Safety Leadership

Workplace Groups Conformity and Compliance

Once a norm within a business group has been established there is a tendency for employees to conform to theses norms as a result of social or ‘peer' pressure. Compliance is slightly different in that it relates to a response to a direct request; individuals will comply with requests without modifying their personal attitudes and beliefs.

Consider a work group for example, they will establish a norm regarding the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE). Each group member, and each member joining the group, will tend to be driven to conform to the group norm and comply with the will of the group.

Leaders and Followers

In any business there will be leaders and followers. An individual becomes a leader regardless of any position held in the hierarchical structure.

The following key variables have been identified:


Leaders have been found to be ‘above average’ in terms of size, health, attractiveness, intelligence, confidence, talkativeness, and a need to dominate.


Situational Factors

A given situation may require specific leadership skills, and an individual may take the lead because of practical experience or knowledge of the problem being faced. Task oriented leadership skills then come to the fore. Other situations may require greater social emotional leadership skills.

Behavioural/Style Factors

Leadership styles tend to be:

  • Autocratic with a focus on goal achievements;
  • Democratic with a participative/co-operative approach; or
  • ‘Laissez-faire’ attitude with the group members who are largely left alone to ‘get on with things’.

Factors Influencing Safety Culture

Safety culture should not be considered in isolation, as we have seen, it is a small part of the organisational culture, which in itself may be part of broader industrial or national cultures.

There is a broad consensus within the research into safety culture, that the following factors need consideration when attempting to develop a positive, effective safety culture:

  • Senior management commitment and leadership. This is best indicated by the proportion of resources (time, money, people) and support allocated to health and safety management and by the status given to health and safety. The active involvement of senior management in the health and safety system is very important. Managers need to be seen to lead by example when it comes to health and safety.
  • External factors; including the financial health of the parent organisation, or the economic climate within which the company is working, and the impact of regulatory bodies including their advice and guidance.

Demonstrating effective leadership

There are several effective ways for senior management to demonstrate their leadership and commitment to health and safety:

  • Involvement in active monitoring through regular safety tours focussing on the most significant hazards, and incorporating discussions with employees, asking for their input on hazards and solutions;
  • Involvement in reactive monitoring underlining the importance of the process. A high level of accountability has been shown to be beneficial;
  • Attending health and safety committee meetings. Without management commitment the committee will lack standing and credibility amongst staff. Safety meetings should ideally focus on the positive, acknowledging people performing safely rather than concentrating on unsafe behaviours;
  • Open-minded learning from experience, through the effective utilisation of systems for monitoring, auditing and reviewing performance;
  • Ownership and acceptance of the need for health and safety controls, typically requiring a participative approach to the development of control and a co-operative non-confrontational approach to securing adherence to agreed procedures and practices; and
  • A balance of health and safety and production goals. In a positive culture health and safety is regarded as important, is promoted, and is not compromised. Production pressures must be managed so as not to pressurise employees into cutting corners and committing unsafe acts. During times of intense production managers may turn a blind eye or indeed, actively encourage the use of short cuts in order to meet deadlines which will reinforce unsafe behaviour.

Although senior management commitment and effective leadership are vital in effecting change it must be noted that the commitment and involvement of middle managers and operational staff is equally important.

Effective communication between all parts of the organisation, based on trust, openness and mutual respect. An ‘open door’ policy may be helpful with direct access to the management hierarchy where appropriate. In a positive culture questions about health and safety should be part of everyday work conversations. ‘Humanistic’ approaches to management involving more regard by managers for individuals’ personal and work problems have been shown to be effective.

Impacting Onsite Behaviour

Senior manager attributes have a direct impact on the attitudes and behaviours of their representatives at the worksite.

Middle managers’ attitudes and behaviours such as their commitment to safety, the priority they give to safety relative to production goals and the kinds of relationships they develop with supervisors and workers are likely to be strongly determined by such senior management attributes. These in turn will determine the relationships and styles of leadership further down the hierarchy. Involved, decentralised and participative styles of management are likely to encourage more positive attitudes at supervisory levels.

Supervisors who perceive that they are allowed some decision-making latitude within their own role are more likely to develop participative relationships with employees, and be more supportive of employees. Such supervisor / employee relationships are associated with greater participation and involvement by the workforce and increased motivation for safety.

Post date: 16 Mar 2016

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