Leadership is multifaceted, complex and full of daily challenges — especially in the healthcare field. When talking to most healthcare CEOs, one often hears that their people are their greatest resource, helping them keep pace with the evolutionary changes. If this is true, investments made in this area can yield great results.

Consider Abraham Maslow's studies and his "hierarchy of needs" for human motivation. Maslow identified safety and security as basic needs, so it makes sense that an organization and its leaders would want to ensure a safe and secure workplace for their greatest asset those about whom they care.

But where do today's leaders begin? What needs to change? And what are some actionable steps for those leading healthcare organizations and systems?

A new book, "7 Insights into Safety Leadership," draws upon decades of research and the latest thinking to succinctly express what every leader must understand and employ in order to attain excellence in safety and organizational performance; irrespective of their industry.

The central premise is that safety starts with effective leadership, and often an elevation of safety responsibilities by senior leaders. To accomplish this, every leader must recognize the starting point understanding the three most important dimensions of safety leadership:

  • The value of safety projected by a leader
  • The vision that leader holds for the organization
  • The credibility the leader establishes behind both the value for safety and the safety vision

An exercise in reflection and honestly thinking about these dimensions of safety will most likely result in the identification of at least a few opportunities to set improvement in motion. As you read the sample questions below, think about your answers as well as how you are perceived by those you lead.

1. How deep is your value for safety?

  • Do you understand the hazards in your work environment and how they are mitigated?
  • Do you understand what your direct reports must do to reach safety objectives?
  • Do you know how to prevent serious and fatal injuries?
  • Do you have uncomfortable conversations and accept unpleasant feedback?
  • Is safety on the same plane for senior leaders as productivity, growth, financial targets and the bottom line?

2. How clear is your vision for safety?

  • Do you incorporate safety data in decision making at all levels of the organization?
  • What are the top two ways you can improve safety leadership, culture and/or performance?
  • What is one new exposure you will face in the next 3-5 years?
  • What are three behaviors you and your direct reports must do with high reliability?

3. What culture are you creating?

  • Are you approachable?
  • Can someone question flawed processes or report a problem?
  • Can others comfortably take initiative for improvements to exceed expectations?

The book also challenges the current approach of focusing on a reduction of near misses and minor injuries, to prevent serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). It demonstrates why senior leaders should familiarize themselves with the most serious risks and offers a strategy that includes:

  • focusing on the potential for serious injuries and fatalities
  • identifying the precursors that lead to potential events, including near misses and high-potential events

Succeeding at reducing SIFs requires both effective safety leadership and senior leaders who understand the most serious risks in the workplace.

Safety is an ongoing process, because the people, the work and the environment continually evolve. To be truly successful, leaders need people to approach them, report problems and communicate openly. Only then can senior leaders effectively guide efforts to minimize risks and increase safety, all while attaining better performance outcomes across the organization.

Do you believe you are perceived as you intended, or is it possible that your words, actions and behaviors create some misperceptions and, ultimately, barriers to effective safety leadership among those you lead?