FDA recently released its blueprint of the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” Its emphasis on “modernization and values” validates the need for managers today to revisit their leadership approach. While the pandemic may have unfurled chaos and confusion, it has also created new opportunities. Tapping into these opportunities requires leaders to quickly adapt to the changes around them, and to exercise situational leadership.
Situational leadership, in simple terms, helps a manager identify the answer to this question: “What is the right leadership style for this individual in this moment?”
Why Situational Leadership?
FDA’s vision for smarter food safety will require cross-functional teams to work together and hold a deeper understanding of the global food culture landscape. The four core elements as outlined by the blueprint are:
- Tech-enabled traceability;
- Smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response;
- New business models and retail modernization; and
- Food safety culture.
Situational leadership is an approach that is widely encouraged among project managers and project leaders. Similarly, this style can be adopted by HACCP team leaders to guide not only their HACCP teams, but also their business operators. Situational leaders are able to connect the dots between the present state and the future state, help diverse teams see the bigger picture, and—more importantly—help frontline employees see the impact of their roles.
An amalgamation of technologies, processes, and systems requires one key element: people. Even in the world of automation, accuracy, and speed, it is people who drive change, not systems.
Getting Started: How Food Safety Managers Can Practice Situational Leadership
Food Safety Managers need to stay equipped with timely and relevant resources by investing in their continuous professional development. Most food safety training programs begin and end with subject areas such as food microbiology, pest control, sanitation programs, foodborne diseases, and food safety regulations. What makes or breaks a HACCP system is not the number of control measures in place, but the collective behaviors of every employee. A few additional topics worth adding to the food safety management curriculum would be:
- How to resolve conflicts mindfully;
- How to negotiate and renegotiate;
- How to co-create inclusive work spaces; and
- How to speak up when it is difficult to do so.
Encouraging teams to brainstorm solutions by working with cross-functional colleagues will not only help them see a challenge from a different perspective, but also will create a distinctive solution that is malleable. For instance, integrating a learning management system with an inspection reporting platform can help create parallel learning opportunities by educating new auditors through real-time examples.
Speaking of education, food safety managers and leaders ought to revisit the performance review strategy. Instead of the dreaded “annual event,” break it down in to quarterly or half-yearly reviews. This will help drive a culture of learning and innovation and help create and achieve realistic goals while holding people accountable. It is not the performance review tool that matters, but the frequency and communication that come along with it.
Situational leaders provide well-timed guidance, coaching, and learning moments that will help drive a stronger “era of smarter food safety.”