High Performance in Process Safety ֠Balanced Approach

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    April 3, 2019
  • Duration:
    30 minutes
  • Skill Level:
  • PDHs:

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The core of high performance in process safety is managing risks to prevent incidents from happening. In a high-performance process safety culture, there a balance between process safety management system and the human factor which is enabled by leadership. In such a culture the organization makes a step beyond compliance. Focus on compliance gives a culture in which people in the organization forget to think because of blindly following the processes and procedures. This increases the risk on incidents happening. Leadership at all levels in the organization can achieve success by keeping the balance between management system and human factor creating a high-performance culture.

An essential element in the journey to a high-performance process safety culture is competency management. In other words, having and continuously working on the right and balanced mix of competencies at all levels of the organization. Realizing that right and balanced mix of competencies is an experience driven transformation journey resulting in a high-performance process safety culture.

Why is the balance important for the result?

The example of climbing the Mont Blanc or any other challenging mountain shows the importance of the balance and that you need to go beyond compliance to realize an effect.

For the safety of the climbers rules and regulations have been developed and converted into management systems. The guides that lead groups of climbers to the summit have to follow the rules and regulation. As in the industry, if something happens with one of the climbers the guide has to go to court. Despite rigorous systems in place, incidents and casualties should be accounted for. The culture of climbing the Mont Blanc is changed and driven by money or operational performance of the guides. Also, the perception of the climbers has changed from seeing the Mont Blanc as challenging mountain to climb to an easy mountain to walk up influenced by declining competencies of climbers and guides. This trend cannot be changed by focusing just on the system but also requires attention to change the mindset of the climbers (human factor).

In a high-performance process safety culture the balance between the system and the human factor is embedded in the organization and continuously facilitated by leadership (see fig.1). On the one hand, there is focus need on the technical soundness of the installation and a management system to manage the barriers. On the other hand, having a culture in which there is focus on continuous improving with good set of values and beliefs. This supported by craftsmanship (good balanced set of competencies) at all levels of the organization. This all will not work if the client and stakeholders do not appreciate the effort of the organization. Secondly, at the core of everything what is done in the organization risk thinking is at the core.

How to realize a high-performance process safety culture?

The most effective way to realize a high-performance process safety culture is an experience driven transformation journey.

One of the success factors of an experience driven transformation journey is that people are from the start aware of their improvement potential in a way that they admit themselves that they can improve. Something like an “ah” moment and becoming aware of the blind spots. I understand now where we can improve in system, culture, technical status and competencies and believe in it that we can improve.

To understand the culture, it is definitely necessary to get an understanding of the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people in the organization from leadership to the shop floor. This information can be gathered by standard methods such as questionnaires but also with advanced tools like Katalyst anonymous online workshops in which the approach unveils the attitudes, values and beliefs behind the façade people tend to show.

All the perspectives at the end give a realistic picture of the current safety culture by visualizing the blind spots and creating an environment in which it is safe to become conscious incompetent (the “AH” moment) as an organization and person.

Then in cooperation with leadership in the organization developing a transformation roadmap to realize the vision or in other words the picture of the future. It is a roadmap which is owned by the people and leadership in the organization because they have developed it themselves only facilitated by the consultants. Starting journey with the organization and realizing high performance is a stage by stage process. It is like climbing a mountain to go first to base camp and that camp by camp to reach the summit. Now, you are at the summit the decent is the tricky part of the journey and evenly important. This also accounts for developing the competencies stage by stage – need continuous step back to understand the changes, f.e. new people.

How can competency management contribute to the success of a high-performance cultures?

A competency is a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, that a person needs to successfully perform a job. In other words, there are visible competencies as technical/ management system skills and non-visible competencies as human/social/leadership competencies (iceberg of competencies).

As craftsmanship and attitude/behaviors are essential aspects to make a high-performance process safety culture successful, competency development is making a difference in the success of a high-performance culture. Naturally in the process industry there is more attention to develop the technical skills of the people in the organization. In this context, the balance of competencies – technical, human, leadership, system competencies also make the difference.

There are some actuals threats impacting the process safety performance. For example, as in recent crises years, there has not been enough attention to competency development or a lot of senior people are leaving the companies. Another threat is that people do not know the assets anymore because the assets are too reliable.

The opportunity is there to invest in the competency development in an experience driven transformation journey facilitated by leadership. Such an experience driven transformation journey for competency development has two components:

A)    Individual development: Picture current competencies – experience driven development plan – execute journey – evaluate and update picture

B)    Organizational development: Picture current culture, knowledge, and structure (roles and succession planning) – Organizational journey – execute journey – evaluate and adjust picture

Integral embedded in the first component (A) is the learning process supported by the different pedagogic tools like coaching, experience learning settings, training on the job, classroom training, e-learning, and learning by doing. The learning process depends on: prior knowledge, motivation, memory, understanding, intellectual engagement. Leadership can support the learning process by continuously challenging to prevent normalization from happening.

What is the role of leadership in realizing a high-performance process safety culture?

The key role for leadership is to understand that the road to success is to keep the balance between a system driven and human driven performance improvement to realize the results. Leadership adapts to facilitative leadership competencies, like results focus, managing the boundaries, motivational learning, challenging, etc., that enables them to realize the results.

People have the feeling and motivation that they can improve and they are in the starting position to take the steps for improvement.

Leadership use the assessment to create a clear picture of what Process Safety Excellence mean for the company = creating the beacon for making the transformation plan/ roadmap.


Role of leadership at all levels in this process is to create an environment in which the experience driven transformation journey to high performance process safety culture is possible by keeping the balance between system/technical soundness and human factor. It is about improving the management system (boundaries in which people are working) and developing the culture and people in the organization. The process safety management competency development journey is a one of core themes.


The result

A high-performance process safety culture in which people are actively aware of where they are related to best practices goes beyond compliance. It is aculture where there is a continuous challenge of the current procedures and behaviors by trying to identify blind spots. A culture in which competency development is not seen as a cost but as core to make the experience driven journey to high-performance culture a success. This committed culture has risk based thinking at its core.

Fig. 1   System and human related elements. Both are mutually dependent. If one fails, the other might not be able to compensate. Leadership has to ensure the right balance.

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