Shawn Mandel’s passion for safety began as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy when the health and safety of the Marines he worked alongside was his responsibility. That experience eventually led to his current role as the Vice President of Safety and Risk at Waste Connections Inc. On this episode of the No Accident podcast, presented by TRUCE, Shawn explains how the company’s approach to safety — which is based on the philosophy of servant leadership — helps the business succeed. He also explains how that success is supplemented by empowering workers, maintaining a value-based work culture, and using modern technology. “Our self-directed, empowered team members have enabled us to see the success that we have from a risk and safety standpoint,” he says. “Obviously we're a for-profit company publicly traded, but at the same time, those values drive our business. And it's those values that drive our business that have enabled us to see the success that we have for the past 25 years.”
Shawn Mandel’s passion for safety began as a hospital corpsman — aka an enlisted medical specialist — in the U.S. Navy, when the health and safety of the Marines he worked alongside was his responsibility.
“It parlayed well into the environmental health and safety field,” he said on this episode of the No Accident podcast, presented by TRUCE. “I started out as a district environmental health and safety manager for BFI [Browning Ferris Industries] and progressively worked my way through that organization.”
For the past nine years, Shawn has served as the Vice President of Safety and Risk at The Woodlands, Texas-based Waste Connections Inc.
The company approaches safety based on the philosophy of servant leadership, in which leaders ensure their employees’ highest priority needs are being served. Shawn explains how this drives the business’s success, as well as how that success is supplemented by empowering workers, maintaining a value-based work culture, and using modern technology like the company’s event recording system.
“It is our self-directed, empowered team members that have enabled us to see the success that we have from a risk and safety standpoint,” he says. “Obviously we're a for-profit company publicly traded, but at the same time, those values drive our business. And it's those values that drive our business that have enabled us to see the success that we have for the past 25 years.”
Those values are so ingrained in the company culture, he added, that he doesn’t even have to use the word “safety” that often — his entire team knows that’s what he’s referring to when he says “first value.”
“We've got this internal language that only we understand,” Shawn says. “When you ask anyone in the Waste Connections organization about the first value, they know that you're talking about safety. And you're talking about their safety. You're talking about their coworkers’ safety.”
👉 Name: Shawn Mandel
👉 What he does: As Vice President of Safety and Risk at Waste Connections Inc., Shawn uses his background in the military to serve his fellow employees via a servant leadership approach.
👉 Company: Waste Connections Inc.
👉 Key quote: “Self-directed, empowered employees make the right decisions.”
👉 Where to find him: LinkedIn
⚠️ If your safety training focuses on empowering employees, they’ll be safer. Shawn believes in a safety training method called the Safe Conversations model. It encourages leaders to face uncomfortable conversations by putting themselves in the shoes of an employee and approaching that talk with the intention to affect behavioral change via empowerment.
⚠️ Make sure your leaders are on the same page as other employees. Shawn’s company allows all of its frontline workers to anonymously evaluate leaders once a year. This helps to show that they care about the same core values — and safety is always at the top.
⚠️ Without a good company culture, there’s little motivation to be safe. According to Shawn, if you have a strong value-based culture, your turnover rate/longevity of team members will be better. They’ll feel like you care about them, so they’ll be safer.
⛑️ Smith System — The driving training that Waste Connections Inc. uses.
⛑️ Servant Leadership — A history of the term and deep dive into what it really means to practice this method that Waste Connections Inc. uses.
⛑️ Slow Down to Get Around — The campaign that Waste Connections Inc. partnered with National Waste & Recycling Association on to remind “motorists to drive more carefully when near waste and recycling collection vehicles.”
“The incredible people [of the waste industry], the work ethic, the camaraderie — it is something that almost becomes a part of your DNA and who you are.”
“Our people will meet the expectations of their leaders and if their leaders’ values are that of safety, their people will follow that. If we go out and we say to them, ‘... We need you in by three o'clock,’ that's sending the wrong message and you just won't hear that from a Waste Connections leader. Instead, you might say, ‘Listen, we need you to ensure that you come back the same way that you leave each and every day, because you mean something to us.’”
“We don't talk about safety as a priority. It truly is a value, and we only have five. The first of which is safety. And all of our values are built upon this foundation of servant leadership.”
“You really can't create a great place to work if people are concerned about not being able to go home the same way they came to work. … That's probably the biggest difference between us and some of our competitors out there. It's the importance that we place on those values and the vision and our culture.”
“It really goes back to that servant-leadership approach and making good things happen for other people. That's our job, our responsibility, and who better than those people that we're charged to lead — who better to make good things happen for?”
“I know our culture is the secret sauce [to our financial success]. We'd just completed 2020, another record year in probably one of the most difficult of situations. And it all goes back to the culture of our organization. When you take care of people and, you empower them to take care of the business. Good things happen.”