Actively Managing Operational Performance and Safety Through Leadership and Resilience

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting at a Safety Roundtable session for the Natural Gas Fall Workshop held at the Leak City facility in Athens, AL. This was an outstanding workshop with some incredible folks! The work that is being done in the natural gas industry is so important and plays a critical role in our lives and businesses. I believe safety is achieved in numerous ways, but two key areas that require emphasis are leadership and resilience, so those subjects were the focus of my talk. I will summarize some of the main points here:

  • Organizations need to develop a level of information sharing, depth in job positions that allow multiple people to perform the job, and trust. Organizations that rely on a single person to do many mission-critical or safety-critical tasks may be setting themselves up for failure, because life is unpredictable. What happens if one day, this one individual does not show up to work? It could be due to an illness, accident, or other factor, such as leaving to work at a different company. Organizations need resilient systems that can restructure and adapt rather than falling apart under stress. 
  • Organizations need to develop outstanding leadership capacity within their ranks. This means that junior or mid-level employees should be screened and evaluated for future leadership positions, mentored so they can understand how to fill those leadership roles, and given opportunities (working from smaller scale to larger scale) where they can “cut their teeth” as new leaders. Additionally, more seasoned, senior leaders should be encouraged to share their craft with other personnel. This requires trust.
  • Organizations must understand that in high-risk operations, at some point surprises will happen and employees will make mistakes. Employees in high-risk industries often work in error-provocative environments (see reference below for more information) and many times errors are a function of the environment, not the result of an employee who isn’t trying hard enough. Therefore, leaders should seek ways to detect, correct, and recover from errors, and methods for using errors as learning tools. 
  • Human and Team Performance Programs (such as Crew Resource Management or V-Speed’s TL&RM program) that take into consideration the perspective of the line operational crews and the context within which they work are a critical component of crew and team performance in high-risk industries. Crews must be led by competent leaders and must possess key attributes for effective teamwork in order to maintain continued success.

While there were more detailed aspects to my talk, which spurred some interesting discussions about resilience, this list summarizes some key points which you may consider when looking at your organization, teams, and approaches to operations and safety.

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Manuele, Fred A. Advanced Safety Management, Focusing on Z10 and Serious Injury Prevention. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2008.