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More Than the Bottom Line: How to Prioritize Safety from the Top Down

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How executive leaders talk about safety matters. Why? Safety conversations signal what’s valued.

Profit matters. It does, but people matter more. The way companies care for employees tells you what they value. So how can companies care (truly care) about safety more than the bottom line?

Here are some of the ways Sonoco is working at prioritizing safety...

Define what Safety should look like.

If we desire a safe work environment, we need a clear picture of what that means. So how do we define our culture? Does it mean zero injuries? Does it mean reduced injuries?

Start by determining how we describe "safety." Be specific. List out 5-7 characteristics. Define those characteristics, and then provide detailed examples.

We can’t aim for a target blindfolded. We need a clear goal.

Consider leadership’s role in workplace culture.

Executives often feel removed from the day-to-day that employees experience. Their daily tasks focus on the bigger picture. Think about your best boss. Why were they your best boss? They likely acted differently. As a result, the workplace climate changed, their team acted differently and the culture shifted.

Leaders—at every level—shape culture. If you want a culture of safety, leadership must act differently.

Craft a safety vision.

  1. Start with the end goal. Remember that list of 5-7 safety characteristics? Start there.
  2. Describe the goal in action. If you were to walk around a plant, a mill, etc. that was safe (according to the definition you created), what would it look like? What would you see? What would you not see?
  3. Collaborate. What an individual thinks or sees is only part of the picture. Collaborating with leaders at every level provides the best picture of safety.

Creating a world-class safety culture shows employees we put our money where our mouth is, because safety is about more than the bottom line.