Cultivating a SAFETY Culture Through Leadership

By MAJ KEATON ASKEW and MSGT JAMES MUSGRAVE, 60th Air Mobility Wing Safety, Travis AFB, CA

Leaders have a responsibility for good order and discipline, setting the tone and establishing various cultures within their units. Whether it is a culture that values military heritage or a culture of innovation, the goal is always to be positive and constructive.

Unit chants, patches, mottos, morale shirts, intramural sports, First Fridays, and more are all aimed at establishing a cohesive team with one common ethos: effectively accomplishing the mission. In essence, a cohesive work family, built through camaraderie and relationships, affects mission success. The cohesive ethos highlighted herein is an “informed” safety culture that enables the mission and protects our most valuable resource—our Airmen.

How do you foster an informed safety culture within your unit?

Throughout the process of teambuilding, things that are important to supervisors naturally become valued to individual Airmen on respective teams. Therefore, establishing a collectively safe and healthful bond typically starts with the commander and quickly becomes the model within the unit. Whether it’s wearing proper personal protective equipment, ensuring checklist discipline, or making responsible driving decisions, entry-level Airmen of any organization can have a significant effect on a unit’s safety culture. Simply put, every Airman at every level participates in a safety system of processes.

The basis for an informed, safety-conscious organization is foundational attributes and the four subcultures, which are reporting, learning, just, and flexible. This informed culture is developed through teambuilding and relationships in which supervisors ensure a supported environment.

Clearly, in our Air Force, we insist on having an organization and environment free of discrimination and harassment—that is, a just culture—one in which all Airmen have a sense of security from reprisal. When we feel isolated or targeted, we will not contribute to a culture of reporting.

In a reporting culture, leaders receive what are known as leading and lagging indicators from mishaps and hazard report investigations. Leading indicators are the prevention measures to stay ahead of risk, whereas lagging indicators come from after-the-fact events. Both help in the overall data analytics process.

To support sufficient reporting, however, Airmen need to know and understand standards and procedures through a culture of learning. The learning process includes idea sharing for process improvement. Furthermore, supervisors must empower Airmen at all levels and foster a value of flexibility to allow for process and behavioral changes. Effective process improvement and innovation require all four subcultures to mold and meld into an overall informed culture. The linchpin of this culture-developing process requires teamwork, communication, and participation at all levels.

An informed safety culture ultimately enables mission success and protects our most valuable resource—our Airmen. Remember, creating a culture like this in your unit can start with just one person—you. What are you doing today to make your unit’s safety attitude stronger?

As Maj Gen Sam Barrett, 18th Air Force Commander, Scott AFB, IL, said, “Safety is not an additional duty … safety is a responsibility across all aspects of our mission.” The 60th Air Mobility Wing Safety Program has 22 roles feeding into the four subcultures, and any given Airman is directly tied to one or more roles steering the wing toward great success, ultimately ensuring that there are no bounds.