The concept of leadership within a safety context has increasingly been the topic of more focused research in recent years with more organisations’ looking to implement the fundamentals of safety leadership within their businesses. Safety leadership is defined as the process by which leaders within an organisation discuss and share information on the best practice around health and safety and how to best implement it in a workforce.
Developing good safety leadership has a number of recorded benefits including an overall reduction in insurance premiums, better economic performance, reduced employee absence and an overall increase in good safety behaviour.
These benefits are essential in improving your business, however many have stated the need to take a long-term approach towards implementing safety leadership. This is particularly challenging in times of economic uncertainty when relationships with shareholders can become strained and short term rewards are targeted. Part of the task for safety leaders is to encourage health and safety management to be considered the business decisions at the executive level.
Value alignment within an organisation
One of the key areas that safety leadership tries to improve is the values within a business. Poor safety leadership can lead to misalignment within an organisation, this can often lead to a lack of understanding between workers and line managers, impacting on health and safety.
Part of this is aligning the views of management and the general workforce. If both are working towards similar goals of reducing the number of workplace incidents and increasing the safe practices within the organisation it will positively impact all stakeholders within the organisation. One of the ways to do this is through promoting the right top-down information links in regards to health and safety in addition to encouraging good bottom-up communication.
Another key part of good safety leadership is in promoting education and awareness of health and safety within the workplace. This is a two-pronged approach, initially, the leaders within an organisation need to have adequate training on safety leadership. With this newfound information, they should start to promote the education of lower-level staff in the workplace.
The visible demonstration of good leadership within the organisation is also a key aspect of fostering good safety leadership. If employees feel those in the management team are committed to providing a safe workplace to their staff it will make the employees more likely to adopt good safety behaviours. Opening up a dialogue with workers within the business helps with this and helps to provide everyone with a good awareness around the policies on health and safety.
Whilst many managers stress the importance of good safety leadership, the findings of O’Dea and Flin (2001) suggest that many managers within an organisation exhibit behaviours that are inconsistent with good safety leadership. They also suggested that managers, in general, need more training around the practical applications of safety leadership. This is to be expected as the academic body of thought around this topic is still relatively young.
To promote good safety leadership in an organisation will inevitably require management of behavioural safety. Our interview with Brian Wedemeyer discusses some of the key behaviours that are common within safety leaders and how to promote them within your own organisation.
*O’Dea, A. and Flin, R., 2001. Site managers and safety leadership in the offshore oil and gas industry. Safety Science, 37(1), pp.39-57.