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Disasters often caused by failures in management

Management failures are often found to be at the root of disasters, Mott Macdonald director Richard Williams told attendees at the ICE/ Prestige Lecture last week.

Williams cited the 1988 Clapham Junction rail crash, which occurred after a train ran through a faulty green signal killing 35 people. The faulty signal was caused by incorrect wiring, and the subsequent investigation focused on the supervision of the rewiring work.    

“Leaders are not only responsible for direct action, but also their effect on others,” said Williams. “Safe leadership is when leaders understand risks and how to achieve quality. Supervision needs to run from the top to the ground. Failures of supervision have led to catastrophic results.”    

According to Williams, systemic failure of management is one of the greatest risks facing a company.    

“Employees at work copy behaviour of their leaders at work, but many leaders don’t understand their impact. Unsafe behaviour is when top management doesn’t welcome questioning; boardroom bullying occurs and the senior management don’t understand the product process it is responsible for,” said Williams.    

The Prestige Lecture is run jointly by the ICE, the Institution of Structural Engineers, the Health and Safety Executive and the Standing Committee on Structural Safety.

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