Managing Safety Performance NewsFlash

Leadership In Practice

The Flash is primarily intended to serve as content for a toolbox safety meeting, following the Ask, Don’t Tell process. But this month’s edition is aimed at leaders and, in particular, leading in a crisis. There are important lessons to be learned; the worst time to learn them is in the middle of a crisis.


No doubt you’ve seen and read about the train derailment spilling hazardous chemicals in a small town in Ohio. The event has put leaders in business and government center stage. 

No matter what their role, the common and defining characteristic of leaders is that they all have followers. In this case, the role of the leaders is to manage and minimize the damage from the derailment, and effectively communicate with the public – their followers. If you’ve ever been involved in a crisis like this, you appreciate the challenge involved with each of those two roles. Getting the hazard under control is tough: dealing with concerned and effected citizens is even tougher.

Called upon to communicate with the public have been a variety of leaders in government: two governors, state and federal environmental officials, and a mayor, who lives in the town. In your operation, it would be easy to find their counterparts. As to how well those communications have gone, here’s a report from the Wall Street Journal: 

As one local resident put it, “I have absolutely no faith whatsoever. The answers they are giving could be true. But they aren’t delivering them in a way that’s going to make anybody feel better.”

Of course, what makes a crisis like this so tough is that, in the moment, there are limits to what people know and can be sure about. Sometimes the honest answer is, “We just don’t know.”


If you ever find yourself in a crisis – big or small – as a leader, there are always two principles to keep at the forefront: they should serve as the foundation for any communication with your  followers:
  • The most important objective is always the protection of human life: that’s The Case for Safety.
  • The best way to deal with people is to follow the Principle of Honest Dialog: When it comes to safety, leaders and followers owe it to each other to be honest.

Following these principles won’t make things easier, but it will make dealing with your followers go lot better. 

Paul Balmert
February 2023

Spread the word

Share on Facebook
Share on Linkdin