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C-Suite Series – A Sunny San Diego Chat with C-Levels – Safety as a Competitive Advantage

PUBLISHED
November 11, 2019

WRITTEN BY
Adrian Bartha

Our last blog highlighted our C-Level panel’s thoughts on mental health in the workplace across safety-conscious industries. Today, we’ll focus on safety as a competitive advantage and what it means for growing the business. Our panellists include Chris Payson CEO of Reach Wireline, Richard Jackson President and COO of Spark Power, and Jeremy Hand CEO of Avenge Energy Services

Personally, I’ve always believed safety can be a competitive advantage in industries like construction, energy and utilities where “doing things right” means “doing things safely” and this improves a reputation over time. Reputations can be won/lost in a single moment and the protection of our workforce is not only integral to success on site but also in the context of the communities we work in and around.

I’ve worked in other industries but have never seen the level of collaboration in a single aspect of the business like I’ve seen with safety across competitors in a single industry: sharing their best practices, lessons learned, documentation and so on. But if safety is a competitive advantage then can there also be no competition on safety? How can I hold these two seemingly contradictory truths in my head at the same time?


Creating a Seat at the Table

The first question for our C-Level panel was “how does safety touch the growth of the business?” Chris Payson, CEO of Reach Wireline weighed in: “For the more mature operators in the U.S., it’s become a part of their everyday vernacular.”  For the safety team itself, “They have as much of a relationship with our customers as our operations managers do. So, we want a seat at the table.”

Other tales emerge… and for these high-growth companies, safety emerges as a method of strengthening relationships with clients (and not an overhead function), whether it’s major energy producers or local utilities.  Richard Jackson, President and COO of Spark Power told a story of when he first joined the business where they started every meeting in the office with a safety talk; some may have thought it was over the top but it eventually became the norm and truly demonstrated to all employees as the company grew that safety was first; “It becomes truly the DNA of the business. You have to start somewhere.”

But what happens when the going gets tough and a customer may appear to push for unsafe work or the men and women on the ground get conflicting signals on working safely? Chris says, “You have to hope the training and empowerment you’ve given them leads them to the right decision which is to stop, take a step back and assess the situation, get more information.”  He continues, “We’ve had this happen and they’re not easy conversations to have with customers.”

When the Tough Gets Going…

Conflict resolution with a client on safety matters is not easy. Sometimes you need to dig deeper and get on the ground.  Jeremy Hand CEO at Avenge Energy explained further, “We’re telling them to get their feet on the ground at the landscape and you can easily find out what are the root causes to the issues you’re having.”  According to the Harvard Business Review, “Few CEOs think that it’s their job to mobilize frontline managers. They may give the occasional speech during a site visit…What they need to be doing is something altogether different…Spending significant personal time with direct interactions with frontline managers [them] and using those interactions to mobilize the entire organization.”

Safety as a Competitive Advantage

These leaders know there is no silver bullet but the vote of confidence in working safely comes from the top and has certainly helped these top safety (and business) performers get to where they are now.

This reminds me of recent books that have come out on how to navigate tough conversations and using candour to drive home the message of we can’t compromise on safety to get the job done and a job is done and safety are two sides of the same coin.  Many customers will push contractors and service companies to raise their game but it’s also the responsibility of the service company to help their clients do the same.  Pulling each other up is part of what leadership is all about, isn’t it?

Do you have any stories on how you helped use safety as a competitive advantage or helped your customers raise their game? Would love to share them in a future post. Happy to start a discussion – send me a note to Adrian.bartha(at)ecompliance.com

 


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