written by Andrew May, Sector Safeguarding Adviser (Bond)


Forus safeguarding working group came together for a webinar on how leadership and organisational culture are important to safeguarding. Building a positive safeguarding culture starts with an explicit commitment from leaders to take responsibility for it, continually demonstrate principled leadership, and create buy-in for safeguarding initiatives.

The working group suggested this topic in a survey on priorities when working with members. A positive safeguarding culture is crucial in ensuring that organisations protect their staff and those they come into contact with from harm. Building a positive safeguarding culture starts with an explicit commitment from leaders to take responsibility for it, continually demonstrate principled leadership, and create buy-in for safeguarding initiatives. Leaders also need to ensure that safeguarding policies and processes work in practice, are maintained, and are suitable for any group at-risk of harm.

Safeguarding is emotive, and it is vital to use leadership in a positive way so that everyone in an organisation feels empowered to share their opinions and raise concerns. Therefore, understanding of and involvement in safeguarding at leadership level is a must in order to bring about cultural change. Platforms can help to build confidence at their members’ most senior levels by providing safeguarding induction training and offering peer-to-peer support to board members. The process of bringing about positive cultural change should encourage staff to work as a collective and provide honest feedback. Organisations could foster staff engagement and involvement by devolving power and developing tools (e.g. InterAction’s Pledge to Action) designed for use by staff at all levels.

Cultural change in safeguarding is a long-term process where immediate results may not be possible. It is important for leaders to understand this process in order to manage expectations and understand the commitment required. Given the long-term nature of creating change, leaders must make it clear across their organisations that such a process can take several years to complete. Any tools and guidance produced by sector platforms need to be designed flexibly and use formats which allow members to quickly engage with this work over extended timelines.

Leaders must understand how they are accountable and how they should monitor progress when changing a safeguarding culture. Platforms need to measure engagement with their leadership tools and guidance amongst members whilst not policing them. This is to ensure that their tools and guidance are useful, and that cultural change remains an effective process. Light-touch approaches from platforms can include staying engaged with sector changes and peer-to-peer learning, whereas more in-depth approaches can involve internal reporting. Leadership and organisational culture, in the context of safeguarding, are very much about keeping track of how an organisation is working and undertaking accountability and monitoring measures.

Definitions of transformational leadership and cultural change will vary somewhat from one organisation to another. What should be universal is that, to bring about change in safeguarding through leadership and organisational culture, organisations must live and breathe safeguarding good practices & clearly articulated values and behaviours; and allow for day-to-day curiosity and scrutiny at their core and at every level.