Learning from Tesla’s Elon Musk: A Lesson in Safety Leadership

A recent article published on inc.com described an email communication sent out by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in response to a report that the injury rate at one of the Tesla manufacturing plants was reaching a dangerously high level. The email reads as follows:

 

No words can express how much I care about your safety and well-being. It breaks my heart when someone
is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with
the safety team every week, and would like meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can
understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production
line and perform the same task they perform.

This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from
safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.

 

There are several key takeaways in Musk’s email message that apply to safety leadership. The first is that health and safety culture needs to be supported at all levels. Support and buy-in at the top creates a trickle-down effect when it comes to the development of safety culture in the workplace. Musk takes it a step further by stating that he will perform the same task as the injured worker, which shows that Musk is willing to do what it takes to understand the task, the risks involved, and the changes needed to make the work safe.

Another crucial message about safety leadership we can learn from Musk is that human capital is very valuable. Musk’s email doesn’t outline the lost productivity, time, or dollars that have been lost as result of an injury. He expresses concern and compassion for both the injured person and his workforce as a whole, and provides a plan for addressing worker concerns.

Finally, it is important to note that Musk clearly does not believe that management ought to be inaccessible when it comes to safety concerns. In his closing, Musk implores all managers to lead through example by also working the front lines, performing the same tasks, and making themselves accessible to workers (not lead from an “ivory tower”).

Musk’s email demonstrates the fine difference between safety leadership and simply “doing” health and safety in the workplace. Safety leadership is about accountability, connecting with workers, and inspiring innovative safety solutions through collaboration at all levels.

Elon Musk is known not just for his Tesla car brand, his work with SpaceX, or his Open AI project; he has also been in the news for his powerful and ground-breaking management style, which includes safety leadership, empowering workers, and having one of the most incredible communication policies in the current business world. When it comes to safety leadership, take note: Elon Musk is paving the way for a powerful revolution in the way we communicate and connect, as well as the way we support workplace health and safety at all levels in all organizations large and small.


 

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