Special Coverage



MCE Executive Panel: Safety Culture Must Come From the Top

Leadership Should Build Trust With Their Employees Through Setting and Maintaining Right Tone on Safety
Jeff McKinney
"Safety is a value; it’s a behavior," says Jeff McKinney of Jetco and the GTI Group. "When you build a safety culture, you have to make sure that it’s your No. 1 value, and never stray away from it.” (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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AUSTIN, Texas — The safety culture for any motor carrier must be established from the top down, a panel of executives said during an Oct. 14 session at American Trucking Associations’ 2023 Management Conference & Exhibition.

Panelists referred to this management style as “Total Value Realization.” It was described as a concept in which leadership builds trust and teamwork with their employees through setting and maintaining the right tone when it comes to safety and keeping lines of communication open, said Jeff McKinney, vice president of safety for Jetco and the GTI Group.

“Safety starts from the top,” McKinney said. “It can’t start from the bottom. There’s no way. And leaders need to talk to everybody. Everybody has to talk to everybody. Safety is a value; it’s a behavior. When you build a safety culture, you have to make sure that it’s your No. 1 value, and never stray away from it.”

Jeff Martin, vice president of global sales strategy for Lytx and the panel’s moderator, added, “Employees have solutions, and managers will listen. They can help solve the problems.”

Jeff Martin

Jeff Martin of Lytx says employees have solutions when it comes to safety, and managers will listen to them. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

The goal is to invest in safety throughout the entire organization, said Dan Murray, senior vice president at the American Transportation Research Institute.

“Safety permeates everything,” he said, “and safety culture research from the top is the only thing that initiates safety programs. You’re not going to have investments in safety until the culture changes from the top all the way to the bottom.”

That includes communication among drivers and safety managers, supervisors and safety departments, said panelist Richard Frazer, a truck driver for Walmart Transportation and an America’s Road Team captain. Trust also is a major factor, he said.

Dan Murray

Dan Murray of ATRI called safety "an economic investment." More financially viable carriers avoid crashes, he said. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“Communication is two things: Always listen, and talk to, don’t talk at,” Frazer said.

Murray noted that this level of commitment to safety also can reap financial benefits.

“Safety is an economic investment,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of research in the area of litigation, insurance and crash data. When you avoid crashes, you’re going to be more financially viable.”

Richard Frazer


Murray noted that carriers are spending more on road-facing cameras than any other safety technology.

Frazer said while drivers are sometimes uneasy about that technology, they eventually see the potential for the camera to support them in the event of a crash. “Some of the older groups are put off by them until they learn the benefits because they’re seeing the benefits when they’re driving down the road and they see somebody get into an accident,” he said. “Even the older generation is starting to come around to the new technology. The younger generation, they grew up with this technology, and they’re used to having a camera in front of them.”

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