Increase Executive Safety Consciousness Without Committing Career Suicide
A safety policy can be tough to enforce if the CEO violates it. Here's how to keep executives in line without getting fired.
While the "safety talk" is universally acclaimed, implementing and enforcing a fleet safety policy can come at a high cost to a fleet manager's career. When enforcing policy, always do so in a professional, productive manner, explaining the consequences of making exceptions and referencing the company safety policy regarding violations. In most cases, executives will comply and use it as a "teaching moment" for their subordinates.
Talking the “safety talk” is universal. When a fleet manager communicates safety — training, policy, tracking driver performance — everyone is a fan. After all, how can any business professional object to taking responsibility for the safety of employees, their families, and the general public?
Unfortunately, walking the “safety walk” is sometimes less popular, especially as it pertains to the establishment and enforcement of policy. Nowhere is this more evident than when dealing with the most senior executives in a company. Indeed, they are the ones who cheer most loudly when safety is the subject, while quietly creating exceptions to those same efforts. Fleet managers, for decades, have felt the need to walk this tightrope very, very gingerly, as they try to balance their own responsibilities with the nagging fear they are committing career suicide.
The problems usually begin with policy. Good fleet policy should always address safety, and that usually includes consequences for violation of that policy. Where things can get sticky is when that violation is committed by some senior VP or C-level executive.
One of the basic requirements in establishing fleet policy — particularly one that carries with it some consequence for violations — is to get management support and endorsement as high up the organizational chart as possible. While this is important, it doesn’t necessarily mean fleet managers can rest easy when executives are culpable. The consistent execution of a safety policy can be enhanced with some simple wording from the CEO in his or her endorsement. Here’s an example of a CEO endorsement that should get everyone on the same page:
“I have charged (fleet manager) with the responsibility of executing this policy on behalf of the company, the board of directors, and our senior management. It will be executed without exception, and all drivers of company-provided vehicles — regardless of title or position in the company — will be held accountable for their performance.”
The next step is to continually remind all drivers of their vehicle operation responsibilities. Whenever safety is communicated, whether as an item on the company website, during meetings and conference calls, or as part of any other communication, those words from the CEO should be repeated, over and over. This will help the message sink in.
When executives run afoul of the safety policy (and fleet policy in general), another step that will help to soften the blow is to carefully develop relationships with those executives who drive company-provided vehicles. Some will be part of the overall fleet — sales and service executives, for example — and others will be driving perk vehicles, provided as part of an overall compensation package.
Begin with stakeholders: vice presidents and directors of the function most common in the fleet (sales, service, delivery, etc.) both in the field and in the corporate office. Include them in fleet decision making (to a point); get their input when working up vehicle selection and specification, and in policy decisions. Communicate often, both formally and informally.
Next, begin to work your way up the C-level chain — COO, CFO, and CEO. These are the executives who others will go to when they are looking for exceptions to policy, and relief for themselves and others from the consequences of violations. This can begin when the policy is first developed and implemented, as the CEO or president is asked to review and endorse it.
Here’s another way to work toward a solid executive relationship: Take a personal interest and participate actively as it pertains to the executive’s vehicle. Track preventive maintenance (PM), and work with him or her to schedule PM via a local repair facility. Negotiate with the repair shop for pick up, drop off, and loaner vehicles. Arrange for at-home or at-the-office detailing, or even onsite oil changes. Anything that makes the executive’s day easier and more convenient will help to develop a good relationship that’ll serve you well later.
Without C-level executive support of a safety policy, a fleet manager's hands will be tied when he or she tries to enforce it. The consistent execution of a safety policy can be enhanced with some simple wording from the CEO in his or her endorsement.