U.S. Navy commander offers leadership tips at NSC event

U.S. Navy commander offers leadership tips at NSC event
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – To effect meaningful change, safety leaders need to focus on the things that they have the ability to influence. This advice came from former U.S. Navy Commander, Michael Abrashoff, during his keynote presentation at the opening ceremony of the National Safety Council Congress and Expo.

“There are things we don’t have control over; get over it! Focus on the things you have the ability to influence,” Abrashoff said. The former Navy Commander of USS Benfold took that same advice a few years ago when he was then given command of one of the worst-performing navy ships in the U.S.

When he took over USS Benfold, Abrashoff knew he was facing several challenges and had his work cut out for him: lowest retention rate, the ship was “dirty and filthy” and worst of all, the crewmembers did not feel safe, Abrashoff recalled.

He also knew then that the only variable he can really influence to improve the state of the navy vessel is the crew. It all comes down to leadership and engaging the workforce to have the same “sense of urgency about safety,” he said.

Abrashoff started to look at things from the perspective of the sailors he commanded. “I put myself in my crew’s boots and I communicated to them, in a language they understand, where we’re headed.”

He also encouraged the sailors to have a voice and to take ownership of their ship.

By the time Abrashoff left command of the USS Benfold, it was one of the top performing naval fleets in the entire U.S. Navy, he said. Abrashoff has since authored two bestselling books on leadership: It's Your Ship and Get Your Ship Together.

Many of Abrashoff’s leadership challenges then are the same challenges that safety leaders in the workplace in general are facing. The same principles for creating a culture of safety excellence in the workplace – such as recognizing good performance rather than reprimanding infractions, and getting the workers to engage in safety – were the very same principles he practiced to improve the conditions at his command post.

Abrashoff urged NSC Congress attendees to “spend some time thinking about what your own leadership story is about.”

“Our workforces look a lot alike,” he said. “The processes we put in place today, the culture that we create, need to be viewed (in a way) that we do this for the long-term.”

The NSC Congress and Expo is held in this city from October 3 to 8.  This year’s conference drew 12 per cent more attendees than last year, according to Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEO.

At the opening ceremony, Froetscher emphasized the conference’s them, Journey to Safety Excellence.

“It’s more than a theme for our congress,” Froetscher said, “it’s the way we think about safety excellence.”

Last year alone, 4,303 American workers were killed on the job and about three million were seriously injured.

Froetscher urged conference attendees to use their learning from the conference to determine their next steps as safety leaders “to impact the numbers” and reduce incidents of injuries and fatalities.

The NSC also used the opening ceremony to recognize companies and individuals receiving various safety awards. Out-going NSC chairman Joseph Ucciferro received the Flame of Life award; The Dow Chemical Company is the recipient of the Robert W. Campbell Award; and, Schneider Electric North America was given the Green Cross for Safety Medal.

The NSC also recognized 40 young safety professionals under it’s 40 under 40 Rising Stars of Safety program.

“These leaders of tomorrow have innovative ideas and offer fresh, valuable perspectives. We want to reach out to them and engage them in ongoing dialogue to continue to bring the best ideas to the safety industry,” Froetscher said in a statement.