The safety leadership challenge building soft skills for exemplary safety performance


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The safety leadership challenge building soft skills for exemplary safety performance

  1. 1. THE SAFETY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: BUILDING soft-skills for exemplary SAFETY PERFORMANCE Tristan Casey Despite decades of attention across a raft of disciplines, the goal of zero harm continues to elude the grasp of most organisations in heavy industry. Quite simply, the costs of incidents—both personal and financial—continue to accumulate, and represent significant road-blocks to safety performance and societal well-being. To overturn these costs and continue to realise performance gains in safety, organisations must look beyond engineering-based control, behavioural, and attitudinal solutions, and toward leadership. Significant inroads to our understanding of safety performance were made when organisations realised that traditional engineering and control- based approaches to safety management were insufficient. But the hierarchy of control can only take safety so far. The effects of technology, automation, job design, and formalised policies and procedures on safety performance ultimately plateau after a certain point. Without consideration of ‘the person element’, that inescapable and unpredictable energy experienced by all employers, organisations are destined for mediocre safety performance. Indeed, while figures vary across industries and reporting methods1, between 50%-90% of safety incidents are believed to involve some degree of human error.© Sentis Pty Ltd 2012. This document remains the intellectual property of Sentis Pty Ltd and is protected by copyright and registeredtrademarks. No material from this Guide is to be reproduced or used in any format without express written permission.
  2. 2. THE SAFETY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: BUILDING SOFT-SKILLS FOR EXEMPLARY SAFETY PERFORMANCE FIGURE 1 Understanding these human factors proved to be 7 SURMOUNTING THE PLATEAU OF SAFETY PERFORMANCE P.2 the key to further gains in safety Consequently, psychology initiated the next .. 100 evolutionary stage of occupational safety. Behavioural, and later, cognitive-based approaches contributed significantly to the effectiveness of % safety management strategies across industries and work contexts. Following the Chernobyl disaster, occupational safety was once again reinvigorated by the consideration of a new phenomenon—safety culture. Knowledge of these collective social forces 0 provided a neat extension to existing models of Engineering workplace safety performance, and directed attention Citizenship Behaviour Attitude toward safety factors that operate across multiple Safety organisational levels. Yet, despite this significant progress, occupational safety is an ongoing and significant issue for many organisations. In Australia, national statistics suggest that current of acquiescence, or ‘agreement in a passive way’5. safety models and approaches, while achieving So, compliance should be taken at face value: an significant improvement over traditional methods, fall in-principle agreement to act according to some uncomfortably short of eradicating incidents from the externally-imposed directive. Although employee workplace. In 2009, an estimated 640,700 workers compliance fosters a strong safety climate, risks experienced a work-related injury or illness2. In may still be present if employees believe that shortcuts particular, the mining industry carries a significant risk provide an immediate payoff in terms of speed and to employee safety, with as many as 1 in 20 workers efficiency6. At this level, organisations may appear experiencing one or more workplace incidents... ‘on the surface’ to possess a strong safety ethic, every year. yet in reality, genuine ownership of safety is somewhat lacklustre. Safety incidence rates translate to significant costs for employers, workers and society. Worksafe Australia3 BUILDING SAFETY CITIZENSHIP estimated that during 2005-06, safety incidents cost A new wave in safety performance is coming. the Australian economy $57.5 billion—a staggering Borrowing from industrial psychology, safety 5.9% of GDP. So, despite the attention directed scholars have begun to apply what is known as at occupational safety, there is a sizeable shortfall ‘organisational citizenship’ to safety contexts. between what organisations are doing and what they Organisational citizenship is an umbrella term for are achieving in terms of safety outcomes. Moreover, behaviours outside the normal scope of employees’ mismanaged safety carries significant competitive, position descriptions. Such behaviours go above and financial and personal costs. beyond what is minimally expected from employees7. Whereas engineering-based safety approaches Applied to safety, citizenship or ‘participation’8 focussed exclusively on the removal or reduction behaviours range from voluntary membership of of risk, behavioural, and to some extent, attitudinal safety committees, actively promoting management’s and motivational approaches target employee safety initiatives, keeping informed about the latest compliance.[Figure 1] This shift in thinking from safety changes onsite, and monitoring the safety the physical to the psychological helped many performance of team members9. Safety citizenship organisations realise improved safety performance represents a significant opportunity for organisations beyond that achieved by traditional methods in high-reliability industries to capitalise on their alone4. However, compliance will only get you so greatest asset—their people—to further reduce the far. Indeed, compliance is often defined in terms prevalence of safety-related incidents. [Figure 2]© Sentis Pty Ltd 2012
  3. 3. THE SAFETY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: BUILDING SOFT-SKILLS FOR EXEMPLARY SAFETY PERFORMANCE FIGURE 2 SAFETY LEADERSHIP ON THE FRONTLINE CORE SAFETY CITIZENSHIP BEHAVIOURS It is a given that effective leadership is crucial to.... P.3 organisational performance. Study after study has shown that specific leadership behaviours promote Helping other crew members to learn safety procedures employee productivity12. Leaders, through the way HELPING and perform work duties that they interact with others at work, exert powerful safely above what is effects over the way that employees think and act. expected as part of their role. Consequently, leadership researchers have put forward and tested a number of models that describe Raising safety concerns and the typologies of behaviours that promote employee providing recommendations productivity and organisational performance. USING INITIATIVE even where others disagree or are not receptive to these inputs. Of these models, the ‘full range leadership model’ proposed by Bass and Avolio13 has received Taking action to proactively considerable attention. Under this model, leadership protect other crew members style varies across dimensions of effectiveness from harm, such as identifying CARING risks and preventing safety and passivity. At the low end of the model, leaders violations before they impact can adopt a passive or laissez-faire style that is on others. characterised by avoidance of decision-making and Supporting leaders to other leadership responsibilities. Such leaders may monitor and correct safety only react when issues are explicitly raised or problems performance of the team manifest in tangible outcomes. Next, transactional SUPPORTING through reporting violations, leaders typically use rewards, recognition, monitoring, providing feedback and checking work standards. and corrective feedback strategies. These leaders are good at achieving a consistent level of basic performance across their team. The final level in Seeking out and monitoring KEEPING sources of relevant safety the model characterises active leaders who weave information across the together a range of interpersonal and technical skills INFORMED organisation and the industry. to inspire, motivate, and support crew members to adopt organisational goals as their own. These ‘transformational’ leaders move followers beyond Identifying and actioning mere compliance and toward helpful attitudinal and CONTINUALLY (where appropriate) changes motivational change13. to duties, tasks, practices and IMPROVE procedures to further improve safety performance. Yet, surprisingly, these concepts were only introduced to safety-specific contexts within the last decade. Barling and colleagues14 were the first to explicitly Although research in this area is in its infancy, work to define and test ‘safety leadership’ as a predictor of date has shown that leadership is a particularly powerful workplace safety. This seminal study showed that predictor of safety citizenship behaviours9,10. During leadership, operationalised as a safety-specific form of leader-crew interactions, implicit social ....exchanges transformational leadership, predicted the frequency are established, whereby the leader provides feedback, of subordinates’ workplace injuries via safety climate encouragement and support to employees. In return, (shared perceptions of management’s priority the crew member feels obligated to reciprocate, which for safety) and employees’ safety consciousness increases the likelihood of extra-role behaviours such (awareness of the importance of safety). as helping, organisational loyalty, task initiative and voluntary self-development11. Citizenship has the Since this work, a flurry of research has confirmed and potential to burst beyond the safety performance extended the role of leadership in safety performance. barrier established by compliance approaches; Safety leadership has been shown to increase however, success depends on the leadership the quality of safety communication9, the strength capabilities available within the organisation. and value of safety climate6, and the likelihood of And this requirement is not as easily fulfilled as one compliance with safety procedures and demonstration might think. of safety behaviours that go beyond role boundaries10.© Sentis Pty Ltd 2012
  4. 4. THE SAFETY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: BUILDING SOFT-SKILLS FOR EXEMPLARY SAFETY PERFORMANCE Further research has shown that certain styles of leadership space, little work to date has explored leadership are more (or less) effective at promoting how the nature of effective leadership changes when P.4 safety outcomes. Whereas transformational applied to safety-relevant contexts. Consequently, leadership consistently.... produces positive effects Sentis invested considerable effort to develop a on safety performance, passive leadership conveys comprehensive leadership behavioural framework significant negative effects15. Leaders don’t have that is based on a foundation of existing transactional to do much at all to produce adverse outcomes— and transformational theory. In sum, the model in fact, safety leaders that do nothing at all are still consists of eight behavioural dimensions: supporting, likely to exude a negative influence over their work recognising, actively caring, collaborating, vision, area. This point begs the question: how prevalent is inspiring, role-modelling, and challenging. [Figure 3] passive leadership within your organisation, and how Together, these behaviours provide employees with much damage is it doing to your safety bottom-line? the baseline expectations for safety performance, and increase motivation to engage in extra-role safety activities. “The major cause of managerial failure among.... engineers, scientists and other technologists..... FIGURE 3 is poor interpersonal skills.” 16 G N Organisations that operate in highly technical I RT O fields often experience challenges with leadership PP capacities as employees progress up the chain. In CHALLENGING RECOGNISING SU these contexts, leaders perhaps end up doing less AC of the leading and more of the managing. In practice, TI engineers and other technical-folk are typically VE LY promoted into leadership roles based on their job DIMENSIONS C skills and knowledge. Issues arise when technical AR OF SAFETY IN skills are emphasised at the expense of interpersonal G LEADERSHIP COLLABORATING skills. In this situation,... organisations (and individuals) R O often fail to realise that technical ability is inversely LE M related to employee level. In reality, as management O D level goes up, the importance of technical ability EL LI goes down16. Where technical leaders go wrong is N G that they tend to neglect the development of soft- skills so they can continue to ‘muck-in’ with crews, INSPIRING which requires continual updating of technical skills. N IO This perspective leaves little room for leadership S VI development. Also, people with certain personality types and Of these dimensions, recognising and active caring past experiences are more likely to be attracted to are two categories of behaviour that are particularly technical roles, which means that the gap between relevant in safety contexts. ‘Recognising’ was drawn current and desired leadership skill-sets can be quite from transactional leadership theory, and refers large. While personality undoubtedly plays a role.. to leader actions that clarify what is expected of in predicting performance in leadership roles17, the employees in terms of good safety performance, evidence shows that leadership is trainable18. And and reward or acknowledge such performance therein lies the problem. Organisations need effective when it occurs. Effective safety recognising leadership to survive, yet in technical fields it is less behaviours include praising employees for safe work likely that such talent will exist in-house. Leadership practices and encouraging compliance with set development is a priority for organisations in ... safety standards. Recognising behaviours should this position. be employed at both individual and team levels5. Acknowledging and rewarding the performance Models of safety leadership provide a useful framework of individual crew members sets up an implicit for employee development. Although numerous.... transaction between leader and subordinate, which models have been proposed in the general increases the likelihood of employee reciprocation© Sentis Pty Ltd 2012
  5. 5. THE SAFETY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: BUILDING SOFT-SKILLS FOR EXEMPLARY SAFETY PERFORMANCE (in the form of good safety performance). At the team vision, values and strategic direction, and be designed level, rewarding effective safety behaviours builds the from the top down—beginning at the executive level P.5 crew’s sense of collective efficacy and contributes to and working down to crews. a positive group safety climate. Recognising is a core safety leadership competency. Third, organisations need to provide structured training that is supported by ongoing coaching and Active caring moves beyond the foundation of support. Mentoring may also be an option, if strong transactional leadership behaviours by considering safety leadership talent exists in-house. Training must the nature of the leader’s relationships with individual be closely integrated with the safety leadership model, employees. Across multiple interactions, leaders send and include both knowledge and skill-development cues to subordinates that may build trust and perceived opportunities. Techniques such as demonstration, support. In turn, employees experience increased group discussion and role-play are invaluable learning safety motivation and seek out opportunities to tools in this context. Finally, training transfer (the become more involved in activities that help the leader application of skills and knowledge on the job) will perform their duties. Active care may be as simple as be maximised if budding safety leaders are given ‘management by walking around’—activities that bring ample opportunities to practise their newly learned the leader out onto the shop floor and prompt regular strategies, and they are supported by ongoing and meaningful interactions with workers about safety discussions and guidance from subject matter experts. and production matters19. Caring leaders may also External coaches can be valuable resources for leader show a genuine commitment to crew well-being by development given their third-party perspective, seeking out and considering the needs of individuals considerable ‘troubleshooting’ experience, and within the team, managing workloads in response to professional distance from the organisation. Together, employee capabilities and preferences, and explaining these strategies ensure safety leadership success. the need for compliance with safety procedures (in terms of what the employee stands to lose through CONCLUSION non-compliance). In demonstrating these active care Over time, the management of safety has been behaviours, safety leaders convey a sense of genuine characterised by incremental improvements in incident concern and interest in their team. Consequently, safety rates as scholars and practitioners unearth further leadership emphasises the importance of mastery over knowledge about their root causes. The largest gains soft-skills such as interpersonal communication and in safety were made when organisations adopted relationship-building. an ‘engineer-it-out’ philosophy: failsafe systems, protective barriers, high-reliability componentry and Given these domains of behaviour, the question other ‘human-proof’ innovations significantly reduced remains of how best to build employees’ safety safety risks across industry. Next, organisations leadership capabilities. Organisations should begin considered the human element, which saw the by selecting (and modifying, if required) a safety domination of behavioural and attitudinal interventions. leadership framework that is grounded in theory However, progress in safety performance has once and supported by empirical evidence. Without these again stalled. To break through this second plateau, features, the model may not be appropriate for your organisations must dig deeper than traditional specific context, or could fail to produce the desired approaches and foster genuine ownership of safety results in safety performance. across all levels of their business. Next, succession planning and employee development Safety citizenship represents the next level of processes must be closely examined. Employees safety performance, and a point of significant should be selected for leadership roles based on competitive advantage if done well. Yet, safety interest, motivation and pre-existing supporting citizens can only be grown and cultivated attributes (e.g., knowledge, skills, and disposition) through effective leadership. The road certainly rather than technical skill alone. Further, employee won’t be easy as good safety leadership can be development should be facilitated by a competency hard to find. However, with the right recipe, a model that maps out the various levels of performance little elbow grease and effective tools, home- and concomitant behaviours that should be grown safety leadership beats store-bought demonstrated at each level. Such competency models every time. should include organisational language, align with© Sentis Pty Ltd 2012
  6. 6. THE SAFETY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: BUILDING SOFT-SKILLS FOR EXEMPLARY SAFETY PERFORMANCE P.6 TRISTAN CASEY Currently completing a Doctoral degree in Organisational Psychology, Tristan is an experienced and skilled applied researcher. Tristan’s primary research interests include: safety climate, safety leadership, training transfer and evaluation, and online survey methods. Tristan is passionate about synthesising and translating empirical state-of-the-art for the purposes of practical application. is a global business dedicated to creating sustainable organizational change in the world around us. Our mission at Sentis is to assist individuals and organizations change their lives for the better and we do this through the application of psychology to safety, leadership and well-being in the workplace. BRISBANE OFFICE PERTH OFFICE DENVER OFFICE Building 2, Level 1 Level 2 6205 S. Main Street 747 Lytton Road 327 Cambridge Street Suite 260 Murarrie QLD 4172 Wembley WA 6014 Aurora, Colorado 80016 PO Box 303, Morningside QLD 4170 PO Box 82, Wembley 6913 Tel: +61 7 3363 5900 Tel: +61 8 9318 5100 Tel: +1 720 226 9550 Fax: +61 7 3363 5999 Fax:+61 8 9318 5155 Fax:+1 720 226 9589 REFERENCES 1 Hetherington, C., Flin, R. & Mearns, K. (2006). Safety in shipping: The human 11 Podsakoff, P. MacKenzie, S., Moorman, R. & Fetter, R. (1990). element. Journal of Safety Research, 37(4), 401 – 411. Transformational leader behaviours and their effects on followers’ trust 2 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). in leader, satisfaction, and organisational citizenship behaviours. Leadership Work-related injuries, Australia, 2009-10, 6324.0. Quarterly, 1(2), 107 – 142. Retrieved from 12 DeGroot, T., Kiker, D. & Cross, T. (2000). A meta-analysis to review 3 Australian Safety and Compensation Council. (2009). The cost of work- organisational outcomes related to charismatic leadership. Canadian Journal related injury and illness for Australian employers, workers and the of Administrative Sciences, 17(4), 356 – 372. community: 2005-06. Retrieved from http://safeworkaustralia. 13 Bass, B. & Avolio, B. (1994). Organisational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. SR200903InjuryAndIllness2005To2006.aspx 14 Barling, J., Loughlin, C. & Kelloway, E. (2002). Development and test of a 4 Idrus, D., Wahab, S., Shah, I. & Rees, C. (2009). model linking safety-specific transformational leadership and occupational How far is transformational leadership relevant to safety performance. safety. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(3), 488 – 496. Malaysia Labour Review, 3(1), 74 – 97. 15 Kelloway, K., Mullen, J. & Francis, L. (2006). Divergent effects of 5 Cialdini, R. & Goldstein, N. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and transformational and passive leadership on employee safety. Journal of conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591 – 621. Occupational Health Psychology, 11(1), 76 – 86. 6 Zohar, D. & Tenne-Gazit, O. (2008). Transformational leadership and group 16 Badawy, M. (1995). Developing managerial skills in engineers and scientists: interaction as climate antecedents: A social network analysis. Journal of Succeeding as a technical manager. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Applied Psychology, 93(4), 744 – 757. 17 Bono, J. & Judge, T. (2004). Personality and transformational and 7 Organ, D. (1988). Organisational citizenship behaviour: The good soldier transactional leadership: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, syndrome. Lexington, MA: Lexington. 89(5), 901 – 910. 8 Neal, A., Griffin, M. & Hart, P. (2000). The impact of organisational climate on 18 Mullen, J. & Kelloway, K. (2009). Safety leadership: A longitudinal study safety climate and individual behaviour. Safety Science, 34(1), 99 – 109. of the effects of transformational leadership on safety outcomes. Journal of 9 Hofmann, D. & Morgeson, F. (1999). Safety-related behaviors as a social Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 82(1), 253 – 272. exchange: The role of perceived organizational support and leader-member 19 Luria, G. & Morag, I. (2012). Safety management by walking around exchange. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(2), 286 – 296. (SMBWA): A safety intervention program based on both peer and manager 10 Conchie, S. & Donald, I. (2009). The moderating role of safety-specific participation. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 45(1), 248 – 257. trust on the relation between safety-specific leadership and safety citizenship behaviours. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(2), 137 – 147.© Sentis Pty Ltd 2012