IOSH 2016: Role of leadership at places of work and everywhere

22 May 2016

Dr. Jukka Takala gave a presentation to IOSH 2016 conference delegates on ‘nurturing committed and capable leadership teams throughout your organisation’. Dr Takala is the President of ICOH, as well as senior consultant to the Ministry of Manpower (MoM), Workplace Safety and Health Institute.

Leadership isn’t just the desired property of top leaders in private companies. Leadership qualities are needed by safety and health professionals, supervisors, trade unionists, governments, by everyone dealing with other people. Even mothers and fathers of children will need leadership qualities in their daily life.

We often talk about behaviour change when better cultures need to be built. Usually, the best starting point is to change the behaviour of the leader. It’s easier to change the behaviour of a group rather than that of an individual – we are “group animals”, after all. A leader of an organisation can ban smoking, or introduce other safety and health measures in the premises for all, but have fewer tools to control individuals.

The problem is that we don’t properly assess risks. The mainstream media concentrates on sudden major news items such as plane crashes, terrorist attacks and virus infections. Individual, but regularly occurring, occupational accidents and diseases are seldom getting much attention.

The world’s seven leading industrial nations have pledged to use their muscle to drive down unsafe and poor working conditions in the world’s supply chains.  G7 leaders said they would seek to promote “labour rights, decent working conditions and environmental protection” as key players in global supply chains. They also committed to support a “Vision Zero Fund”, to be established in co-operation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to help prevent and reduce work-related deaths and serious injuries by “strengthening public frameworks and establishing sustainable business practices”.

In addition to leadership qualities, we need commitment and engagement of the workforce throughout organisations. The three “ships” that work together are: leadership, ownership and partnership.

The UK and its safety and health community are doing well in injury prevention as compared to other countries. The main leadership problem is, however, with the long latency diseases.

We shouldn’t rely just on good luck. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “I believe in luck, and the more I work, the more luck will follow.”

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