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Danger, lack of leaders

Balfour chief and ex-army boss and say weak leadership is undermining construction safety.

Leadership training in construction must be improved if the industry is to meet its “moral duty” to keep employees safe at work, Balfour Beatty chief executive Ian Tyler warned this week.

Tyler said that without a culture of leadership training -similar to that seen across the military - construction will struggle to deliver its aspiration for “exceptional safety outcomes”.

His remarks came during the closing address at 21st anniversary Capita Symonds safety lecture. The lecture was given by former head of the British Army Lord Richard Dannatt.

“I don’t think our focus on leadership training is anywhere near as good as it ought to be,” he told an audience of senior industry bosses. “We have a lot to learn from the military in this respect.”

Lord Dannatt’s lecture highlighted the role that excellent leadership and training plays
in ensuring that military operations in inherently dangerous environments can be delivered without exposing soldiers to unnecessary risks.

Construction parallels

Dannatt drew parallels between construction and the Army and insisted that, despite violence being at the core of military activity, lessons about safety culture and training could be learnt by the industry.

“They are manpower-intensive. Both involve a lot of heavy and dangerous equipment or machinery, both require the ability to work under pressure and often in an unpleasant environment,” he said. “Both find that their success comes from close teamwork, and both know that the heart of close teamwork is effective leadership .”

Dannatt said evidence from recent construction industry successes, such as that seen at the Olympic Park, demonstrated that exceptional safety performance can be achieved when a similar rigorous approach is taken to project leadership.

“Do we just leave it to the workforce and the rank and file to make up their own minds and muddle through,” he questioned. “Or do we really get our heads around the leadership challenge, take charge, form and drive the plan, and lead with confidence and conviction?”

Tyler agreed that the Army’s approach to leadership training, was something that construction should learn from.

“The construction industry broadly employs 10% of the UK workforce,” he added. “We are not always picking superstars but we demand outcomes that are exceptional. If we cannot create for them then we are going to have a big problem.”


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