The business book club: key leadership lessons from Peter F Drucker’s The Effective Executive

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS

In The Effective Executive (1966), management consultant Peter F Drucker explains that efficiency is the primary function of “executives”.

An executive can be any knowledge worker whose contribution affects the organisation’s performance. To become effective, workers must learn five habits: to manage time, focus on their contribution, build on their strengths, set priorities and make good decisions.

Everything requires time, so it is the key resource to be managed. In largely self-directed roles, the key is knowing what work to do and using time efficiently. 

Drucker recommends time-tracking exercises to work out how much we use on inessential tasks. To be efficient, individuals need to be responsible for their contributions. If they set themselves high standards, knowledge workers can also ask the same of colleagues.

The goal of every organisation should be to use its workers’ strengths as a “building block for joint performance”. Too many workers are employed because they are seen to fit the culture, rather than for their abilities. In safety, being effective is more important than being likeable.

The Effective Executive (1966), Peter F DruckerPrioritising tasks is the first step. If an OSH practitioner visits a site for a regular risk assessment only to discover nothing of consequence, they need to ask whether the task is worth the effort. Work in the safety sphere is often reactive, so planning work is not easy, but it is a great first step in effectiveness.

Effective practitioners step outside their “safety zones” and avoid complacency and overconfidence

Drucker believes that most organisational decisions are based on either “generic” or “exceptional” situations. If fires keep breaking out in the same part of a warehouse, safety practitioners need to work out why and impose a control. By addressing generic situations we cut the need for future decisions. But exceptional occurrences will always need to be investigated individually.

This sounds obvious but Drucker argues most decision-makers underestimate the importance of problem definition and proceed with an incomplete understanding or waste time reinvestigating old issues.

Many leaders trying to resolve issues ask themselves what solutions their managers would find acceptable. Resource concerns also unduly influence decisions. Ineffective people take the path of least resistance or fit the facts to their preferred conclusion.

Effective practitioners step outside their “safety zones” and avoid complacency and overconfidence.

To reach our potential we have to maintain open minds, and have the integrity and strength to make honest, hard choices, rather than popular ones.


CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

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