How does a growth mindset leader feel-think-act?


Annika Heumüller & Jim Elmer
Do you remember our post about the four safety leadership mindsets, with the growth mindset being the most beneficial when it comes to safety? Then you may have started to ask yourself how such a leader puts this mentality into practice in daily work. How does a safety leader with a growth mindset think, feel, and act?  Well… let us introduce you to Robert, a supervisor with a growth mindset on safety who shares his experiences with us.


What do you need in order to be able to carry out your work in a safe way?

Several days each week, I start my day with a safety walk in the production area. Walking past one of the machines one day, I notice that there is glass lying on the floor in the working area of the operator who is handling the machine. My alarm bells start going off, and I immediately approach her, saying calmly but with concern: “Emma, good morning.  Are you okay?  Did someone get hurt” (pointing to the glass on the floor).  Emma assured me that she was fine and explained that an empty sample jar had fallen to the floor earlier.  She further explained that it had not been cleaned up yet because they are working understaffed after several co-workers had called in sick. We talked about cause of the jar falling to the floor, and the ongoing risk of broken glass in the area.  I ask Emma what she needs in order to be able to carry out her work in a safe way without a rush, even if shorthanded. I find it important that my team thinks about safe solutions in ALL circumstances.  

After some good interactive dialog and agreement on a potential way forward, I offer to clean up the glass for her, but to her credit Emma says that she feels that she should do it.  As I continue my walk, it occurs to me that I need to reinforce to the full team that a mentality of safety first must always be present, even in times of stress.  I jot a note down as a reminder to myself to re-evaluate the topic with Emma and get her thoughts on how to best make this message most impactful to everyone.



Safety is our value which means that we act according to set standards.

From afar I recognize Henry, who is not wearing his safety glasses while operating on a machine where eye protection is required…. again. I feel my stomach turn as I think back on the last couple of times when I tried to have a conversation with Henry about this. We have explained the reasons and the dangers, and even asked him about improvement options, but Henry again isn’t wearing the safety glasses. The last time, I remind myself, I advised him that he could receive a formal warning. I approach Henry, ask him to take a time out, and join me in the break room.

After a brief conversation in which Henry refers to his extensive experience with the machine and again insists that safety glasses are not needed, it is clear that action is required. “Henry, last week I warned you about not wearing your safety glasses, but now I see you that you are again not wearing them. I have listened to your argument, but we have determined that there is a need for eye protection in this area and cannot accept that someone would use their own standard, thus putting themselves or others at risk. Safety is our value, which means that we act according to set standards. Therefore, please stop your work immediately, leave the shift and we will advise you of what disciplinary actions may ensue.


Living to safety value means also mobilising people to go from compliance to commitment.

After finishing the conversation, my nerves still frayed, I reflect that living to your values also means having the courage to deliver consequences when necessary.  However, I also believe that you cannot just discipline your way to the kind of safety culture that we want.  That approach may bring grudging compliance, but not safety as truly deeply felt value.  I felt that I needed to get a deeper understanding of Henry’s resistance, knowing that people do not come to work “hoping” to get hurt.  I clearly had not gotten to the bottom of why he was not complying, and maybe others felt similarly.  Despite the discipline he received, I vowed to try to connect with Henry at a deeper level and work towards a more solid foundation of understanding, trust and most of all, agreement on our safety values.  I needed to give that opportunity before more dramatic, and unfortunate action, would be necessary.

Have you experienced a growth mindset safety leader? To which extent are you one yourself? What’s the mindset Robert has and behavior he shows and how does it support a safe work climate? We are curious to read your stories!