17th Feb, 2020 Read time 3 minutes

Adopting transformational leadership in HSE

Leadership inherently comes from many human characteristics and this is one of the reasons why leadership styles are so varied. In health and safety, good leadership can often be the difference between life and death. Recent studies and HSE experts have talked about the need for more transformational leadership as a way of nurturing and developing workers, as well as increasing the quality of the wider safety culture.

What is transformational leadership?

As with many theories used in HSE, transformational leadership has applications far beyond safety specific scenarios. In its simplest form, transformational leadership looks to promote and encourage workers to invoke positive change within an organisation. This can be aligned with the financial and cultural goals of the business.

In a safety context, transformational leadership can help improve employee morale and assist in the implementation of better workplace practices. The idea is to encourage not only senior decision-makers to become good leaders, but transformational leadership should also spread to all levels within the organisation; with a culture that empowers to people act on issues that they think could threaten safety in the workplace.


Does transformational leadership improve health and safety?

The academic principles behind transformational leadership match up well with wider ideas around occupational safety. There are four main ideas behind the theory:

  • Individual & Organisational Characteristics
  • Leader behaviours
  • Follower & group impacts
  • Outcomes

Individual and organisational characteristics can both be influenced for the good of safety. Using leadership to encourage workers to perform work in a safer manner through changing characteristics has been shown to help keep hazards down. If you can change an individual’s culture this will go some way to developing the transformational leadership culture of the wider organisation.

Another part of transformational leadership is encouraging the development of leader behaviours within the relevant individuals. These behavioural traits can help influence others to work in a safer manner.

If characteristics are changed and transformational leaders identified, the follower and group impacts within a business can be very positive. Lower ranked employees may try and identify hazards and there may be an overall increase in employee morale and productivity.

Outcomes are important in a business and they can be a good determinant of success in safety. Transformational leadership can help to lower injury rates, and the increased employee morale could increase worker health and reduce sick days.

In addition to the theorized benefits of adopting transformational safety leadership, research by Barling, Kelloway and Loughlin (2002) indicates that it can increase worker trust in management and organisational commitment. Both of these can help to increase the holistic safety of the workplace.


An example of good transformational leadership

The growth of many large businesses can be attributed to transformational leadership. The development of Standard Oil by John Rockefeller was due in part due to the positive leadership he invoked in others. The company’s aims were developed in a succinct message that everyone within the business was behind and held accountable for achieving.

Adopting safety into the wider message of the company or workplace you are in will help to keep it at the forefront of employee minds. This helps empower employees to adopt safer practices, for example, ensuring areas are kept tidy and free from dangerous objects that may cause harm.


How do you start to implement transformational leadership in safety?

Changing macro-organisational areas like this takes time and persistence. Small changes that can help build transformational leadership into a safe environment include educating your workers on why safety is important. Additionally, encouraging workers to take an active interest in the safety of their work will help to promote better practices throughout the company.

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