RONALD K. LANE
U.S. Army South, Safety
Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Over the years, leaders have set the example for others to follow and decided the punishment for those who didn’t. Leaders have made the standards of behavior known to those serving under them so there is no question about what is expected — how they will conduct operations, support and even their personal lives. But in day-to-day actions, traditional leaders can’t be everywhere; and that leaves a question, “Who’s really a leader?” Everyone acknowledges those in command positions, but what about others? How about you, private? Are you a leader? You bet!
A leader is not just someone in a designated position, but anyone who has influence over the actions of others. If Pvt. Jones influences Pfc. Smith to always wear his seat belt when driving, he’s a leader. If Jones tactfully lets Spc. Stevens know that what he plans to do is not the best decision, and then Stevens modifies his plan for the better, Jones is a real leader. He’s got potential.
Let’s examine what made Jones a safety leader.
His squad leader, Sgt. Davey, talks to him all the time and is well respected by his Soldiers. Davey knows what his Soldiers like and don’t like. He knows their weekend plans and tells them if they are about to make a bad choice for activities. He knows the standards for the tasks his squad must accomplish and makes sure his Soldiers know and strictly adhere to those standards. When someone takes an acceptable shortcut, he must do it properly. He must understand that taking the wrong shortcut may result in injury or death. Squad leaders like Davey are perhaps the most important link in the safety chain because they are the leaders who work more directly with the Soldiers. Soldiers like Jones often emulate these first-line leaders.
Davey follows his platoon leadership’s directions. They understand the standards they must meet as well as the time they have to get the mission completed. However, they also know that a task done wrong could cause an accident and reduce the time needed to execute the task, potentially degrading the unit’s mission capability by loss of equipment and/or manpower.
The platoon sergeant and platoon leader follow the guidance given to them by the first sergeant and company commander, who are following guidance from the battalion commander and command sergeant major and so on. Everyone has a leader above them.
Safety is by nature a top-down program with standards set by the organization’s top leader. That leader lets his subordinates know what is expected by words and deeds. Notice that both words and deeds are required.
Words alone are like shooting blanks; they make a lot of noise and smoke, but do nothing to hit the target. Deeds are the bullets that punch holes on the target or which defeat the enemy. Without the deeds to back up the words, everyone in the chain of command knows the words are merely alibis in the event something goes wrong. They, and the Soldiers beneath them, know the passion for the program is really not there. Standard violations don’t matter, and even a little dishonest reporting is OK as long as the boss looks good and has plausible deniability.
Too many people still think that safety takes a backseat to effective operations. However, good leaders know a safe unit is more effective in combat and training because of reduced equipment damage and minimizing the loss or injury of Soldiers. Good leaders make safety real by setting the example in their own life and work. They hold their subordinates and buddies alike to the task standards at hand and hold them accountable for meeting them.
Good leaders — both in designated positions of leadership and Soldiers who care enough to protect their comrades — abound in our Army. Good leaders, regardless of rank, use safety as one of many tools to conduct more successful operations and increase mission effectiveness. An Army safe is an Army strong!