their safety. He did it in a way that was comfortable and easy to relate to. He was present.

I firmly believe that to be an effective leader, you have to bring harmony to the workplace from within. One presence supports the other.

It is tough to be a present leader when you have a family. Not all leaders have been successful on the home front. I am often frustrated when I hear stories about business success at the expense of personal relationships. We all succumb to pressures at work and often fail to recognize when we are out of balance.

A balanced leader knows we must be present at home to be successfully present at work.

Presence is awareness
One time I was in a meeting with a manager, and I asked him about an unsafe situation I had observed while touring the facility. I did not mention it during the tour because I wanted no distractions to my observations.

The manager assured me that I was mistaken. I explained to him that when we tune out, we often fail to see things as they really are. This is a common leadership challenge.

I gently brought him to this situation: a 20-pound cylinder inside the shop building hooked to a dryer to dry shop rags. After a litany of excuses, he confessed that he had been blind to the situation. He had been in the shop, but he had not been present as a leader.

While this story might seem improbable, it is true. I am willing to bet a focused observer might find a noncompliance issue or two in most companies. Loss-control inspections from insurance companies usually generate a list of issues to address. I am always amazed when such compliance recommendations are not promptly addressed.

Successful safety leaders must want to see expected results to achieve them. At your next management meeting, I recommend you discuss the importance of leadership presence and use it as a teaching and coaching tool to prevent accidents and achieve profitable results.

Jay Johnston has 42 years of experience as an insurance executive, safety management consultant and inspirational safety speaker in the propane industry. Jay is the publisher of “The Safety Leader” newsletter and author of the book “The Practice of Safety.” He can be reached at or 952-935-5350.

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