Cultivating a safety culture through leadership

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Leaders have a responsibility for good order and discipline. Leaders are also responsible for setting the tone and establishing various cultures within their units. Whether it’s a culture that values military heritage or a culture of innovation, the goal is always to be positive and constructive.

Unit chants, patches, mottos, morale shirts, intramural sports, First Fridays and more are all aimed at establishing a cohesive team with one common ethos: effectively accomplishing the mission. In essence, a cohesive work family built through camaraderie and relationships affect mission success. The cohesive ethos highlighted herein is an “informed” safety culture which enables the mission and protects our most valuable resource, our Airmen.

How do you foster an informed safety culture within your unit?

Throughout the process of teambuilding, things that are important to supervisors naturally become are valued to the Airmen on respective teams. Therefore, establishing a collectively safe and healthful bond typically starts with the commander and quickly becomes the model within the unit. Whether it’s wearing proper personal protective equipment, ensuring checklist discipline or making responsible driving decisions, Airmen at the lower levels of any organization can make a significant impact on a unit’s safety culture. Simply put, every Airman at every level participates in a safety system of processes.

There are foundational attributes and subcultures which form the basis for an informed safety- conscious organization. This “informed” culture is built through teambuilding and relationships where supervisors ensure an environment supported by reporting, learning, just and flexible subcultures.

It is clear in our Air Force, we insist on having an organization and environment free of discrimination and harassment — that is a just culture — one where all Airmen have a sense of security from reprisal. When we feel isolated or targeted, we will not contribute to a culture of reporting.

In a reporting culture, leaders receive what is known as leading and lagging indicators from mishaps and hazard report investigations. Leading indicators are the prevention measures to stay ahead of risk while lagging indicators come from after-the-fact events. Both help in the overall data analytics process.

However, to support sufficient reporting, Airmen need to know and understand standards and procedures through a culture of learning. The learning process includes idea sharing for process improvement.  Furthermore, supervisors must empower Airmen at all levels and foster a value in flexibility to allow for process and behavioral changes. Effective process improvement and innovation requires all four subcultures to mold and meld into an overall informed culture. The lynchpin of this culture developing process requires teamwork, communication, and participation at all levels.

An informed safety culture ultimately enables mission success and protects our most valuable resource, our Airmen. Remember, creating a culture like this in your unit can start with just one person -- you. What are you doing today to make your unit’s safety attitude stronger?

Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett, 18th Air Force commander, once said, “Safety is not an additional duty…safety is a responsibility across all aspects of our mission.” The 60th Air Mobility Wing Safety Program has 22 roles feeding into the four subcultures and any given Airman is directly tied to one or more roles steering the wing toward great success, ultimately, ensuring there are no bounds.