In July 2012, lloydmasters was approached by Network Rail to develop a programme for its top 400 leaders across all disciplines. The purpose of this intervention was to equip this senior executive population with the skills and insights to hold effective conversations about safety with the workforce. The resultant programme, called Leading Safety Conversations, was designed to replace the traditional compliance-based safety tours and to concentrate instead on engaging the workforce – both NR and contractors – in the identification and reduction of major risks.
Through the remainder of 2012 and 2013, Leading Safety Conversations was rolled out to the top 400 leaders, including the CEO, Chairman and all members of the board of directors. The programme comprises a 1-day workshop (held in multi-discipline groups of 6 to 12 managers) supported by follow-up coaching and a structured process of management reporting and review.
The core workshop examines a range of serious, fatal and other high potential incidents on the UK rail network and explores the role of senior leaders in preventing a recurrence of similar events in the future. In particular, the agenda focuses on the role of holding collaborative conversations in the field as a key element of the organisation’s defence-in-depth against catastrophic failures in the system.
The underpinning principle of the workshop is that serious rail incidents – such as Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield, Potters Bar, and more recent accidents such as Grayrigg – almost invariably involve multiple failure modes and the coming together of a combination of weaknesses in the system. While human error is also a reasonably universal contributor to such incidents, it is by no means the whole story. As a result, therefore, a key premise behind Leading Safety Conversations is that the dialogue between leaders and front-line workers needs, above all, to tap into the workforce’s knowledge of how the high hazards which characterise railways are really managed and controlled in the field. Only through open and collaborative dialogue can leadership and workforce combine to recognise, eliminate or mitigate the day-to-day risks inherent in the nature of the work environment.
Building on this recognition, the remainder of the workshop – together with the follow-up coaching – develops leaders’ skills in the conduct of conversations in the field. Using the latest academic research, the programme helps leaders build self-awareness around their impact on other (junior) staff and gives them a range of practical tools and techniques for ensuring every conversation in the field is valuable and of real utility in the quest to achieve a continuous reduction in risk.
The means of doing this in the workshop is primarily through practice, role-play and feedback in relation to a range of simulated situations based on real Network Rail activities and events. This practice is then reinforced through on-site coaching.
The programme has received consistently outstanding feedback. Numerous senior leaders have cascaded the programme to their own teams and introduced their own local follow-up processes. As well as an acceleration of the downward trend in major incidents, Leading Safety Conversations has coincided with, and reinforced, Network Rail’s wider change process towards a more open culture. In this respect, the skills, tools and insights developed within the programme have delivered a wider set of rewards, beyond the primary agenda of safety and risk reduction.