To mark World Day for Safety & Health at Work, we caught up with Warren Rushbrook, our Managing Partner, Northern Region & National Practice Lead, Executive Search to discuss his observations on how the industry approaches safety today, and the skills required by clients when seeking executive safety leaders.
DOES A CLIENT’S APPROACH TO SAFETY IMPACT ON TALENT ATTRACTION?
Yes – absolutely. An organisation's attitude and approach to safety is a very clear indicator of their wider prevailing culture and this is something of paramount importance to all candidates. Those businesses that lead the industry in this space have invested in talent in order to build a strong brand for safety that’s front and centre in all aspects of how they operate. This hugely complements their employer brand in attracting candidates as well as acting as a differentiator from their competition and is something that people genuinely want to be part of. We all want to ensure people stay safe.
WHAT CHANGES OR TRENDS HAVE SEEN IN YOUR CLIENT’S REQUIREMENTS WHEN SEEKING SAFETY LEADERS?
This is an area that has changed massively over the past ten years or so, and I think the industry deserves huge credit for the work that has been done to improve safety performance to keep people safe. We have certainly seen a greater acceptance of cross industry experience as the construction sector has moved towards greater offsite manufacturing and use of digital engineering. Bringing in expertise from for example aerospace or automotive manufacturing is something that some clients embrace to provide a different perspective on safety and push their thinking. Another key change has been the core skills required in the role. It’s now much more of a true leadership position where motivating and engaging disparate teams is often more important than technical background.
WHY IS THIS?
There has been growing acknowledgement of the impact that clients can have on safety, through their supply chain. With this, greater partnership and collaboration for safety between clients and the supply chain can lead to collective performance improvements. This had led to a much greater focus on cultural and engagement aspects of safety best practice over a compliance led approach. This is driven by organisations recognising people as the solution to safe working practices, rather than being the problem. We have worked closely with several candidates that are leaders in this field, and it’s about harnessing the great knowledge and experience in a business to find a better way rather than imposing something from up on high.
For example, if you have a 10-step process for something and an operative that has been on site for 20 years can achieve the same result, or a better result in 5 steps, increasingly organisations look to their safety executives to work with those highly skilled people to ensure that the more efficient process is 100% safe. In the past they may have sought to impose a method that in some instances wasn’t actually fit for purpose in the name of safety. There is an acknowledgment that humans will look for a workaround to get things done as efficiently as possible and this is something to embrace, rather than suppress with lots of processes and procedures. In the past I think there was a view that people would just ‘follow the rules’, but now I think it’s clear to our clients that they actually follow great leadership.
The way that safety performance is measured has also changed. There was in the past an obsession with driving towards zero safety incidents on site. The issue here is that in the past that tended to be reportable injuries and not things like near misses, so mitigating against minor cuts and abrasions may have got more focus that learning from a near miss that could have resulted in very serious injury. We have all seen lots of impressive graphs showing clear downward trends in incidents, which is fantastic, but then for the true leaders in his field, the curve eventually flatlines and there is a need to refocus the message to something other than reporting statistics to keep improving. We have worked closely with several clients that were at this point in the evolution of their safety strategy.
All of these changes point to having inspiring safety leaders who highlight successes, rather than only focussing on the failures. These leaders commit time and effort to engage with the workforce to promote best practice and empower their people to speak out in order to improve safety best practice. As mentioned, I think the industry has done a fantastic job in evolving how it approaches safety and we’re delighted to have supported our clients in such a critically important initiative.
Warren is Practice Director, Infrastructure and leads our Executive Search practice nationally. He has comprehensive Construction and Infrastructure industry experience and a proven track record of launching new businesses, securing high value clients, and delivering executive search services in Australia, South East Asia and the UK.
A construction management graduate, Warren has more than 20 years’ experience in delivering Executive Search services to global clients spanning corporate leadership positions to board level, and critical major projects related roles.
He has also launched and led commercialised recruitment and executive search businesses as subsidiaries of global construction and engineering groups, Mace Group (UK and UAE) and Laing O’Rourke (UK and Australia).