Leading for Safety at Boeing

Even giants like Boeing must continually communicate, assess and realign to ensure top priorities are achieved and core values are lived.

Be Clear

As leaders, we’re often faced with pivotal decisions that define our path forward. Whether it’s a question of safety or something else, the best moves are similar. Often the best first step involves clarity.

Your Words Must Resonate

“In everything we do and in all aspects of our business, we will make safety our top priority, strive for first-time quality, hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards, and continue to support a sustainable future.”

That’s the first statement on what was the Boeing website’s “Values” page. You have to scroll down to “How we Act” to read it. At the top, under “How we Operate,” the words start like this:

“A strong engineering foundation enables us to build and maintain our products with safety, quality and integrity in the factory and in service. Our customers expect it. That’s why we will always take the time to get the engineering right.”

  • Which statement do you find more actionable?
  • Which statement would you feel applies to you more directly if you were in charge of repair or inspection, and not the initial engineering of a plane?
  • If you were a contractor or part supplier for Boeing, which statement more clearly includes you?
  • Which do you think managers, suppliers and lead contractors are more likely communicating and holding as their responsibility to manage?

Translate words into (the) actions (you want)

If you’ve read other posts in this blog or my books, you will know I write about former head of Boeing, Alan Mulally, and how he brought his practice (at Boeing) of leading people to “work together” to Ford, and lead a significant turnaround for Ford in doing so. How do the words in the paragraph below (second paragraph under “How we Operate”) resonate with you, if “working together” is a desired outcome?

“Be accountable — from beginning to end:  At every stage of every program — from design and manufacturing to sales and marketing, and everything beyond and between — we will know who is responsible for every aspect of the work. Each of us, including our supplier partners, will understand our individual responsibilities and be personally accountable for the work we do.”

Communicate for alignment

After looking through the website page about values, I searched for current job descriptions for senior level engineering roles at Boeing. I found one for the position “Senior Production Engineering Manager.” I searched for words about operating and acting with safety, quality and integrity in mind (stated values on the Boeing website), or at least a link to the values presented online. I didn’t find what was looking for. The closest words were in this statement within the Position Overview:

“We are looking for leaders who bring diverse perspectives, curiosity and creativity when approaching challenges, and an insatiable desire for improvement in a global business environment.”


“Ensure continuous production support to enable safe, stable, and standard production system operations across all shifts.”

Is this enough to achieve alignment with the values-based operations and behaviors desired? What do you think?

Your best next step

Your turn. Take a look at your internal and external communications in all forms. Do your words lead to actions that are aligned with what you most want in your organization?

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