Wates - Leadership development helping to build a Zero Harm safety culture

“Our safety metrics are currently the best in the industry and I put this down to the We’re Safer Together - Lead the Change! programme.” John Dunne, Wates Group Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Director, Wates Group

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Wates Group is one of the largest, private, family-owned construction, development and property services companies in the UK. The Group employs around 4,000 people and works with more than 10,000 supply chain operatives and partners to deliver projects throughout the UK.

Leading change and a bold commitment to safety

In 2016 Wates launched its strategy to reach a sustainable Zero Harm working environment by 2020. Wates was ambitious to take its already excellent record on health and safety to new heights by creating a culture where accidents and workplace-induced illness are regarded as preventable and unacceptable, not a fact of life.

The aim is to create a workplace in which construction site workers are just as likely to go home unharmed at the end of the day as their office-based colleagues.

Improving leadership on every level

The 'We’re Safer Together - Lead the Change!' leadership programme is central to this culture change. Debbie Crew, Head of Talent and Resourcing, explains, “We needed to take our leaders, from within Wates and our supply chain, on a journey to equip and inspire them to drive the Zero Harm strategy and be aware of the ‘shadow’ they cast as a leader. Lane4 offered us the best of both worlds: a leadership programme with a clear focus on safety.”

Together Wates and Lane4 created an exciting two-day workshop that introduces delegates to a wide-range of scenarios. For example, delegates study New York City Police Department’s successful crackdown on crime by tackling minor offences such as broken windows. It highlights how small things, so-called weak signals, can make a big difference, and how vital it is to tackle shortfalls in safety before they escalate.

Delegates learn about the power of storytelling, using their own experience to influence behaviour. Role play with actors creates a ‘safe space’ to practise engaging employees fully in the Zero Harm strategy. Throughout the workshop, delegates reflect on what they learn and apply it to their own day-to-day management practice.

As programme delegate Group Business Reporting Manager Amy Lilley observes, “Zero Harm isn’t about having a written set of rules. It’s a collection of small changes that we can all make. If it doesn’t look right, we need to speak up and call things out! It’s about cultural change. That was the main learning I took from the workshop.” 

Keeping the momentum going

As this phase of the programme draws to a close the next tier of management, around 850 managers, is set to embark on 'We’re Safer Together – Drive the Change!' a bespoke one-day workshop.

John Dunne, Wates Group Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Director, says, “The original programme was aimed at the senior leaders who create the environment in getting us to Zero Harm by 2020. We are now intent on supporting managers who are ‘out there’ every day, managing teams and projects, often working in difficult circumstances and with a transient workforce. It’s going to be really impactful.”

Key benefits of the programme

  • The ‘lost time injury rate’ dropped from 1 in 4 workers experiencing an accident resulting in lost time during their working life to 1 in 13.

  • To date, accidents relating to falling objects have reduced by 30% and accidents relating to cranes and lifting by over 55% since the commencement of the programme rollout.

  • By April 2018 over 500 leaders had attended the workshop, embedding best practice within Wates and the wider construction industry.


This programme has been shortlisted with CN Talent Awards 2018 for Excellence in Learning & Development

“The programme wasn’t just another health and safety course, with a checklist of regulatory dos and don’ts. It was about behavioural safety and winning hearts and minds. It has created a common language around safety.”

Darren Eccleston, Work Winning Director – programme delegate Wates Group