A moment of truth is an interaction that has the opportunity to make or break a relationship. If you think about going out to dinner there are a number of interactions from making the reservation, to valet parking, to seating, to ordering, to food quality, to payment of the bill that occur. Some of these interactions have a greater impact on the likelihood that you will return, or refer others to the restaurant. For example, if the food at the restaurant is exceptional, but you had to call twice to make a reservation, you might still return despite being slightly annoyed with the reservation process.
The same concept can be applied to safety. There are certain interactions between leaders and employees that you need to get right because what you do (or don't do) sends a message about your personal value for safety. For leaders that don't spend a lot of time in the plant, it is even more critical to ace these moments since the opportunities to interact with front-line workers are less frequent.
When leaders are asked to identify their moments of truth, the most common responses are: plant visits, town hall meetings, accident investigations, and safety observations. As they think more broadly about their opportunities to influence safety, they see the impact they can have on safety through written communications, in budget meetings, performance reviews, contract negotiations, etc.
Leaders that are aware of their moments of truth and have the skills to behave in transformational ways at these moments can have a significant positive impact on the safety climate in their organization.
Take the following example:
You are on a plant visit, and you walk up to a four-person job and see no imminent danger. You see the following: (1) a clean and well-kept work area, (2) an open hole barricaded off, (3) four locks on a control panel, (4) two employees wearing all the required PPE, and (5) two employees who are not wearing their PPE. What do you do?
A typical response would be to get the attention of the two workers and tell them to get their PPE on. The question is will this approach have any lasting positive impact on the safety climate? Probably not, except that employees will be sure to put their PPE on next time they see you coming.
Consider an alternative approach. What would be the impact on the safety climate if you complimented the group on everything you saw right about the situation and explained why that was important to you BEFORE you addressed the PPE issue? How would the dynamic between employees change if you asked the two people who were not wearing PPE why they weren't following the rules, then asked the two people who were in compliance why they didn't say anything to their coworkers?
Transformational leaders leverage moments of truth to communicate their value for safety. In these critical moments leaders engage employees in safety, helping them understand the 'why' behind the 'what' and develop a clearer understanding of what they could have done differently, and why it is expected moving forward.