Categories: a-port-information, BusinessPublished On: 29.09.20222817 words14.1 min read
Guidance

Leading for safety: a guide for leaders in the maritime industry

Updated 28 September 2022

About this guide

This guide from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) aims to help leaders and senior officers in the maritime industry improve their leadership and people management skills in order to ensure safe operations. It contains tips and best practices for 10 core leadership qualities for effective safety leadership, split into 4 categories.

Why this guide is needed

There is well-established research both in the maritime and other hazardous industries that confirms the huge impact of leadership on the safety of operations. While the International Safety Management (ISM) code has been a major step forward in improving safety standards, its effectiveness depends heavily on how leaders approach its implementation. This in turn depends heavily on the skills and qualities of leaders – both at sea, at the ship-shore interface, and on-shore.

Virtually all maritime leaders want to do their best for safety, this is not in doubt. But sometimes real life makes things difficult – time pressures, economic constraints and everyday circumstances sometimes seem to conspire against good safety leadership. This guide is based not just on theory but also on real life, including consultation with over 65 seafarers and shore managers about everyday safety leadership challenges. You will see that some of it is common sense, but nearly everyone can benefit from a reminder.

How to use this guide

We suggest you read through the guide and consider how each piece applies to you. You could also ask a colleague or one of your subordinates to give you feedback on how well you are doing and how you could improve. We also hope that you keep the guide for future reference.

What matters, however, is how leaders behave in everyday situations. Your crews will draw inferences about your safety leadership based on what they see you do and what they hear you say, far more than what you might declare in a speech or a written communication.

Where to go for more information

You can find out more as well as provide feedback on this guide by contacting the Risk, Analysis and Prevention Branch, Tel: 023 8032 9100. You can also log on to the MCA website to find out about other Human Element work by the MCA.

The 10 core safety leadership qualities

Confidence and authority

Instil respect and command authority

Lead the team by example

Draw on knowledge and experience

Remain calm in a crisis

Empathy and understanding

Practise “tough empathy”

Be sensitive to different cultures

Recognise the crew’s limitations

Motivation and commitment

Motivate and create a sense of community

Place the safety of crew and passengers above everything

Openness and clarity

Communicate and listen clearly

Confidence and authority

Instil respect and command authority

The ability to instil respect from, and command authority over, the crew is probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of leadership. In many ways it happens on its own when you get everything else right. Leaders get respect and command authority when crews believe that you:

  • are willing to exercise the power vested in your position
  • possess the necessary knowledge and competence
  • understand their situation and care about their welfare
  • are able to communicate clearly
  • are prepared to act confidently and decisively

Why it’s important

Without authority and respect it is difficult for leaders to influence the behaviour of their crews, including safety-related behaviour. Crews may establish their own individual or group values, attitudes and behaviours, or else follow other perceived leaders lower down in the hierarchy. This can lead to poor compliance with standards and excessive risk-taking.

Research shows that some Masters feel that their authority is being undermined by increasing governance from shore-based managers under ISM (for example, through the Designated Person Ashore requirements). Also, some Masters feel that the increase in the volume of management standards and procedures is undermining their authority. These areas are important to address.

What you can do

Leaders need to tailor leadership style to fit their individual personalities, but there are some common features:

Things that tend to work

  • Have confidence in your decisions and stick to them.
  • Admit mistakes when you are sure you are wrong.
  • Demonstrate staff care and respect through everyday actions.
  • Earn respect through your actions.
  • Try to achieve better mutual ship-shore management understanding (for example, through meetings, informal contacts or job rotation).

Things that tend not to work

  • Demanding respect from subordinates.
  • Using the power vested in your position as a threat.
  • Refusing to listen when challenged.
  • Acting unnecessarily tough when there is no justification.
  • Ignoring shore-based management.
  • Blaming shore-based management for the consequences of decisions.
  • Shore-managers being too prescriptive with Masters.

Lead the team by example

Leading the team by example is the combination of two things: being seen to be following the rules you promote and doing your share of the work as an important part of the team.

Why it’s important

People are less likely to follow any rule or practice if you do not follow it yourself – this is especially true for safety rules.

Traditionally, Masters may have regarded themselves more as authorities to be obeyed rather than team players. However, with increasing safety requirements and fluid labour markets, sometimes with high crew turnover, it’s increasingly important to use leadership styles that demonstrate shared safety values through actions, not just words.

Things that tend to work

  • Always be seen to follow simple, visible safety rules during everyday activities.
  • Be seen to be playing an active role, not just behind the scenes.
  • Occasionally be seen to help in subordinates’ tasks where necessary.

Things that tend not to work

  • Applying hard discipline for non-compliance while flouting rules yourself.
  • Avoiding “getting your hands dirty” with subordinates’ tasks.

Draw on knowledge and experience

It’s evident that adequate knowledge and experience are prerequisites for effective leadership. In the context of safety leadership this means in particular:

  • good knowledge of safety-related regulations, codes and standards
  • experience and skills not only in technical and operational issues but also in people management

Why it’s important

Without factual safety knowledge, leaders cannot convince their crews that they are on top of safety issues and take it seriously themselves. Without people management skills, effective implementation of written safety regulations, codes and standards is very difficult. Research indicates that people management is an area for further improvement in the maritime industry. There is little dedicated formal training in this area at present.

Things that tend to work

  • Ensure that you are up-to-speed on safety requirements – do a refresher if necessary.
  • Consider your own strengths and weaknesses in people skills such as communication, motivation, team working, conflict resolution, crisis management, coaching and appraisal, discipline. If necessary apply for coaching or training in these areas.
  • You cannot be an expert in everything – so be prepared to acknowledge your own knowledge gaps and seek advice when you need to.

Things that tend not to work

  • Concentrating only on technical safety knowledge without considering people skills.

Remain calm in a crisis

People need strong, clear leadership in a crisis and rely more on their leaders than would otherwise be the case. Calmness in a crisis situation is a core requirement and will rely on many of the other leadership qualities described in this booklet including commanding authority and drawing on knowledge and experience. In particular, it is important to have confidence and trust in the crew’s abilities and emergency preparedness. Attendance at safety training and at response drilling is essential for all crew.

Why it’s important

Calmness in a crisis is particularly important in view of the additional complications of different languages and nationalities that make up the crew. These complications tend to be emphasised during emergencies.

Things that tend to work

  • Develop excellent knowledge of, and confidence in, the crew’s abilities.
  • Implement a firm policy on compulsory attendance at emergency safety training and response drills.

Things that tend not to work

  • Infrequent or inconsistent emergency drills.
  • Failure to address language issues in emergency planning.

Empathy and understanding

Practise “tough empathy”

Empathy is all about identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It requires the capacity to put yourself in another’s place, and good listening skills. Good leaders empathise realistically with employees and care intensely about the work they do – but this does not mean that they always agree with them or join in with concerns and grumbles. Instead they practise “tough empathy”, which means giving people what they need, rather than necessarily what they want. Another way of looking at this is “care with detachment”. An example is providing staff with safety footwear that is comfortable and safe, rather than spending more money to provide a more “fashionable” style.

Why it’s important

Tough empathy is important in order both to convey to your crew that you understand their situation, feelings and motives, and to enable you as a leader to take the right courses of action. The course of action that takes account of these desires, feelings and concerns while focusing on achieving appropriate overall objectives. In a safety context, this is especially important for encouraging compliance with safety rules by the crew.

Things that tend to work

  • Encourage crew to provide feedback on their situation, feelings and motives, both in everyday situations and formally in prearranged communication sessions.
  • Be prepared to acknowledge, mirror or summarise feedback to demonstrate understanding, then to explain your conclusions and intended course of action. If this is significantly different to what people have said they want, take the time to explain the case and illustrate why you are adopting this course of action.

Things that tend not to work

  • Making a point of listening to what people say, but then taking a different decision without any clear demonstration that you have heard and understood, or explanation of your rationale.
  • Over-emphasising “listening” at the expense of “decision-making” – this can lead to loss of respect and authority.

Be sensitive to different cultures

Good leaders are sensitive to differences in the social and behavioural norms of national cultures, yet at the same time value all crew members equally irrespective of their nationality. They know how to interpret different behavioural signals, and how best to react in order to exert the strongest influence.

Why it’s important

Crews of mixed nationalities are the norm. It has been clearly demonstrated that different national cultures may have different values and attitudes towards safety – for example in terms of fatalism, following rules or risk-taking. These values and attitudes can certainly be adapted, but sensitivity is needed to understand how best to proceed.

In some cases, mixed nationalities can lead to splitting into different social groups, often on the basis of language. This can be a serious barrier towards effective and consistent implementation of safety-related requirements, and social well-being of the crew as a whole. In emergency situations, language is of course also a potential risk area.

Things that tend to work

  • Ensure as far as possible that one “working language” is used even in social situations, and that crew have adequate training in this language.
  • Try to avoid a large “critical mass” of one nationality developing, where possible.
  • Learn the main features of typical behavioural signals exhibited by the nationalities represented on board – training in this is available.
  • Consciously seek to build trust, familiarity and integration of disparate social groups through organised or semi-organised social activities on-board.

Things that tend not to work

  • Ingrained value judgements about different nationalities.
  • Overdoing “political correctness” in terms of dealing with different nationalities, so that relations become forced and unnatural.

Recognise the crew’s limitations

Good leaders have a clear understanding of how operational and other demands can be realistically met by the crew, and are able to judge whether fatigue levels are such that action should be taken.

Why it’s important?

Commercial pressures continue to be intense in the maritime industry. Minimum manning levels and increased demands for reporting and paperwork mean that working hours are long and fatigue is a big issue. It has been shown that excessive fatigue and stress has an adverse effect on safety, and is one of the key causal factors of human error and poor decision-making.

Things that tend to work

  • Monitor and be aware of the signs of excessive fatigue in crew members.
  • Ensure that working hours are adequately supervised and recorded.
  • In the case of recurrent problems, discuss possible solutions with shore management.
  • Be able to decide when it is necessary to slow or halt operations temporarily.

Things that tend not to work

  • Relying on crew members to tell you if they are suffering from excess fatigue.
  • Accepting that high levels of fatigue are an acceptable norm.

Motivation and commitment

Create motivation and a sense of community

Research has shown that people in work are typically motivated by satisfaction or pride in completing a good job, and the feeling of being part of a team – not just money. Leaders have an important role to play in creating the conditions to encourage and maintain these “healthy” motivators. Demonstrating respect for staff is often an important part of this. Meeting someone’s basic needs is often the key to keeping their motivation high.

Why it’s important

Team spirit and pride in one’s work are primary contributors to the morale of a team. Low morale has been shown to have an adverse impact on error and violation rates, hence attention to these aspects is an important part of safety leadership.

Things that tend to work

  • Involve staff in aspects of management, for example development of detailed working and operational practices.
  • Ensure that feedback is always given on staff suggestions or questions.
  • Demonstrate interest in, and care for, crew welfare issues.
  • Take part in and encourage social activities involving the staff.

Things that tend not to work

  • One-off, staff morale-boosting initiatives or reward schemes that could be perceived as condescending or trivial.
  • Involving staff in theory, but in practice taking little note of their inputs.

Place the safety of crew and passengers above everything

It’s widely accepted that commitment from the leader is an essential for good safety. Leaders need to demonstrate this commitment clearly to their staff through their actions, rather than just through formal declarations or policy statements. In practice this means showing that the safety of crew and passengers is placed above everything else – “nothing we do is worth getting hurt for”.

Why it’s important

The commitment of the Master is vital to ensuring that operational pressures do not compromise safety. Clear demonstration of commitment is also essential to reinforce the shared values of the team with regard to safety and to help embed safety issues into everyday actions rather than being seen as an additional chore.

Things that tend to work

  • Make it clear to both superiors and subordinates that you are empowered to act according to your own judgement on safety matters, without sanction from others.
  • Ensure that safety issues are integrated into other everyday operational activities, including walkabouts, meetings and one-to-one discussions.

Things that tend not to work

  • Declaring that safety is your highest priority, then contradicting this in your subsequent actions (for example, by compromising safety in response to operational pressures).

Openness and clarity

Communicate and listen clearly

The ability to communicate clearly is important at all levels in an organisation. For a Master, the key issue is most often how to encourage better two-way rather than one-way communication, balancing authority and approachability. Being open to criticism is a part of this.

Why it’s important

Clear two-way communication and openness is necessary to achieve a “just” culture. A just culture is one in which individuals feel free to speak up about problems or mistakes without being blamed. In a just culture, safety incidents are not automatically blamed on individuals – however for repeated violations there is a transparent and well-defined progressive discipline policy. Without the openness inherent in this just culture, safety incidents and near-misses may be suppressed and unnecessary risks taken.

Things that tend to work

  • Hold safety tours and informal discussions with all levels.
  • Ensure that your listening skills are adequate. If necessary, get
  • training or coaching in effective listening.
  • implement an open door policy for crew members who wish to see you.
  • Ensure that there are no barriers preventing the open reporting of safety incidents and near-misses. If necessary, consider using a confidential reporting system.
  • Give positive feedback on what lessons have been learned through reporting of incidents and near-misses without apportioning blame, and demonstrate commitment to addressing root causes.
  • Cultivate an atmosphere of openness through your own personal management style and everyday interactions.

Things that tend not to work

  • Holding safety tours that become primarily an excuse to check up on crew and chastise them.
  • Declaring a “no-blame” policy without acknowledging the need for discipline.
  • Suggestion schemes that are poorly followed up and maintained.

MCA: Leading for safety