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Food safety team leader & culture

There is a lot said about the role of leadership in creating and changing the culture of an organisation. In fact, my new favourite hero, Edgar Schein goes so far as to say that “Organisational cultures are created by leaders, and one of the most decisive functions of leadership may well be the creation, the management, and – if and when necessary – the destruction of culture.”

I don’t think any of us would disagree. It’s noticeable that ISO 22000:2015 has changed the name of the section of management responsibility to LEADERSHIP and added a lot more specific requirements to demonstrate leadership commitment to food safety. Have a look at section 5 of the standard in detail.

But what about the food safety team leader (FSTL)? Bear in mind that this section is part of the leadership requirements.

5.3.2 Food Safety Team Leader
The food safety team leader shall be responsible for
a) ensuring the food safety management system(FSMS) is established, implemented, maintained and updated
b) managing and organizing the work of the food safety team
c) ensuring relevant training and competencies for the food safety team (7.2)
d) reporting to top management on the effectiveness and suitability of the FSMS

So as the leader it stands to reason that this person should be a member of management. This has always been a personal beef of mine as often the person chosen is too junior in the organization and therefore struggles to influence and manage other managers on the team. (But that’s another blog post).

Today I want to focus on the role of the Food Safety Team Leader.

Several issues come to mind:-

Your training progamme
Our focus is usually very much on technical training so, of course, you need –

  • PRP training
  • Relevant in-depth FSMS standard training and preferably implementation training
  • Regulatory training
  • Internal auditor training

This is not the only training you should be planning for. Your primary role is not to be the technical expert! It is to be a team leader – the person who must create the culture of the food safety team. The person who must persuade other team members who may not be as enthusiastic about food safety that this is a value of the organisation and as such is worthy of their time and effort. The food safety team leader must facilitate a shared language for food safety in the team, the person who may be instrumental in destroying the previous food safety culture if you are taking over a system.

Many FSTL’s I have met suffer from a problem that I do – I am TOO task-orientated and often forget to spend time and effort on relationships. Don’t get me wrong – being task orientated is not a problem in all contexts, but it can be a real problem when it comes to persuading people to tackle a new and challenging project. We need people in the team to know we care about THEM and we NEED them to be successful.

So, when you consider your training needs you should focus equally on improving skills for leading a team effectively. Some key questions to honestly ask yourself should include:

  • What are my people skills like?
  • What are my communication skills like?
  • What is my personality-introvert or extrovert?
  • How do I handle conflict?

These questions and the answers are very important. If you have never facilitated or managed a team before, you WILL need help in obtaining and perfecting these skills. But isn’t the technical detail of the HACCP study more important? Of course it is important for safe food but creating a technically sound FSMS is one thing – implementing it every day is completely different.

Do you realise the potential you have to influence the food safety culture from your level? The Food safety team is often a group of middle managers tasked with establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving the FSMS. Getting this team on board is key to changing behaviours within each respective manager’s area of responsibility. You can’t afford to get the team culture wrong.

Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print. Turabian (6th ed.)