The Best Vs. The Worst by Mackenzie Wilson

#11 Engaging the frontline supervisor: what works in reality?

by Mackenzie Wilson / Based on the following SafeConnection panels

Everyone knows how important engaging the frontline supervisor is for world-class safety outcomes. And yet, companies all over the world struggle with this aspect. Why? It might be down to training, lack of motivation and accountability, or the hiring and promotion process: theories abound, but what really matters is what can be done about it.

SafeStart Author Larry Wilson invites experts from exceptional companies to a SafeConnection Expert Panel webinar to get to the necessary real-world solutions.

Larry begins the session by asking about the first steps to take:

The takeaway could not be clearer: people skills are a must-have for engaging supervisors.

As well as soft skills, frontline supervisors have to be managed into shifting the needle towards the proactive while maintaining the reactive:

Being proactive involves concrete planning at all levels:

Experience insight from SafeStart’s Larry Wilson about this kind of planning, which, he says, “can even be really beneficial when it’s something you’ve done before,” because then “you won’t be thinking…or not likely to be thinking very much about what you’re doing because of rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency”. He suggests getting employees to Rate the 4 States on a scale from zero to ten can add a lot of benefit to a risk assessment for a routine job.”

A lot hinges on management’s promotion choices: “You can offer voluntary training so you can see who has a sort of lean toward leadership”, Larry says, “because not everyone wants to be a leader or a supervisor”. He then asks the panellists how they go about selecting frontline supervisors when promoting from within.

“When you give the person the promotion” asks Larry, “is it good for them to be in charge of the same crew they came from, or is it better to go to a different crew?”

What about cases where supervisors come from outside? How can the safety outcomes be optimised?

Pro tip on finding these unofficial leaders: “If you get them all in a room and ask them a controversial question, see who everyone turns their eyes to” suggests Peter.

A growing skillset will induce more confidence:

Hearing all of these on-the-ground insights from our panellists, it’s clear that successful companies understand the centrality of frontline supervisors. Serving as the connection between management and the shop floor, frontline supervisors have to navigate the space between peer and leader. Nevertheless, with practical, personalised training and plenty of one-on-one time with the trainers or consultants, and with other managers, they can become significantly more effective.

In Sarah’s words, “we need them to step into the role and evolve into strong leaders that enable world-class safety. Without the engagement of the frontline supervisor, nothing you do will really stick. There’s no doubt about it: they are a group worth investing in”. “One-on-one”, Larry concludes. “That’s definitely your best bet”.

Take Aways

  • Frontline supervisors need to be involved, but coach them on people skills.
  • Encourage proactive actions such as safety walks on top of the reactive ones.
  • Plan at every level and at every opportunity.
  • When promoting to supervisory level, build confidence through appropriately challenging leadership situations.
  • New supervisors should identify the influencers in their team and build engagement.
  • Managers should keep in constant touch to encourage safety skills development and new horizons.
¹ Based on SafeConnection panels on North America, Europe, The Middle East, India and Asia.
² All opinions expressed in here are purely those of the panelists. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of SafeStart and the panelists’ companies.
³ For more information about the SafeConnection Expert Panels and to watch past or current sessions, please visit

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