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Developing an Effective Steering Committee

by Terry McSween

One of the significant advances in Behavioral Safety (BBS) over the past ten years has been the documented improvement in how well companies are able to sustain such initiatives for many years. One of the keys to this success is establishing an effective Steering Committee to oversee and manage the process.

Another, perhaps less obvious factor contributing to long-term success of Behavioral Safety, is the identification of an employee to serve as the BBS “point of contact” (POC) on each crew or in each work group. A BBS POC is particularly important in organizations that are too large to have a representative from each work group on the Steering Committee. Generally, to be effective, a Steering Committee should have between eight and twelve members, with fifteen being the absolute maximum number. More than fifteen members may provide broad representation but severely compromises the effectiveness of the team for problem solving and decision-making. For such companies, identifying a POC for crews not represented on the Steering Committee is an important element for effective communication and support. Each crew or work group needs someone to serve as the POC for BBS. For example, an organization with 25 different crews will usually be better served by a Steering Committee with 12 members and 13 POC’s, rather than trying to have either a Steering Committee of 25 or Steering Committee members trying to represent crews they are not regularly part of.

We have worked with some organizations that have extremely large, pre-existing Steering Committees. At best, that type of structure functions well for communication purposes but usually at the price of less effective problem solving and decision-making. We have found that it serves such organizations to move towards either (1) a smaller Steering Committee with a larger group of POC’s to ensure representation and communication with every crew, or (2) multiple Steering Committees. Which option is best is largely determined by the organizational structure and whether the Steering Committees can be representative of organizational units in a logical way.

The POC is a person who champions BBS on each crew. The selection criteria for a POC are generally the same as for Steering Committee members. An employee selected to be the BBS POC should be someone who is well respected by coworkers, someone who has a reputation for their personal commitment to safety, and someone who is comfortable talking in small groups.

The POCs serve as linking pins between crews and the Steering Committee. The POC basically serves as an extension of the Steering Committee and is the conduit for communication between crews and the Steering Committee. The responsibilities are very similar to those of typical Steering Committee members, except that they do not routinely attend the monthly Steering Committee meeting. Their primary responsibility is to encourage their coworkers to participate in observations. In addition, these employees often will lead discussions related to BBS in crew safety meetings. They may, for example, review observation data and discuss action plans developed by the Steering Committee. They also ensure issues identified by their crews are clearly communicated to the Steering Committee.

Not every organization needs to worry about establishing the BBS POC function. For many of today’s larger, more complex organizations, however, establishing a formal Steering Committee/POC structure may be critical to the long-term survival of a BBS process.

Terry McSween, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Quality Safety Edge, shares his experience on a current topic in Behavioral Safety. Terry welcomes your questions and invites you to email him about an issue you would like to see him address in future columns.