Safety Innovation Video Series: Engaging Senior Leadership


Safety Innovation Video Series: Engaging Senior Leadership

Posted on 07 May 2024

​In this instalment of our Safety Innovation series, we speak with Yogendra Rai, Head of HSE, UK and Civil Aerospace for Rolls Royce. We discuss the importance of senior leadership buy-in for health and safety, how to engage and build relationships with senior leaders, and tips for someone starting out in their first senior HSE role.

My name is Yogendra Rai. I'm the Head of Health and Safety Environment in Rolls-Royce within Civil Aerospace division. In that, I predominantly look after all of the UK footprints, and also act as a global point of contact for all of the civil aerospace leadership team globally.

Why is senior leadership buy-in critical for health and safety?

Culture is set by senior leaders. Health and Safety culture, I think, is just a subset of the overall organisation and culture. If you haven't got the right tune from the top, nothing's going to work. You can talk about creating, vision, strategy, but if you haven't got the culture right, it's a non-starter. So having that behaviour set at a very high level is what leads the people that they're leading.

What advice do you have to engage senior leaders?

In my role, engaging with the senior leaders, the key things is understanding the type of leadership styles. I put in the four key areas in a bulkhead. One is the controlling type leadership. You have promoting type, analysing, and supporting type. As a senior Health and Safety person, I'm having to adapt and flex the style I have to match up with the leadership style. If someone is controlling type, you cannot be controlling with that person; you’ve got to flex and adapt to best suit the style that the leaders is. That gives quite a win-win approach. You know, you come across that you're listening, understanding the leadership, you understand what hooks them. So that's the way I would prefer doing engagements with senior leaders.

Any tips for building strong relationships with senior leaders?

One of the secrets, and I talk to my team about, is building that one-to-one relation. Making the opportunity to have that one-to-one. One of my mentors says "You have 30 seconds when you engage with senior leaders." So, you have to be precise. You've got to know what you’re asking them to do. You’ve got to come across what you have already done, and why it is you need their help and support. And you can also thrash out any conflicts that you already have with them or don't agree with each other. You can, in a safe environment, can thrash that one up. But when you walk out of the room, you are aligned and that helps cascading the message down to the organising level, the way you want leadership to do.

What advice would you give to someone in their first senior role?

Someone starting in a senior role, I would advise understanding the styles of the leaderships. Understand how you adapt to those situations. Flexibility is key. Never be stubborn and your idea is the only idea. Listen to people. Communication is key. Make it easy, simple to understand in what you're asking of the leaders. Persevere, the other thing, not everything goes the way you want. There will be pushback. When I was transitioning from junior role to senior role, and then there was a lot for me to learn. And one vivid experience I have is this, I had to present to a senior leader. It didn't go the way I wanted because the format of the presentation wasn't great. I didn't realise the present was picture-perfect. Some of the pitches I was saying wasn't great. Some of the message, it was a surprise to the person because it was being presented amongst execs. So, what I learned from there is I could have done more preparation, understanding the style. And element of surprise is what senior leaders avoid. So, make those one-to-ones connections.

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