In an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA, Capt. Hans Hederström, Chalmers University of Technology, Professor of the Practice, Dept. of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences, highlights that the maritime industry needs to quit perception that human is the creator of problems and focus instead on ways to empower human skills.
n addition, industry needs to develop leadership skills continuously to create trust and psychological safety within the team onboard; this subsequently will enhance safety performance, Capt. Hederström concludes.
SAFETY4SEA: How may the young generation think of the shipping industry? How should we work to raise industry’s profile to the next talents?
Capt. Hans Hederström: They might think of the shipping industry as a life without internet connection, away from friends and family. There are rumours about old fashioned leadership and in some cases problems of victimisation, harassment, and bullying. To attract the next generation of seafarers, information about the opportunities in the maritime industry must be presented on media platforms used by the young generation.
The following can be done to raise the profile of the maritime industry:
- Arrange for top quality internet connection.
- Leaders must stop complaining about poorly educated junior officers and engineers, they are eager to learn and want a coach and a mentor not an autocratic boss.
- The industry must put an end to victimization, harassment, and bullying. Many young seafarers, both male and female, end their career after only one contract because they have been exposed to this harsh culture.
- Research on victimization, harassment, and bullying has shown to have an impact on the individual’s safety-related behaviour, which therefore can be seen as a serious threat to both the individual and the organisation where safety is high priority.
- Research also indicates that 50% of victimization, harassment, and bullying stems from the leader, which says something about the understanding of leadership.
- Leaders at all levels must react and set limits to what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, instead of sweeping victimization, harassment, and bullying under the carpet.
S4S: How could we facilitate recruitment of new talents and at the same time retain the existing crew?
Capt.H.H.: To facilitate recruitment of new students and retention of existing officers and engineers every shipping company should have their own visual career path showing the steps from cadet to Captain and Chief Engineer. Each company should also have a specific competency framework and promotion criteria for seafarers to see and understand what is expected of them, for each step in their career.
S4S: What is your wish list for the operators with regards to human factor? What needs to be considered to discussions around human factor?
Capt. H.H.: The human is often seen as the creator of problems; however, we need to change our mindset and realise that the positive contribution to safety by the human is by far much bigger than the opposite. The industry is still too much focused on developing technical skills, we need to understand that human skills are as important.
- Improve communication skills, we all need to communicate adult to adult, irrespective of rank or position.
- Certain words carry stigma, we should change the following: Accident to Learning Event, Accident Investigation to Learning Review and Audits to Continuous Improvement Opportunities. (S. Brown, Luton Airport, 2019)
- Always expect that people will have variations in their performance which could lead to negative consequences.
- Make sure the system will be resilient enough to bounce back from disturbances due to variations in human or technical performance.
- Create passage plans where critical elements are expressed in a range of values instead of single numbers making it easy for the operator to control and observe. (Mental Models in Confined Waters, Seaways Magazine June 2018)
- Create a process to identify gaps in the operation, “work as imagine vs work as done.” This is a team effort and requires that psychological safety is established within the team otherwise people will be reluctant to disclose any gaps.
S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in implementing safety culture?
Capt. H.H.: Yes, there are a few segments of the industry who have been successful in implementing a safety culture. I have been working with some cruise companies who have made significant improvements over the last two decades, by introducing a role-based bridge organisation focusing on coordinated teamwork and leadership based on trust and psychological safety.
Clive Floyd in his book Next Generation Safety Leadership stated that:
In the more mature safety climates, it is not golden rules, policies, procedures, safety signs or slogans that increase in frequency or significance – it is trust, visible felt leadership, psychological safety and authentic information sharing that make the difference.
Those leaders are very keen on continuous professional development (CPD) and have regular coaching and mentoring sessions with their team members. There are Captains who schedule regular nautical meetings with the purpose of CPD where the chairmanship is rotated between the officers. The agenda is consisting of some fixed items such as:
- Reviewing recent operational events both successful events and learning events and the reason for this outcome.
- Case study: One officer should have prepared for a presentation of a case study. The team should together analyse the case study and investigate what defences they have in place to avoid a similar incident on their ship.
- Short training session presented by one of the officers regarding items from the abnormal & emergency checklist.
- Suggestions for improvements.
- The Captain should avoid dominating those meetings and allow the officer conducting the meeting to learn the skills of how to chair a meeting. The Captain should only be listening in and ask relevant questions and always speak his/her opinion last.
”The highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety — the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.”
….Says Laura Delizonna in Harvard Business Review, Aug. 24, 2017.
S4S: If you could change one thing that would have an either profound or immediate impact on the safety performance across the industry, what this one thing would it be and why?
Capt. H.H.: In my view the most important thing that would have a profound impact on safety performance would be an ongoing leadership training program, including, or even starting with the leaders ashore. We need to move away from the one-off leadership training programs because change is difficult and must come step by step in order not to be rejected, as our human brain is very conservative and will reject big cultural changes in one go.
Leaders must realise that more regulation, compliance, and control will not make the industry safer. To improve safety performance leaders must develop their leadership skills to create trust and psychological safety within their team.
In all industries with critical operations there are numerous examples of incidents and accidents where team members were afraid of speaking up due to fear of embarrassment or being punished.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.