Aretha Franklin famously sang about respect from her partner in the 1967 hit song of the same name, demanding she be taken seriously. And people must act the same way in the workplace.

We’re taught from an early age to respect our elders, our seniors, those with more experience or those in positions of authority. Yet respect has to be earned, and an essential way to earn respect is to give it.

Respect is a two-way mutual process

After leaving Sandhurst with a commission, I quickly learned that having insignia on your shoulder is not what commands respect from the soldiers you lead. In fact the opposite was true – I had to truly respect their knowledge, experience, dedication and loyalty.

Mannequins saluting

Sadly, I often come across managers and supervisors in the workplace that have little or no respect for their workforce. I hear them talk about and refer to their team members in derogatory terms. There’s often a general expectation that the workforce cuts corners and takes shortcuts in procedures for their own benefit, when in truth the motivation for such unsafe behaviour is often driven by the manager.

This lack of respect is demonstrated by a failure to involve the workforce, not listening to their ideas, not giving good quality feedback and only looking for unsafe practices. In reality most behaviour exhibited by most people is safe and deserves just as much attention, but positively.

Behaviour accounts for most communication

The safety culture of your organisation cannot be separated from safety leadership. And great leadership is about involvement, communication and motivation. Failure to provide these results in low morale and poor performance. If you expect poor standards that’s probably what you’ll get because your expectations will be broadcast via your behaviour – which accounts for most of your communication.

Respecting your workforce is crucial to achieving success. They are a great asset. In fact they possibly know more about the job than you do. If you treat them appropriately they share knowledge and experience that improves safety, but only if they think you deserve it.

Involve, listen, share and above all go out and catch them working safely.