A pry bar is in my left hand and a hammer in my right. I use a little more force than usual on a stubborn nail and as it breaks free the pry bar comes down hard on my right thumb. Son of a …

A great example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. This home renovation injury has me thinking about safety in the workplace and the responsibility of a leader.

There is an ever-present tension between safety and performance. This tension is evident in the recent quote from the Chris Jones head coach of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders in response to one of his players hiding concussion symptoms:

“Certainly we don’t ever want any of our players to hide symptoms. Quite honestly, the game is important — it’s my job and it’s my livelihood — but at the same time, these guys are people.”

Winning is important, in fact so important that it represents my (the leaders) livelihood, but at the same time, these guys (the employees) are people, with families and futures beyond the organization.

Which takes priority, safety or winning?

What can the leader do to balance this tension?

Talk About Safety

It is not enough to have a catchy safety slogan on the wall:

Safety is Our #1 Priority

Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for

Safety is Job 1

These slogans are meaningless if the leaders of the organization are not talking about them. If your supervisors and managers only hear about performance targets and never hear about your personal commitment to safety, the message is clear. While you may support a safe work-place and truly place safety above results if you don’t balance your message these good intentions never see the light of day.

Talk About Safety

It’s not enough that you talk about safety with your managers and supervisors. Frontline staff need to hear this message directly from the executive leaders of an organization. In my experience, one of the best ways to accomplish this is to attend monthly team safety meetings. When leaders are present throughout the year it makes the speech at the annual safety BBQ more authentic.

Talk About Safety

Workers that face real danger every day don’t want to hear about your commitment to safety as evidenced by your ergonomic desk or the hazard analysis that has been recently completed for re-loading the printer paper. They do appreciate hearing stories about near misses in your personal life, incidents from previous workplaces and relevant industry-specific examples.


Leaders must be all talk when it comes to safety. In this case, the talk is the walk.