April 03 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Every organization serious about safety will occasionally have an internal discussion about stop work authority (SWA). I've participated in hundreds of these, of which the vast majority focus on the employees and sometimes front-line leaders. What about the location, site, plant or senior leader?
In chapter 19 of my 2023 book, COACH: A Safety Leadership Fable, the reader (or listener for the Audible version) learns of a situation where our hero faces a potentially career-ending decision to shut down a significant line. She posits, "I do remember thinking I'm going to be fired, but it will be for a good cause. A great cause!"
In a recent workshop with senior leadership, breaking through SWA hesitancy of location managers was discussed. An executive, previously a plant manager in Southeast Asia, shared a story. With a typhoon approaching, he struggled with the decision to close an operationally critical factory and send everyone home well ahead of the storm to prepare their family and homes. As he began calling leaders below him on his decision to close, several responded with variations of, "…They will fire you." Fortunately, the company did not, and their corporate leadership reinforced the right decision.
Values tend to flow down throughout a company. Experiences closest to the risk of where operational and safety decisions are made make the values believable or not. Employee behavior is a byproduct of many things, including the behavior of the people above. If you find yourself discussing employee SWA empowerment or authority, this might be a symptom of possible hesitancy beginning at a level of leadership.
If the leaders do not feel empowered, cultural empowerment will not exist within the workforce. Overcome any hesitancy with leadership before attempting to fix it at the worker level.
"On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died." — Adlai Stevenson I
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." — Martin Luther King Jr.
"Error is pervasive. The unexpected is pervasive… What is not pervasive are well-developed skills to detect and contain these errors at their early stages." — Karl E. Weick
Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.