Creating a Positive Culture Around Driver Safety

If you’re a manager, you know that the subject of safety may not always win you a top spot in the office popularity contest. Employees are not exactly jumping up and down with joy at the thought of having to comply with corporate policy, being monitored, and possibly penalised for unsafe actions.

Unfortunately, safety is often associated with these negative connotations, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

So, it was exceptionally refreshing to attend a fantastic workshop several years ago presented by Dr Nick Ward, a professor at Montana State University and the director of its Center for Health and Safety Culture.

In its words, the Center works to transform the culture that influences health and safety by engaging communities and organisations to measure, analyse, and transform, including values, assumptions, and beliefs that can sustain healthy and safe behavioural choices.

These methodologies have been applied to high-risk driving behaviours such as speeding, drunk driving, seat-belt compliance, bystander intervention, and workplace safety.

What really caught my interest was Dr Ward’s use of positivity in communicating about safety.

Let’s face it, we—and our employees and colleagues—are all used to hearing negative finger-wagging, lectures, and threats. “Don’t do this, don’t do that; you’ll be caught, fined, put on probation, or fired; you’ll hurt or kill someone; blah blah blah.”

But instead of focusing on the relative minority of rule-breakers, Ward points out, wouldn’t it be better to recognise the larger numbers of people who ARE safe—and empower them for it? And can we persuade them to be our allies and resources?

Dr Ward thinks that social proof, social capital, and social proximity are too often overlooked.

These incredibly powerful forces represent ways in which we look around to see what others are doing, determine what is socially permissive and not, and decide whether we, in turn, propagate those same beliefs.

Humans are, of course, social beings; our very existence depends on witnessing how others are behaving and choosing whether to emulate them or not.

Peer pressure, a strong safety culture and supporting personalities that lean toward responsibility, play major roles in preventing someone’s risky behaviour or encouraging safer behaviour.

Within each of us—right now, right at this moment—individually exists the very real potential to stand up and be that positive role model of safety culture. It could be reminding a colleague to put on their seatbelt when they get into a vehicle with us.

It could be refusing to engage with anyone who calls or texts us when they’re driving, even if they’re using hands-free or Bluetooth modes. (I’ve politely done this many times, and I know my tactful refusal to enable the dangerous behaviour sends a powerful message because invariably the person I’m talking to either pulls over safely to continue our conversation or calls back later when they’re not behind the wheel.)

It could even involve noticing a colleague who is acting a bit erratic or tipsy on a given day or habitually, and gently intervening if they don’t seem fit to properly handle a vehicle.

In the coming months, I’ll explore different ways you can help instil and harness this positive social change and existing social capital in your corporate or business culture in both large and small ways.

Exactly how you accomplish this depends on the norms of your regional culture as well as your company’s policies and leadership style, but the most important principles are quite basic:

We have to feel that safety applies to all of us on a common, personal level, human to human, and there must be a solid sense of shared trust—and investment—upon which to build effective communication and tangible action around the subject.

Regardless of the methods chosen for enacting positive social change, know that a single action can have implications for dozens of people in an exponential, expanding way.

Modelling safe behaviour not only shows that you care about yourself and others around you, but also that they are worth it and that you—and their employer—values them. The more others witness that, the more you empower and embolden them to do the same.

As Dr Ward says, “If people think it’s normal, they’ll just do it.


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