Safety Leadership: A Quintessential Model

Added on Jun 16, 2016

By Craig Clapper, PE, CQM-OE, Partner, Press Ganey Consulting Services

pentagramQuintessential leadership puts safety first in every thought and act.

The word quintessential is an odd word that is used in everyday speech. Today, common usage of the word means “most refined,” “purest” or “perfect.” Literally, the word means the “fifth element.” (Quint is Latin for five, and essence comes from the Latin for being.)

Empedocles, a Greek living and working in ancient Syracuse, was the first to theorize the four essences: earth, wind, fire and water. The fifth essence was added later by Aristotle to describe the divine, giving life to the creatures of the Earth and later explaining the “aether” as the medium carrying waves of light in the vacuum of space. Aristotle’s meaning of quintessence is the “magic that makes it work.”

Safety leadership in health care is the quintessence of leadership in both respects. It is the purest and most refined leadership and it is the magic that makes things work.

In the report Through the Eyes of the Workforce, Lucian Leape and his contributors maintain that safety leadership is the start of all operational excellence because safety leadership provides both the mutual respect and meaningful work, and it provides for the resources the teams need to be successful.

Further, safety leadership is the purest leadership because safety is a good producer of quality, patient experience, engagement and efficiency. In contrast, efficiency is not a good producer of safety, nor quality or engagement for that matter.

Safety is a good producer of quality in health care because

  • Committing to the principle of “safety first” pushes individuals and teams to live up to our highest ideal: first, do no harm.
  • The High Reliability practices needed to keep our patients and people safe drives operational excellence.

Perhaps we, as safety leaders, should not be surprised. Maslow observed that people want to achieve great things. But first they must feel safe. They must feel safe physically and psychologically in their person to achieve those great things.

So be the quintessential leader this week and lead with safety first. Your people will feel safe in their person and achieve great things.