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How Leadership Drives Safety Culture

Over the course of the Essential Hospitals Engagement Network project, I have sat alongside some of the most innovative, forward-thinking hospital leaders in the country as they have participated in our Leadership for Safety program. I’ve sat through lectures, observed as the leaders worked through case studies, and listened to them share their successes and challenges with each other on monthly follow-up calls.

If I’ve learned one thing throughout the 40 or so hours of material that have made up the leadership program, it’s that executives can make or break a hospital’s improvement effort. Frontline improvement teams cannot be expected to succeed without the support, resources, and accountability that only their leaders can provide.

But there’s another – more elusive – piece to the improvement puzzle. It’s an underlying theme that has cut across all of the EHEN’s leadership work: “safety culture.” Leaders from the CEO down set the culture of an organization. And while the EHEN leadership curriculum can be taken as a set of techniques employed by effective leaders, it is really a forum for initiating a culture transformation across our network.

When I was visiting two of our California hospitals last year, I saw this transformation in action. I saw a preoccupation with failure, an emphasis on patients’ safety and well-being, and, most importantly, I saw the desire to keep improving. This is the key to the sustainability of the EHEN project; if we can succeed in helping all of our hospitals develop a true safety culture, and instill in them the will and desire to constantly improve, our work will be complete. I am confident that this will be the case.

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