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Leadership and Impression Management – People are watching!

Case Studies: By Dennis Keay

As a senior manager in a business, is the above image something you’d accept?

This is what I found some years ago in one Australian business when I was engaged to help them improve productivity. And not a small business either…it has over 100 employees and operates nationally.

So, why and how was this allowed to happen?

The why is pretty simple…the worker in the area wanted to get the job done!

The ‘how was it allowed to happen’ was because no-one prevented the worker from doing it…and that is just a symptom of a bigger problem.

I’m not trying to be critical here, but fundamentally it’s a senior management issue! Sure, everyone’s busy, but sometimes senior managers can inadvertently be sending the wrong signals. They may be snowed under with paperwork and ‘management stuff’ that needs their attention, but if they don’t get out on the factory floor, and look with wide eyes, then they may miss a lot of stuff that they are ultimately responsible for…and safety is one of them.  Senior managers bear a duty of care for their employees, and this means they should set the standard and walk-the-talk.

There’s a chain of command of course, and everyone down that chain bears some responsibility. No excuses! So it’s not just senior management’s responsibility, but people tend to follow the lead of their superiors, and so, if it seems ‘acceptable to the boss’, then they often assumed that it is acceptable…and they get what they accept.

The Point

There are a few of points, actually.

  1. As the senior most leader in a business, people are going to judge what’s important and what’s acceptable by your actions, not simply your words. It’s called ‘Impression Management’.

    If you care about safety, the get out of your office and look for issues…then do something about them.

  2. You get what you accept!

    This goes for safety, quality, employee behaviour, and so on. As a leader, you need to set and enforce the standards that the company operates by.

  3. By simply walking around a business it talks to me. It tells me something about the how the business is run and what many of the issues are. The picture above is an example.

    As another example, I did some work for a large manufacture that had 5 large buildings in a row onsite, each with a large doorway exiting onto a common roadway. To prevent pedestrians simply walking across each exit, there was a spring-loaded gate on each side that the pedestrian had to open before crossing. 5 buildings, 10 gates!On the first day onsite I was being given a tour by one of the managers. While walking along the roadway I could see the 10 gates…about 6 of them were open…bent or rusted or the springs had failed. This ‘spoke’ to me. I asked the manager, “When was the last serious lost time injury?”. He looked at me and said, “Who’s been talking to you?”  It turned out that just over a week before some maintenance was being done of some of the production equipment. It should have been electrically isolated. It wasn’t! Someone turned the equipment on and two people instantly lost fingers!

    The fact that the damaged gates were there for everyone to see, including Management, yet nothing was done about them, was a clear indicator that senior management was willing to accept poor safety standards. A lost-time-injury was pretty much inevitable in my eyes.


This article is primarily about impression management and ‘you get what you accept’, but as a side note, because it’s important, I believe that every business should conduct a Health and Safety Risk Assessment on a regular basis. It should include people from management plus representatives who work in each area of the business being assessed. It’s not a tick-in-the-box exercise, and it doesn’t have to be complex, but it does need to be formalised and follow a disciplined procedure. It’s there to protect everyone’s safety and also to protect Management from legal action due to negligence.  There’s a particularly effective Risk Assessment and Management process that I use, which I learned when I was managing a facility many years ago. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to learn more about it.

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