The Role of Safety in Leadership
The importance of leadership in the creation and maintenance of a positive safety culture is widely accepted. Leaders create and form culture, positioning themselves as potentially the most influential individuals in cultural change. Safety culture can be considered the result of leadership as it is the “process of interaction between leaders and followers, through which leaders could exert their influence on followers to achieve organizational safety goals under the circumstances of organizational and individual factors” (Wu, 2005).
Safety leadership has been a major topic of research for many years, resulting in numerous publications and research reviews. There is empirical evidence that safety outcomes are improved when leaders have the following characteristics:
- A transformational leadership style
- A supportive leadership style (e.g., showing concern)
- A high commitment to safety
- Are trusted by subordinates
- Involve subordinates in decision making
- Communicate effectively about safety
Monitor and enforce safety rules and procedures
In addition to these characteristics, certain actions taken by leaders are also associated with positive safety culture. Some behaviours include a visible commitment to safety (such as frequent visits to the work site or creating a shared vision for safety), communicating the importance of safety, ensuring adequate resources are devoted to safety, involving employees in safety (such as policy-making and encouraging a questioning attitude), and monitoring safety performance.
Organizations need to adopt a systematic approach to ensure leaders perform these important safety-related behaviours. Systems that support leadership safety promotion should be implemented with a specific plan, monitored carefully, and regularly have their effectiveness assessed.
Systems to promote effective safety leadership could include:
- Providing managers with ongoing safety leadership skills training
- Assessing managers' safety leadership skills
- Specifying the requirement to include safety in business plans
- Requiring managers to visit work sites to discuss safety with front-line employees
Developing a process to facilitate two way communication between managers and front-line workers