Build These Three Capacities for Sustainable Excellence

BIC - May 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway
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How much value does your safety system produce? What about your leaders and culture? Does your organization have the capacity to produce sustainable excellence in safety performance?

After more than twenty years of leading companies across all major industries, I regularly find the organizations that continue to outperform their peers intentionally work to develop the capacity to achieve sustainable excellence. They focus on three areas: system capacity to prevent and recover, leadership capacity to align culture and systems and learn from deviations and cultural capacity to normalize desired beliefs, behaviors and experiences.

Figure: Capacity for Sustainable Excellence diagram
Figure: Capacity for Sustainable Excellence

In most organizations, senior leadership makes decisions that are delegated down throughout the organizational chart. To protect the business and people within, the organization will create system capacity to prevent incidents and injuries. Simultaneously, great companies are purposeful about the unique culture needed and work to create common beliefs and behaviors. Because they are core to the company identity, even hiring and terminating occurs according to cultural values. Since 1986, safety culture has been a called out sub-element of the occupational culture. Strategic efforts focusing on ensuring beliefs and behaviors specific to safety have also become common.

System Capacity to Prevent and Recover — Despite systems to prevent unwanted events and a strong culture, work doesn't always go to plan. How work is planned is often different than how work is done. Every day, there are deviations from expectations and people will make mistakes in complex environments. Knowing this, great corporations create the capacity to recover when deviations and mistakes occur, minimizing the resulting severity and/or bringing the operations back to the pre-event state.

Leadership Capacity — These great organizations invest in their leaders, especially on the front line, to have the competency and confidence to align their teams and crews to the occupational and safety culture and the systems necessary to prevent and recover from unwanted events. To create a learning organization, these leaders understand what might produce an error-likely situation, and work to proactively seek out opportunities to learn from a deviation from expectations before they produce damage, incident or injury.

Cultural Capacity — What people do when the boss is not around is an aspect of every occupational culture, as are the experiences new employees have after hiring and onboarding. Cultures of excellence work to acclimate new members to the written and unwritten rules and desired beliefs, behaviors and experiences; the tribe looks out for each other.

Considering this model, what is your confidence level in your system capacity to prevent events? What is your level of confidence in your system capacity to recover? How confident are you that your leaders are aligning cultures and systems and learning from deviations? And how effective is culture in aligning each member of the tribe, new or experienced?

Where are you with building these three vital capacities for sustainable excellence?

Shawn M. Galloway is the CEO of ProAct Safety and co-author of several bestselling books. As an award-winning consultant, adviser, leadership coach and keynote speaker, he has helped hundreds of organizations within every major industry to improve safety strategy, culture, leadership and engagement. He is also the host of the highly acclaimed weekly podcast series Safety Culture Excellence®.
For more information, call (936) 273-8700 or email

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