Jim Twilley Creates a Culture of Caring
Across Texas, Jim Twilley is known for his passionate commitment to Zero Harm and being a Relentless Ally for the safety of his teammates.
But the general superintendent wasn’t always a safety fanatic. Like anyone who has been in the construction industry as long as he has (49 years), Jim remembers a time when there was no OSHA, and people had to determine safe working practices for themselves. Over the years, he’s taken his fair share of shortcuts and has the physical scars to prove it.
These days, Jim is a lot more careful. Not because he has to be—but because he truly wants to be.
Jim’s attitude towards safety took a dramatic turn one fateful day in the 1970s when he was erecting a tower crane and pulling a hoist cable to the end of the boom. He wasn't tied off, so when he stepped in a hole and lost his balance, he fell between the lacings of the boom and found himself suspended 300 feet in the air, clinging to the cable that was being held at the other end by his trusted teammate, Max, who managed to hold him and bring him back to safety.
Once his death-defying ordeal was over, Jim asked Max, “If I had fallen, would you have held me?” Max’s response has stuck with him ever since. “He looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘I would have held you, or I would have gone off with you.' "
For Jim, this was a watershed moment in which he finally understood the importance of safety. It was not only what happened but also what Max said that inspired a change in his mindset and behaviors. “My teammate cared about me so much he would have risked his own life for me. If anything in my whole career ever made me understand what caring about your teammates really means, this was it.”
This is the attitude that drives Jim’s commitment to Zero Harm. As he explains, “Safety is about being committed to the wellbeing of your teammates. I care about each and every person, and I don’t ever want them or their families to suffer.”
As a leader who has many people working under him at any given time, Jim has to be able to trust his teams to adopt the same rigorous safety standards he has set for himself. And in the 16 years he has spent with Balfour Beatty, he is pleased to see that this is genuinely the case: “The people I work with really care, and that’s what makes all the difference.”
While Jim can’t watch over every project team with a magnifying glass, he does set clear expectations from the outset of every project, and he holds his teams accountable for meeting them.
Jim admits that he sets his expectations high, but in his eyes, the stakes they are playing with are even higher. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t embrace Zero Harm and someone got seriously hurt,” says Jim. “They might recover, but I wouldn’t.”
In Jim’s view, it shouldn’t take a dramatic event like a “near miss” to make construction workers understand the importance of safety. Instead, he hopes that everyone embraces Zero Harm for what it is – a source of protection for them, their teammates and their loved ones.
Jim is not a man who is pedantic about risk, and he isn’t someone who believes in policing others. He’s just a leader who cares deeply about the men and women on Balfour Beatty jobsites. Jim, who once had a teammate willing to sacrifice his life for him, understands better that most the importance of stepping up to embrace a cause bigger than himself.