Your frontline leaders have the potential to be your biggest asset – or your biggest liability.
Some positions are invaluable to a team. Think quality pitching in baseball. Or elite quarterback in American football. In safety and health – especially when it comes to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance – it’s about the frontline leaders. If your frontline leaders show up, and embrace the mission set from above, good things should happen. Even great things. If they don’t, all the C-suite buy-in in the world might result in minimal positive change or outcomes. They can disrupt even the best-laid plans.
Why it’s important to empower your frontline leaders
Consider the following points made by former Big Pharma CEO Fred Hassan in his article ’The Frontline Advantage’ published over a decade ago in the Harvard Business Review, but still as relevant as ever.
1. The managers most responsible for a company’s success or failure (i.e. frontline leaders) happen to be the ones who the CEO spends the least amount of time with.
2. Typically, frontline leaders make up 50-60% of a company’s management ranks and directly supervise as much as 80% of the workforce.
3. It’s the frontline managers who must motivate and bolster the morale of the people who do the work – those who design, make, and sell the products or deliver services to customers.
4. CEOs need to single out frontline managers as a critically important group in the management ranks, spend significant personal time in direct interactions with them, and use those interactions to mobilize the entire organization.
5. Companies need to build a culture of passionate people who question the traditional way of doing things. They also need to dig into complex problems and stick with them until they’re solved, and have an appetite to innovate. Frontline leaders are the key. They’re directly responsible for managing the majority of a company’s employees and, therefore, have exceptional leverage on company performance. When they’re engaged and energized, they communicate that to employees. The result is a charged-up and aligned organization.
6. One of the biggest challenges facing the leader of any large corporation is getting timely, unfiltered information about what’s going on in the business. Frontline managers have their fingers on the pulse of operations and of the marketplace. Easy and open communication with them helps the CEO detect unanticipated developments and respond to them rapidly.
How to keep communications open with frontline leaders
Step 1: In keeping communication open with frontline leaders, you need to be present on the frontlines of the actual work – which, of course, is where you’ll find them. Your presence alone will speak volumes, even if there were to be no words spoken. Your physical presence reflects your interest in the process, and – by virtue of your engagement in the next two steps – your interest in the safety and wellbeing of your employees. This is much preferred than, for example, sending an email. If showing up in person is not possible, an alternative solution could be to send a quick Heads Up update to your team, which can be recorded via video, images, or PDF.
Step 2: Once you appear in the actual work environment, employ your active listening skills. Because at this step, listening is so much more important than you talking.
Step 3: Follow through with action. Your frontline leaders will see and appreciate this action, which will foster trust and further engagement. Once they’re engaged, you follow through with action, and then the cycle repeats as you continue to improve processes and keep the line of communication open with your frontline teams.
To sum up, these are my three takeaways:
- Speak with your frontline leaders.
- Listen to your frontline leaders and follow up with action addressing issues discussed.
- Ensure your frontline leaders are fully engaged.
Co-written by Gary Bonnett, former Customer Engagement Executive at SafetyCulture.
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