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Case Study

Network Rail

The task

For Network Rail, we developed and delivered a three-year programme for 1100 senior leaders to equip them with the skills, insights and confidence.

Network Rail

For Network Rail, we developed and delivered a three-year programme for 1100 senior leaders to equip them with the skills, insights and confidence to hold effective safety conversations with critical stakeholders, the workforce and contractors.

The challenge faced by Network Rail was that its regime of safety tours by leaders at its work sites had degraded to a state where its effectiveness was considered by the board to have become patchy and marginal. While there were pockets of excellent practice, the norm was becoming one of safety visits being little more than procedural compliance checks, with only minor impact on employee motivation or engagement and with minimal relevance to managing the high hazards and significant dangers associated with working in a live railway environment.

The net result of this regime was that senior leaders were insufficiently informed when it came to understanding real practice and real risks, and that the workforce and supply chain felt they were the subject of pointless and irrelevant checking and fault-finding on things like PPE.

The programme we developed was based on two key pillars. Firstly, we reviewed in depth a number of serious accidents and near misses which had occurred within Network Rail’s operations in recent years. Distilling these into succinct case studies provided a core rationale (the management of risk and the prevention of serious incidents) for leaders to hold conversations. Secondly, we drew from best practice and the latest academic thinking (helped by our ongoing links and partnerships with leading institutions in this field such as MIT) to develop a blueprint for holding effective safety conversations in the field.

Putting these two components together in a one-day workshop with ample opportunity to practice – using, for example, video clips of real work being undertaken on the rail infrastructure, in signal boxes, design offices and so on – enabled participants to gain insights, skills and confidence so that they could truly interact with people to have meaningful, engaging and informative conversations which were significantly different from the parent-child, compliance-based norm of earlier safety tours.

The Chairman of Network Rail, who participated in the programme along with all the other board members, instituted a process whereby the board regularly shared their findings and learnings from the safety conversations they held.

Following the successful roll-out of this series of workshops (it was Network Rail’s highest-rated leadership training based on delegate feedback) we developed and delivered similar but tailored management education for The Thameslink Programme and some key suppliers to Network Rail such as DB Schenker, Harsco Rail and Colas Rail. We continue to work with many of these organisations and our Strategic Safety Leadership programme for Colas Rail is a centerpiece of the company’s management educational offer for middle and senior leaders.