When I think about leadership, I reminisce about the classic movie Patton from many years ago. The scene when General Patton is directing traffic at a muddy crossroads while joking with his troops is particularly memorable for me. He tours a horrid battlefield and experiences the war first hand with his shell-shocked men. Like many other successful leaders, he didn’t lead from a desk or even the seat of his jeep; he motivated his soldiers through as many direct contacts with them as he could manage.
Luis Ventoza, chief operating office of PCL’s Civil
Infrastructure division, gets “in the face” of a PCL
project team in Tampa, Florida.
Like General Patton, successful safety leaders at construction companies have their boots on the ground in the field and spend time with their “troops” talking about their safety. Interestingly, safety-perception surveys show that workers appreciate and are motivated to work safely when visited by their executive regional vice presidents, as well as on-site project managers, superintendents, and engineers. One might think that a steel worker or carpenter wouldn’t appreciate those contacts and might perceive them as “interruptions,” but that is far from the truth. What better way to take the pulse of our construction jobs and find out what we can do better to be safe and productive than by talking with those who are executing the work?
Many techniques can be used to engage with craft workers when touring a jobsite, but one of my favorites is to carry a couple of extra pairs of safety glasses and gloves to hand out to those who might need a new pair. It is a great way to start a conversation and has the added benefit of reinforcing PCL’s safety culture on the project. Once the two-way dialogue starts, we must take responsibility for what we learn from the workers and fix any safety issues or other on-site annoyances that come to light. Once a complaint or problem has been identified, you now own it and have to action it appropriately! Doing so will lead the construction industry not only to have safer projects, but quality and productivity will continue to improve.
Finally, the importance of eye-to-eye contacts with craft workers cannot be overstated. The influence that supervisors and managers at all levels have as they engage in these personal contacts with people makes all the difference. A big part of safety leadership is simply being “in your face” with employees and craft workers. The human connection between safety leaders and those in the field on construction jobs contributes to a healthy safety culture and helps PCL be a construction employer of choice.