Napoleon on Safety Leadership

February 05 2024
By: Shawn M. Galloway

I'm a fan of actor Joaquin Phoenix and director Ridley Scott. So, when the movie Napoleon (2023) opened in the theater in Houston, my wife, a couple of our older kids, and I purchased seats. No, this is not a review of the film but rather of the leadership lessons we can learn from Napoleon and apply to enhance safety in organizations.

Statue of Napoleon with blue sky background.

Napoleon Bonaparte, France's renowned military leader and emperor, is often studied for his strategic brilliance and leadership skills. While his legacy is primarily associated with military conquests, some valuable lessons can be drawn from Napoleon's leadership style to improve safety performance and foster a strong safety culture.

Clear Vision and Strategy: Napoleon was known for his clear vision and strategic thinking. He had a well-defined objective and a detailed plan to achieve it. Similarly, leaders in safety should have a clear vision of what a safe workplace looks like and develop a plan to achieve it. This includes setting a comprehensive safety strategy, implementing continuously improving preventive measures, and evolving the safety measurements and scorecard.

Data Analysis: Napoleon relied on data and intelligence to inform his strategic decisions. Leaders should leverage data analysis to proactively identify trends, patterns, and areas of improvement in safety performance and culture.

Lead by Example: Napoleon led by example and was often on the front lines, inspiring his troops with his courage and determination. Leaders should also lead by example, demonstrating a commitment to safety through their actions and behaviors. By following the same safety protocols, wearing personal protective equipment, and actively participating in safety initiative behaviors expected of others, leaders can inspire their teams to prioritize safety.

Regulatory Compliance: Napoleon understood the importance of adhering to regulations and laws to maintain order and discipline within his army. Leaders should ensure constant compliance with relevant safety regulations and standards to create a safe and legally compliant work environment while also creating a team that is willing to speak up when plans or rules are not understood, or the situation might conflict with the determined approach.

Collaboration and Teamwork: Napoleon understood the importance of collaboration and teamwork in achieving success. Similarly, leaders should foster a collaborative environment where employees work together towards a common goal of safety excellence. Encouraging open communication, sharing best practices, and promoting cross-functional collaboration can help identify and address potential safety risks more effectively.

Effective Communication: Napoleon was a master communicator, effectively conveying his vision and instructions to his troops. Leaders should also prioritize effective communication to ensure that safety messages are understood and followed. Clear and concise communication helps to prevent misunderstandings and ensures that everyone is aware of safety information and expectations.

Employee Engagement: Napoleon's ability to inspire and motivate his troops was key to his success. Leaders should focus on engaging employees and creating a sense of ownership and responsibility for safety. This can be achieved through regular safety meetings, involving employees in safety decision-making processes, and soliciting their feedback and ideas for improvement.

Empowerment and Accountability: Napoleon empowered his officers and trusted them to make decisions on the battlefield. Leaders should similarly empower their teams to take ownership of safety. By providing training, resources, and support, leaders can foster a sense of accountability and encourage employees to actively participate in safety initiatives.

Risk Assessment and Mitigation: Napoleon was known for his meticulous planning and risk assessment. Safety leaders should prioritize conducting thorough risk assessments to identify potential hazards and develop strategies to mitigate them. This includes implementing engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE) as necessary to minimize risks.

Recognition and Reward: Napoleon recognized the importance of acknowledging and rewarding his troops for their bravery and achievements. Leaders should also recognize and reward employees for their commitment to safety. This can be done through private and public recognition or other forms of appreciation. Recognizing and rewarding safe behavior reinforces a desired safety culture while encouraging continued adherence to safety protocols.

Training and Development: Napoleon invested in the training and development of his officers, ensuring they were equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed. Leaders should prioritize training and development programs to enhance safety competencies among other leaders and employees.

Nonstop Learning and Adaptability: Napoleon's willingness to adapt and learn from his experiences contributed to his success on the battlefield. Leaders should promote a culture of nonstop learning and adaptability, encouraging employees to share lessons learned from near-miss incidents or accidents and implementing changes to prevent future occurrences.

Continuous Improvement: Napoleon was a proponent of continuous improvement, constantly analyzing his strategies and adapting to changing circumstances. Leaders should adopt a similar mindset, regularly evaluating safety performance, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing changes to enhance safety protocols.

Valuable leadership lessons can be learned from Napoleon, and experience has taught me, they are all key factors that can contribute to improved safety performance and a stronger and more mature safety culture. By incorporating these principles, leaders can create safer work environments, inspire their teams, and drive continuous improvement in safety practices. Just as Napoleon's leadership led to success on the battlefield, these principles can lead to success in ensuring the well-being and safety of employees in organizations.

"Victory belongs to the most persevering." — Napoleon Bonaparte

"A leader is a dealer in hope." — Napoleon Bonaparte

"Soldiers generally win battles; generals get credit for them." — Napoleon Bonaparte

Shawn M. Galloway

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.

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