SIA NSW conference speaker General Cosgrove says - make managers jobs depend on safety

Tuesday, 31 August, 2010 - 10:00
Industry news

Organisational leaders should make their subordinate leaders’ jobs depend on helping to build a culture of safety, according to General Peter Cosgrove, former Chief of the Australian Defence Force.

Speaking ahead of the SIA's Safety Conference in Sydney, Cosgrove said preservation of one’s workforce as a leader is fundamentally important.

“If a subordinate leader doesn’t do this well, then I don’t need them. They’re not in my organisation,” he said.

“That’s pretty absolute. It’s more to do with the walk the walk than the talk the talk.”
While “walking the walk” should come first, “talking the talk” is also important, Cosgrove added.

“You’ve got to indoctrinate, exort, encourage, command and remonstrate, in no particular order, but you do start by saying to people ‘make this part of your culture.”

Company leaders also need to possess “professional mastery” in order to genuinely build a culture of safety within their organisations, Cosgrove said.

“If you have a purview of safety in a particular line of business, then you’d better be somewhat expert in that line of business so you can lead people in safe practices,” he said.

“Obviously you don’t have to be a perfect expert and you may well rely on advisors and experts in narrow sectorial areas, but to me, professional mastery is a ‘sine qua non’.”

Leaders also need to have a deep commitment to “mission accomplishment” in the safest way, according to Cosgrove.

“So, get the job done, but get the job done as safely as possible – and that applies not only your plans, but [also in your messages] to your people.”

Executives and managers should also “check and recheck” on safety all the time, he said.

“Don’t make safety faddish, don’t do it in the three months before the annual report, so you’ve got something to put in there. Rather, do it as a matter of caution,” said Cosgrove.
“You have regular management meetings so there ought to be a safety strand in those meetings to examine trends, so from time-time-time you can talk about particular safety incidents or issues. This way you check and recheck all the time.”

Companies should also put a reportable KPI system in place to measure safety, Cosgrove said.

“KPI is corporate speak, so I wouldn’t be using KPIs in the military context, but it amounts to the same thing as far as a formal assessment of how you’re doing your job in the military,” he explained.

“So your approach to safety would be a key indicator to me of how good you are.”

Cosgrove will be among 70 speakers at The Safety Conference presented by the Safety Institute of Australia at the Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park, from 26-28 October. For more information, email , visit or call 03 9654 7773