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The importance of leadership in safety

warning-drop-2It is critical that we understand the role and importance of leadership in safety We all recognise that leadership is a key component of any safe organisation, but it is not widely understood how safety can be successfully delivered by managers and leaders.

In order to better understand how leadership can deliver safety, the HSE funded a research paper “A review of the literature on effective leadership behaviours for safety”.

Transformational and transactional theories of leadership have received considerable empirical support suggesting that they can be appropriate for the effective management of safety. Other leadership theories, such as authentic leadership, whilst holding great promise lack empirical research regarding their impact on safety.

Managers can have a positive influence on safety

Managers can have a positive influence on safety outcomes by articulating a clear vision for safety, and motivating employees to achieve it, acting as role models and showing concern for the welfare of employees (e.g. transformational leadership), communicating and setting clear goals and standards for safety, monitoring and recognising positive safety behaviours (e.g. transactional leadership).

Effective leaders are coaching-oriented, supportive, provide the necessary resources and encourage worker involvement in safety.

Managers’ leadership styles and behaviours can impact on safety directly but also through indirect mechanisms. Managers who actively champion safety can foster perceptions of a positive safety climate, which in turn impact on safety.

Management commitment to safety, active involvement and participation in safety and consistent enforcement of safety policies is associated with positive safety outcomes, such as positive perceptions of safety climate and reduced levels of risk taking behaviours.

Safety communication and worker involvement in improving safety have a positive impact on safety. Good working relationships between management, typically supervisors and employees, and perceptions that management values safety influence the ‘bottom up’ communication of safety concerns.

Trust in management is an important determinant of safety as it enhances perceptions of a positive safety climate and employees’ motivation to work safely, and reduces accident involvement and injuries. Perceptions that management values safety and encouragement of two-way safety communications help promote trust.

Consistent safety messages need to be demonstrated at all management levels, from senior management to supervisors.

Managerial training interventions can have a positive influence on occupational safety and may be an effective means of enabling managers to develop leadership skills that are conducive to safety.

The message is clear

The message is clear that effective leadership in a safety context involves becoming an active and participating role model, championing safety by communicating a clear safety vision for the organisation and encouraging and supporting everyone to deliver the vision together.

Full research report RR952

HSE

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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