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Daniel Hunter is the Deputy Secretary, Finance and Asset Management and Chief Financial Officer at NSW Health. Dan's strong background in finance has led him to excel in several significant leadership roles. His current role is no small task – NSW Health are responsible for 22 hospitals and over 115,000 staff with a $25 billion dollar budget. This huge responsibility brings with it many challenges and opportunities in regards to health, safety and wellbeing. 

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3 Value Bombs

1. Looking after your own health, safety and wellbeing as a priority is key to excellent safety leadership and leadership in general. You need to remember to put your own mask on before helping others, if you can’t breathe you won’t be much help to others.

2. The most powerful things at the board table, at the executive table would be the individual story. When they come from the individuals themselves it helps us get connection right. When it is done because you want to improve, it is really effective. People sit up, take notice and listen in the power of storytelling and in leadership this is something that is really powerful. 

3. Good safety leadership is good leadership. Great leaders think about people as people and have a genuine interest in people. If you're not interested in people and what makes them tick and their backstory, then you shouldn’t be in a leadership position. If you really start to hone in on that, you can really make some progress with your safety leadership style.

Show Notes

Getting Started

[00:00:01] Welcome to this issue of Leading Safety. Keeping safety real. Our goal is to stretch a safety net of connections across the world through exchange of ideas between organisational leaders. These are the people who influence what thousands of people do every day at work and even at home through the culture they define and believe that permeates through their organisations. In this podcast series, organisational leaders share their personal stories about leading and engaging people in health, safety and wellbeing. We hope that as a business leader, the podcast format will make it easy to listen and pick up some pearls of wisdom. No matter where you are in the car, in a plane, between meetings or with your leadership team, in a constantly changing global tech environment, work, health and safety is one of the many areas executives and board members have to juggle. How do they fit health, safety and wellbeing in with running a successful, complex business? How do they keep it real? Our guests will share with us how they live the values they place in the people who work for them every single day, the challenges they've faced and the super wins they've had that have provided the motivation to keep them in there. It's a personal and real conversation and we know you'll learn something along the way that will help you and hopefully you'll make some great connections as well.

[00:01:19] So let's chat. Good morning. So we are excited to welcome today's guest, Dan Hunter, to the podcast. Dan's strong background in finance has led him to excel in several significant leadership roles. His current role as Deputy Secretary, Finance and Asset Management and Chief Financial Officer at New South Wales (NSW) Health is no small task. NSW Health are responsible for 22 hospitals and over 115, 000 staff with a 25 billion dollar budget. This huge responsibility brings with it many challenges and opportunities in regards to health, safety and wellbeing. I know Dan to be a passionate and focused advocate of health, safety and wellbeing, and we are very grateful that he has agreed to share his insights with us today. A huge welcome to you Dan, first of all, as you're very used to in these sort of chats is talking to us about a brief summary of your own journey into safety and what have been some of the significant challenges you've had along the way.

[00:02:17] Sure. I first came across health and safety and learnt the importance of health and safety when I started managing people, the first sort of introduction to that was when I was managing corporate people. It was more mental health sort of space as I moved into operations and managing people and up into the thousands of people like I did at HealthShare in really highly operational roles that were high risk roles it became more real and it became real in the sense that people were getting hurt and not going home in one piece. So you learn along the way and it starts off slow as you build your leadership management career and then the challenges come from there. One of the challenges we have in health is that we have been focused on patient safety and patient outcomes for such a long time that we can sometimes lose sight. We've had this discussion before, we can lose sight of our own people’s health and safety. The reality is that in the public health system people die every day. And, you know, there are adverse patient outcomes and we've always been so focused around that and so focused on improvement of that for so many years. Sometimes we've lost sight of our own wellbeing. So I think that's the challenge we face every day.

[00:03:34] Yeah, and it is such a key challenge in the health sector. And when you’re in those industries that are about caring about other people, it's that failing to recognise that we're part of the picture and needing to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.

[00:03:47] The interesting part of it is that most people who work in health, work in health because of that connection to wellbeing and to healthy people. And there is a massive connection with a higher purpose working in health. And, you know, I’m often biased, but there's nothing more important than keeping people healthy. So people have actually bought into that already, but they haven't bought into it for the people that they're treating, not necessarily themselves.

[00:04:14] That is an interesting challenge and dilemma. Thinking over your time, how did you come to understand what safety leadership and excellent safety leadership looks like? Is there anyone that made a particular impression on you that shaped how you lead safety?

[00:04:28] I don't think I had a role model as such, but I think my position sort of changed in a couple of moments. There's all sorts of wonderful safety frameworks around and systems and all those sorts of things that we've worked on together. But I think really it was when I first started again leading people and having an interest in people, individuals and actually what makes people tick inside and what makes people think about their own wellbeing and safety really it doesn't matter what sort of frameworks you have over the top. If people don't have that genuine caring and thinking about things, then you're not really going to get there. It's that hearts and minds stuff and this is where safety crosses over to so many other parts of culture and leadership. And you can use it as a lever for a bunch of things and you can use culture for for a lever, and safety change. Unless you think about people as people and have that genuine interest in people, which I think I think any good leader should. If you're not interested in people and what makes them tick in their backstory, then you should be in those positions. If you really start to hone in on that, I think you really start to make some progress.

Greatest Challenges & Lessons

[00:05:37] I think that's a really good point that you make that good safety leadership is good leadership and they're consistent things that you know that you're seeking to achieve in that. As you have gone along your journey, what is some of the best feedback you've received around your own visible leadership, particularly in relation to leading safety?

[00:05:54] I think with visible leadership is there's a couple of things. I think as a leader, you have to be out there. You know, we at HealthShare, we ran peak laundries with some of the biggest linen and laundry businesses in the southern hemisphere. And you can sit in your corporate office up high and look at these operational businesses from a spreadsheet or from an operations point of view. But you do not get a sense of how hard and how difficult those jobs are on a day to day basis, unless you get out there, unless you actually stand on a blanket folder for an hour and feed them in, unless you really experience that firsthand. And I think the first key to visible leadership is actually in the name being visible. And that doesn't mean just being visible with your leadership team. It's being visible at the frontline. You know, you have to get out there. You know, get a connection. And I still even though I'm in a straight finance role now, I still get a connection with being at a hospital back of house. And unless you experience what people actually experience and the variance in themselves you're not really being that visible leader. And I think the second part, it's a term that gets thrown around. But it’s about authenticity as well. People know if you're bullshitting. Yeah. If you're just making it up, everybody knows. Absolutely. People see through it. And that old command and control style of leadership where you just declare from the top that there shall be no more injuries, won't work unless you get out there and you have that genuineness and you talk to people. And I think it does help to understand those challenges. And they're not easy. You can't just tell people if a patients falling off a bed, you can't tell them - don't catch them. There's all these really complex challenges, you know, physical challenges with our people. And you have to get out there and you have to understand them you can't just tell people to stop being injured.

[00:07:46] There are thousands and thousands of people that work in health. And you've talked about those challenges of that. Having a caring attitude and expressing care to other people, not necessarily themselves, where have you had success at actually really engaging those frontline people and seeing them shift along towards wanting to be involved in looking after their own and health, safety and wellbeing as opposed to doing it because they're told they have to.

[00:08:15] As I've said before, you've got to get out there. I think it's through engagement of all layers of management and leadership and then engaging with the people. The best research will tell us that people engage and listen to their own direct manager more than anybody else. You can't sort of go out as a CEO and think you better touch everybody and change everybody. You've got to engage from the top down and engage that middle layer of management. Then I think it's setting some goals and targets by sight and having some empathy around the challenges they face. Setting the goals and targets with the people in their local management team, you know, displaying them very visibly, but having enough empathy to provide some solutions as well. You can't just go and stick a target up on the wall saying no lost time injuries. The classic is, you know, the day since last injury target. They're all good. But you've got to have a bit of empathy and you've got to put a bit of resources into solving some of the problem and the problems that they see. And that may mean having the cheque book open a little bit. That's like that we found again at HealthShare that having a separate unallocated safety budget was helpful. We had a pool that people could really easily just put their safety improvement ideas up and get funding for so that they weren't those safety projects weren't competing with frontline labour costs or operational costs. They were funded separately. And there was a decent enough pull for anything, anything that made sense.

[00:09:47] And a sense of having a little bit of control as well. By the sounds of it, in terms of being able to access money specifically for it.

[00:09:52] Yeah, having control, and then also again that business it was multiple sites doing the same thing. So you could also use it to replicate the successes across different sites. Healthshare had a couple of hundred sites that were active and had people and so you could use it to replicate those successes across sites and some of them are, you know, simple, simple things that people design themselves from the field and, you know, bin lifters or limiters or, you know, a lot of it is just preventing the musculoskeletal stuff.

[00:10:22] Because at the end of the day, it's those frontline people that are doing the activities that really know where their greatest risks are and what the best solutions are in many instances.

[00:10:31] That's correct.

And I also I just don't think people understand unless they're in those jobs, of course. I don't think people understand how much manual labor there is still in Australia and across the system. I know, you know, we all talk about robotics and process automation and that's all great. But there is a lot of things that are still being done manually and we'll continue to do so for for some time. And again, going back to the the ivory tower office situation, you can lose sight of that pretty easily if you're not careful.

[00:11:01] Absolutely. Into that ivory tower. What are you seeing in the C-suite and in the boardroom in terms of what are the biggest health, safety and wellbeing issues that are sort of getting raised at that level or being tossed around at that level?

[00:11:16] I'm seeing, like everybody, I think a lot of mental health issues, they're very, very difficult. A lot of post-traumatic stress stuff. I'm on the New South Wales Ambulance Board now. And obviously there are some pretty challenging roles out there with our paramedics. And mental health is starting to grow and the number of claims that we get is starting to grow. Yeah, it's very complex and the solutions are very complex. I don't pretend to know the answers, but mental health is absolutely there. People's well-being in general at work. I think that's really prevalent and getting discussed a lot. And I think there's also an individual accountability in the boardroom as well people and the C-suite I think people absolutely are understanding that it sits with them, that accountability sits with them.

[00:12:08] And do you think that those people in the boardroom are getting the information they need to really execute the decisions that they need to? I don't actually mean this in health specifically but in general, you know, is that part of the challenge for organisations getting the right information through?

[00:12:25] I think the quality of health and safety data has been lagging in terms of in comparison to other data. We have these financial these great banks of financial data, of operational data, patient data, you know, amazing health and safety data though is lagging and it has been everywhere I've worked. It's just not quite, it doesn’t quite have depth. Isn't clear often. Sometimes we don't know what we don't know in terms of data. We're starting to get better at it. I think there's a bit of a ways to go in the health and safety space with better quality data. The most powerful things that I see at the board table, at the executive table would be the individual story. And when they come from the individuals themselves and we get a lot of patient stories, obviously. Every meeting, pretty much every major meeting and health starts with the patient story that's normally heartbreaking. It's not unusual to end up in tears, you know, in these big meetings or, you know, have a pretty choke point. And that helps us get connection right and that's done for a reason that's done because we want to improve. And again, if you translate that to staff health and safety and wellbeing stories that they have the same impact. You know, if you have someone turn up at a board meeting and talk about their PTSD or, you know, their mental health problems or that they just got rear-ended by a garbage truck and broke their neck, which is one I had, quite powerful. And people sit up and listen in the power of storytelling again, just generally. And in leadership is something that that is really powerful. And that's when people sit up and take notice and listen.

[00:13:58] So it sounds like part of keeping safety real for you is actually keeping that connection and hearing those real life stories.

[00:14:04] Yeah, I think if you if you hear those real life stories regularly, it does maintain that connection. That's why we have patients stories and how they don't always necessarily need to be about someone getting injured. They can be just near misses or things that are done. Sydney Water did it quite well. And they had a sort of a safety sharing moment to open up a lot of meetings. I think that really helped. You've got to keep it at the forefront of people's minds. I think in this day and age, it can be difficult. We are in the grip of efficiencies and trying to achieve efficiencies and trying to do things better, quicker, smarter. Every day it's seems to be we have to improve and do things better. And I think sometimes people think that's a way of taking shortcuts and that leads us problems.

[00:14:48] On the flip side of that, what are some of the great success stories of your safety journey? What have you achieved that you think - I'm really pleased that we were able to do that?

[00:14:56] I was initially happy with the way we were able to reduce the amount of injuries at HealthShare. We halved our lost time injury frequency rate pretty quickly. That was really doing some of the easy stuff and starting to engage our people, putting targets in place, actually tracking what was going on and focusing on our people. I was really happy with that. It wasn't in the end where we needed to be. We needed to be a lot better than half, but it was a step in the right direction. I think another story probably a personal and individual one was when again at HealthShare we had a young guy patient transport drivers got a call from the head in New South Wales Ambulance one morning on my way to work. They had been transporting two patients, these are the green ambulances, and they'd been rear ended by a garbage truck. And about 70 came out on the edge of Rosehill Bridge there. That was a very serious moment. And we lost a patient ultimately and unfortunately. And one of the patient transport officers broke his neck and had a brain injury. I sort of took that pretty personally I think when you're Chief executive of an organisation you do really feel responsible for each and every person that works in that organisation. But the thing that I was happy with as I went and visited this guy on numerous occasions in the hospital, he was up in Royal North Shore for quite a long time and I sort of decided to work with him closely on while he was recovering and he'd always wanted to be a paramedic, fully fledged paramedic. So I sort of guided him through that and helped to mentor him through that application process. And he was able to get better physically and mentally. And then he entered the paramedic training program in New South Wales Ambulance. So I was really happy to be able to help him with that. And it turned out to be a good outcome. But it was kind of a bittersweet moment. It was a very challenging time. As a chief executive, but we were able to make some good of it.

[00:16:47] And it just goes to show that whole idea of connection and relationship is just fundamental in successful outcomes in safety and wellbeing.

[00:16:57] Yeah, that's right. I think the challenge of leadership always is to be able to amplify what you can do through your people. So if you're leading a large organisation, you know, of five or six thousand people, there's not you just can't physically connect with every single person. Yeah. What you can do is connect with your management layers and ask them to connect with their management layers. And you can really drive the change and amplify that through other people, that connection. It's not easy to do and it's a slow process, but you can do it.

[00:17:25] It is the process.

[00:17:26] It is the process. Absolutely.

[00:17:28] Thanks, Dan, for sharing your story. We're really enjoying having your son here in the background today. He's which just goes to show that it's looking after everybody at every level of the organisation, right up to being able to bringing his son here on a sick day.

[00:17:44] We're looking after his safety and wellbeing at the moment. I don't know how sick he is though.

Pearls of Wisdom

[00:17:49] Some father son time is always valuable. So thank you for sharing your story. Just to end it would be good to extract a couple of final pearls of wisdom from you. First, if you had your time all over again. Would you do anything differently?

[00:18:05] I think you've got to learn from your mistakes and that's how you learn and grow. If I had my time over, I would have gone much earlier on the networking and engaging with people.

[00:18:15] Yeah, right.

[00:18:15] Much earlier, the hearts and minds stuff and really thought about that more carefully. And done that in a more planned and more deliberate way. There's absolutely no substitute for it in leadership and particularly safety leadership.

[00:18:28] And I guess that really leads us into our next one, which was what advice would you give to executives of the future as to how to best demonstrate visible leadership and health, safety and wellbeing to the people who work for them?

[00:18:40] I'll take a slightly different tack on this one. And that is, I think, first of all, in these senior leadership roles, you have to look after your own safety and wellbeing. And normally that means in a senior executive role because you're not exposed to the risks of operations that you need to look after your mental health and your physical wellbeing. Because unless you do that, think it's very hard to advise others and to lead others. So for me, that means, you know, knowing yourself pretty well, taking care of your exercise and eating and sleeping well and all those sorts of things. And if I don't do that, I find that my whole whole routine and rhythm is out and things start to go south from there.

[00:19:18] Yeah, right.

[00:19:19] So I think I'd advise executives, if you're going to be successful in leadership and safety leadership in today's world, you need to put your own mask on first before helping others, so to speak.

[00:19:29] Nice.

[00:19:30] And then I think it's around critically looking at the people and the operation you have and making decisions and having the right team around you so that you can really amplify your impact. And that impact needs to be a connection with people.

[00:19:45] Excellent. Great place to end it. 

[00:19:47] No worries.

[00:19:47] Thanks for your contribution it has been fabulous and I really like the theme that you've taken us through in terms of connection and relationships. So, thanks Dan.  

Thanks, Cheers.

[00:20:02] Thank you for listening to the leading safety podcast. This episode is brought to you by SafetyWorks Group. Leaders in Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing Solutions. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. Once you subscribe. You'll receive a reminder each time we release a new episode. You can find our podcast and lots of health and safety resources on the SafetyWorks website at


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