A good friend called a couple of weeks ago, and he was both excited and nervous about interviewing for a utility safety manager position. If successful, he would be leading a team with more than a half dozen direct reports with influence over distribution and transmission contractors, lineman training and power houses across multiple states.

My friend wanted to write a comprehensive safety vision that would pinpoint what lineman's safety programs will look like in the next decade. We talked for some time, and this is the vision we put together.

  • Leadership is you

    Over the last decade, the leadership focus was on senior management. Yet, an equally important group of safety leaders has been working behind the curtains to affect positive change at utility companies nationwide. These informal safety leaders often have no official title or rank, but they can make a significant difference in reducing the number of near-misses and accidents out in the field.

    What we will realize in the next decade is that the best safety leadership for linemen comes from fellow linemen. This influential group of informal safety leaders quietly yet effectively influence the choices and behaviors of their peers. Success in the next decade will depend on linemen teaching and coaching other linemen so that no one gets hurt.

  • Safety is the new economy

    Safety is a unique mix of managing people, attitudes, training, behavior, tools, systems, policies and procedures. It's not a performance measure for the next year, but rather the performance measure for the next decade.

    Utilities that can manage safety will not only be ahead of their peers in OSHA-reportable data, but will also experience a competitive advantage in several areas, such as human performance, workers' compensation, medical costs, employee engagement and worker turnover.

    The economy shifted late in the last decade, and because of that, the competitive advantage through consistent safety results is more important now than ever. In the next decade, managers will stand with linemen to ensure that safety is not just a priority because priorities change; rather, it will be a value that will not shift.

  • Think with the heart rather than just with the head

    Utilities often fall into the same trap when it comes to safety programs. Companies often establish new rules when they discover a deficiency, and along with that rule comes a training session, a safety meeting, a set of posters and a lot of buzz. After six months, however, the results are the same. Because there was no improvement in results, a more stringent rule is established, and the circle completes again and again.

The problem is that rules, strategies, policies, structures, procedures, monetary awards and discipline all deal in the head, rather than the heart. Policies, rules, discipline and accountability must be in place, but that isn't necessarily a ticket to results. Instead, it's just the foundation. Moving forward, utilities can achieve lasting success and sustainable results when they begin dealing with beliefs, habits, energy, passion, personal commitment and personal goals rather than just with the by-the-book regulations. For example, they can get linemen involved in the safety culture of their company through hands-on safety meetings, trusted coaching, feedback and interactive and real-time near-miss programs.

The New Team

In my opinion, there is now a new definition of win-win. In the past, many utilities took an “us” versus “them” approach. It didn't matter if it was safety versus operations, management versus labor, or senior leaders against middle management — there was always tension. Moving forward, there is no scenario where one side will win and another lose; instead, we are all in this together.

In this true win-win environment, teams will take on new meaning and new energy. Organizations who understand this relationship and promote this type of environment will rewrite the definition of a team.

In the end, my friend earned this new position and his first day on the job was the first day of the new decade. As we move forward, will we act on our new vision? The opportunity is now.


Matthew Forck (matt@thesafetysoul.org), a former a journeyman lineman and certified safety professional, directs K-Crof Industries LLC, an organization specializing in safety keynote presentations, training and safety consulting services. Download free safety resources at www.thesafetysoul.org.