Leadership Styles and Safety

Do Certain Leadership Skills Reduce Workplace Injuries?

                                            Leadership Styles and Safety

                                            Leadership Styles and Safety

Safety leadership is really about setting th...
                                             Leadership Styles and Safety

              Do Certain Leadership Skills ...
                                             Leadership Styles and Safety

actions and/or a suspension of pay.   This ...
                                             Leadership Styles and Safety

organizational safety programs, thus are mo...
                                              Leadership Styles and Safety

having a genuine concern for well being of...
                                              Leadership Styles and Safety

concern for well being, safety directives,...
                                             Leadership Styles and Safety

practices and should lead to lower injury r...
                                            Leadership Styles and Safety

management’.   The critical focus in partic...
                                              Leadership Styles and Safety


        Avolio BJ, Bass BM, ...
                                           Leadership Styles and Safety

     Zohar D. 2002. The effects of leadershi...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5



Published on

Published in: Health & Medicine, Business
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide


  1. 1. 1 Leadership Styles and Safety Do Certain Leadership Skills Reduce Workplace Injuries? April 23, 2009 Wendy L. Stein Research Concepts and Skills Clemson University
  2. 2. 2 Leadership Styles and Safety Abstract This research project examines certain leadership skills and the effect those skills have on workplace safety performance. The purpose of this research is to define leadership skills and explore the relationship with current safety practices, culture, and outlines statistical reporting requirements by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the article, “Transforming Safety Culture”, Simon and Cistaro, published in the April 2009 issue of Professional Safety, Top Management’s buy-in of safety and establishing an organizational safety culture is not the only key to a successful safety record. The article claims leadership initiatives must be put in play in order to facilitate the change for a positive safety culture. The focus of the research is to align first line supervisor’s skills and their abilities to be creative in their initiatives for safety and promotion of the safety culture. The energy and manufacturing sectors have expended considerable research dollars in determining the importance of the leadership factor for organizational safety effectiveness, Flin and Yule, 2004. Although senior management has the most influence on the safety culture of the organization, that same management must focus that influence down to the supervisor who is in fact ultimately responsible for enhancing the safety culture by cultivating it and allowing it to grow on the front line. The outcome of this research suggests that when recruiting supervisors, the selection, hiring and promotion practices should incorporate a requirement to look for specific leadership traits, primarily transformational leadership, in order to foster the current safety culture, attitudes and attributes.
  3. 3. 3 Leadership Styles and Safety Safety leadership is really about setting the example and leading by the example that is set. What types of traits do safety leaders harbor? What are important safety goals? How well does the supervisor achieve their safety goals? And, what types of leadership techniques do those supervisor’s employ to influence subordinates? This research will reveal that the transformational leader is more instrumental in achieving safety goals than the transactional leader.
  4. 4. 4 Leadership Styles and Safety Do Certain Leadership Skills Reduce Workplace Injuries? Numerous definitions exist as to, “What makes a leader” “What traits define a leader?” The military’s description of primary leadership goals, (many still believe a leader must be born), are that the basic non- commissioned officer’s leadership skills must be present and are necessary to be effective, the list goes on. Wikpedia and other web based definitions focus on the visionary, the one who sets the example, the one who puts all others needs before his, or the one who is action oriented. In a health and safety setting the word leadership is broadened to encompass certain duties such as, legal and statutory compliance, organizational core values, and someone who can influence others to adopt those behaviors. The general consensus in the safety leadership can be loosely defined as, “A supervisor who possesses knowledge, skills and the aptitude necessary to fulfill a job requirement, and will put safety at the forefront of every task or assignment. The safety leader strives toward continuous improvement, and is able to influence subordinates into thinking safety and acting safely, thus reducing workplace injuries. A list of leadership skills and requirements was noted by Health and Safety several years ago, but one factor that hasn’t changed is a heightened requirement for increased training of leaders. This study was based on the safety results of a transactional leader versus a transformational leader. The act of punishment and rewards between a supervisor and a subordinate is a “transaction”. The transactional leader gets tasks done by focusing on persuading their employees to perform well by promising rewards in the form of pay increases or bonuses. The employee who does not perform well receives no rewards and may be penalized by receiving disciplinary
  5. 5. 5 Leadership Styles and Safety actions and/or a suspension of pay. This type of leader may focus on workplace standards and procedures, and pay little attention to subordinates unless a problem arises. When the leader does not control the rewards and penalties it can and usually does result in ineffective performance by all parties concerned where safety is concerned. The transformational leader puts their employee’s needs above his/her own. This leader uses charisma and power to influence employees into wanting to do a good job, taking pride in their work, and looking after each other where high hazards exist, this type of intangible reward focuses on behaviour and praise. The relationship requires a good deal of trust in the leader on the part of the subordinate. Employees focus on the leader’s behavior and in an effort to please him/her and their co-workers strive to be the very best employee possible. The employee will put out the “extra mile” if they believe in their leader. Bernard Bass (2000) maintains that a transformational leader “intellectually stimulates” their employees by challenging them to be the best at what they do. The leader teaches new ways of doing things and inspires his employees to be creative in their approach to completing assigned tasks. The research and performance evaluations studied by different researchers suggest that a transformational leader can be developed regardless of their level in the organization. Correlations between a successful safety record and the transformational leader have been noted through the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (Bass 2000) and through review of performance records of successful safety leaders. Studies note that transformational leaders are more likely to take the lead in the
  6. 6. 6 Leadership Styles and Safety organizational safety programs, thus are more visibly recognizable and therefore respected by both supervisors and subordinates across the board. A study of 228 employees of a large engineering firm was completed and leadership skills were ranked on the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). Employees were asked which supervisors would they be most inclined to put forth extra effort for. Supervisors were ranked from one to four star leaders, four being the highest ranked transformational leaders. 22% to 24% of one star leaders had employees who stated they frequently exerted more effort on the job than what was required of them. An overwhelming 75% to 82% of employees stated they frequently went the extra mile for the four star transformational leaders (Bass 2000). Many scholars and proponents of the behavior based safety (BBS) culture are demonstrative in their view, a positive organizational safety culture must begin at Top Management. The first argument is, the first line supervisor is instrumental in persuading the employee to buy into the culture and vision, ultimately demonstrating the success of the culture through a reduction in workplace injuries. The safety message can be the same, but the face to face individual reinforcement the transformational leader provides to subordinates is indicative by the reduction in workplace injuries. A study conducted by Dov Zohar, (Journal of Organizational Behavior 2002) on the relationship between a safety climate and leadership, suggested that both transactional and transformational leadership had an impact on safety behavior among workplace employees. This study by was conducted almost simultaneously with a study by Hoffman and Morgeson (1999). Zohar studied the relationship of leaders and subordinates based on the supervisor
  7. 7. 7 Leadership Styles and Safety having a genuine concern for well being of employee safety before production The supervisor’s response to safe versus unsafe acts could lead to a predictor of workplace injuries. Hoffman and Morgeson conducted their study on a leader’s commitment to safety and that relationship to safety records. The results of the two studies led to a mediation model which states that “job performance has direct safety implications, the quality of leader-member interaction influences the leader’s concern for members’ welfare, which in turn influences the safety-climate perception within the group, hence the safety behavior of the group” (Bass, 1990; Fairhurst 1993, 2000). The overall premise of the studies is that a management and leaders must exhibit a genuine concern for safety and the well being of subordinates. People want to know their leaders and company management care about their well being. Keeping this in the forefront will subsequently yield the fruit of open discussion around routine tasks and their associated risks; as well as, high risk tasks which may require deeper discussion and assessments of the associated hazards. Transformational leaders that can foster this type of trusting relationship with subordinates can predict a reduction in their workplace injury rates. Where safety is demonstrated as the priority over production, the group is more likely to perform safely and look out for each other’s safety. The perception and relationship will eventually lead to a positive safety culture promoted and endorsed by Top Management. Of the 49 initial workgroups at a manufacturing plant Zohar studied, 42 groups completed the entire study. Injury rates were recorded and calculated by on- site medical practitioners; Safety surveys were distributed to each member of the workgroups to assess safety leadership. The surveys measured tasks and the associated risks and the Preventive Action (PA) factor of supervisor’s
  8. 8. 8 Leadership Styles and Safety concern for well being, safety directives, and actions related to safety being a priority over production. A five point scale assigned values from “completely agree” to “completely disagree”. The results indicated that supervisors who report to the same superior had varying ratings with respect to safety being a priority over production. When the focus was put on high hazard tasks both leadership styles assumed an ordinal order. Zohar’s Hypothesis I - Transformational leadership will be positively related to the safety climate (culture) and was shown to have a positive relationship. Hypothesis II - The safety climate will mediate the relationship between leadership and workplace injury. However, the results did not yield a reduction in injury based on the climate differences between transactional and transformational leaders; although it did indicate that a positive safety climate was positively related to the level of hazard and indirectly to leadership style. These findings could be indicative of a heightened level of awareness, which as a result was noted and reported on yearly performance evaluations. Whereas, the transformational leader has a more open communication process – promoting safety through the expression of the well being of subordinates, Komaki (1998) stresses the importance that transactional supervision is necessary “because effective monitoring and rewards...is needed to maintain reliable performance during routine job operations”. Safety priority was assigned a scale rating of one to five with questions ranging from, “supervisor turns a blind eye to safety, as long as there are no injuries” to statements like “supervisor was angry when he witnessed an unsafe act”. The pattern indicated that transformational leadership in respect to concern for others and closer personal relationships among supervisor’s and subordinates promote a higher respect for safety
  9. 9. 9 Leadership Styles and Safety practices and should lead to lower injury rates. Zohar suggests that future research be conducted on the leadership-safety relationship. Research conducted by Odea and Flin (2001) on offshore oil sites, studied the managers experience level, style of leadership, and their safety attitudes and beliefs. A questionnaire survey was used to study 36 organizations operating on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf, which consisted of 157 sites. The questionnaire focused on experience, leadership style, accident causation factors, safety climate, safety leadership, five main outstanding safety issues, and data analysis. Their findings revealed that experience had little to do with their leadership style or safety attitudes. However, the study did point out that direct style leadership and those with the least experience overestimated their capability in persuading and influencing the workforce. Some Site Managers were aware of their responsibility to safety; however, they had little influence over their subordinates to behave safely, and often did not make on the spot corrections regarding safety matters. An interesting correlation was found to exist, in that a positive relationship between superior and subordinate open communications in regard to safety accidents and near misses almost always resulted in fewer workplace accidents. More than 50% of the Site Managers preferred an authoritarian type of leadership style. Again, this study was attempting to predict workplace injuries based on leadership style and organizational culture. Hale and Hovden, 1998, highlighted an array of managerial behaviors, which have been linked back to safety studies that are interwoven with positive safety cultures. They claim that the broad spanning term “managements commitment to safety” be replaced with the term ‘participative
  10. 10. 10 Leadership Styles and Safety management’. The critical focus in participative management is that management actually gets involved in work and safety practices. One common factor in these studies is the desire to enhance human resources in the recruitment, selection, hiring, and promotion phases. The assumption being that while studies can predict the type of leader that can effectively reduce workplace injuries, inspire, educate, and develop a productive workforce, everything else will fall into place. After reviewing the cited research on the relationship between leadership style and workplace injury reduction, I conclude that more studies need to be conducted to validate more of the proposed hypothesis. The occupational health and safety fields are currently being bogged down by unreasonable targets and objectives that are based solely on days away from work and restricted duty. The studies revealed interesting approaches on human behavior and the direct relationship to workplace accidents. This approach to leadership focus is quite different than the traditional approach of engineering controls and constant work-site monitoring which typically invalidate the role of the first line supervisor. The future possibility that certain leadership styles may in fact reduce workplace injuries, creating the ultimate safe working environment is hopeful.
  11. 11. 11 Leadership Styles and Safety References Avolio BJ, Bass BM, Jung DI. 1999. Re-examining the components of transformational and transactional leadership using the MLQ. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 72: 441-462. Bass BM. 2002. From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics 23: 19-31. Catchpole, K. (2009). Who do we blame when it all goes wrong? Quality and Safety Health Care 18: 3-4. Fairhurst GT. 2000. The leader-follower communication. In Handbook of Organizational Communication, 2nd edn. Jablin F, Putnam L (eds). Sage: Newbury Park, CA. Hoffman DA, Morgeson FP. 1999. Safety-related behavior as a social exchange: the role of perceived organizational support and leader-member exchange. Journal of Applied Psychology 84: 286-296. Komaki JL. 1998. Leadership from an Operant Perspective. Routledge: New York. O’Dea A. Flin R. 2001. Site managers and safety leadership in offshore oil and gas industry. Safety Science 37: 39-57. Reason JT. Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents. Aldershot, U.K: Ashgat
  12. 12. 12 Leadership Styles and Safety Zohar D. 2002. The effects of leadership dimensions, safety climate, and assigned priorities on minor injuries in work groups. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 23: 75-92.