Safety Leadership: Getting Everyone On-Board!

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Every company dreams and works hard to achieve “zero accidents”. Getting there is no easy task. Having Safety Culture implemented in the company’s culture and documented is not enough. Guaranteeing safety is an important process that must involve all stakeholders starting from the top management down. This process is achieved thanks to great leadership and particularly a safety leader. Therefore, one must ask, what is true leadership before embarking on the safety journey in their company.


What are the different types of leadership styles? What qualities a safety leader must have?


What is Leadership?


“Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it”. Henry Mintzberg - Management Professor.


The word “leadership” is the combination of two words, “leader” and “ship”. “Leader” is the capacity of a person to lead a group of people and support them in their objectives, tasks, etc. A leader is not a boss, but rather the complete opposite. “Ship” is all about the relationship between the leader and his team, and unfortunately this part of leadership is often overlooked.


Therefore, a leader is not about a title earned or a position, but it is about the capacity to lead and the behaviour of a leader and employees. Great leadership always involves and considers all stakeholders in every important process.


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The different types of leadership


There are no courses or certifications to become a Leader! Leadership results from personal quality, skill development and knowledge learnt over time. And depending on how all these skills and knowledge are invested this will lead to different outcomes and types of leadership.


Here are 7 examples.


Autocratic Leadership.


This type of leadership is the closest type to the “BOSS”! The leader does not rely on the feedback from their employees and makes the decisions alone. They expect others to follow all their directives and guidelines. However, the positive side of this leadership is the clear visions, and clear objectives set by the leader. But, nowadays, this is the least appreciated type of leadership, as things must also go quickly and at the leader’s pace.


Democratic Leadership.


This type of leadership is the complete opposite of autocratic leadership. The leader relies essentially on employees’ feedback and communication before making decisions, even if the leader has the final say. Employees are well-valued and feel involved in the company’s objectives. This will motivate them and encourage collaboration, contributing to better results.

The downside of this leadership style is that some employees might be left out, as not everyone will get involved, in addition to, in some cases, a long decision-making process.


Pacesetting Leadership.


Leaders dive head-first into the action with their employees. They will set the pace and help everyone in getting things done. However, their pace is “run fast and hard!”. This type of leadership is very effective in achieving short-term objectives and achieving high results and expectations. On the other hand, when it comes to long-term goals, not everyone can follow. This type of leadership can lead to high-pressure situations, and some employees might not catch up with the pace, and some unfortunate incidents can happen, such as burnouts, no feedback, mistakes, etc.


Coaching Leadership.


This type of leadership is the same as a sports coach. The leader will encourage the talent development of their team members and detects all their strengths and weaknesses. The leader will collaborate with the employees to develop new skills and work on their weaknesses. The focus is more oriented on the long-term employees’ potential and performance and seeing how they will fit into the company’s vision and mission. However, focusing on the individual can be time-consuming with one on one communication, and sometimes the leader might lose sight of the big picture ahead.


Affiliative Leadership.


This type of leadership promotes cohesion, harmony and collaboration within their teams. The leader establishes healthy relationships between their employees and relies on praise and helpfulness to encourage trust between team members. Team building activities are always on the agenda of the leader to improve communication between team members, as it is the key to the success of this type of leadership. However, underperforming employees may reduce the productivity of the team and might break the team collaboration work and harmony.


Transactional Leadership.


This may be the most common type of leadership style. It is based on the action-reward concept. Therefore, even though long-term objectives and the company’s targets are always on the leader’s mind, they often target short-term and precis objectives to achieve tasks and actions. The downside of this leadership style is that some employees might feel left out, leading to a loss of morale and collaborative work. This happens when they are giving their best in terms of performance and they can not achieve the objectives set by the leader. This is a delicate situation as the leader must understand the potential of their teams and be aware of their abilities, in terms of setting objectives.


Transformational Leadership.


This kind of leadership may be the combination of all previous leadership styles. It is also known as visionary leadership. They focus on the long-term goals of the organisation and never lose sight of all the other aspects of every function and collaborative work. They have a great influence on the teams, and this type of leader inspires trust and respect. They put everyone on the same level, motivate, engage and encourage them to achieve their objectives, develop their skills and empower teamwork. They focus on certain tasks to help employees step out of their comfort zone and discover new skills. This is the most effective type of leadership, and leaders rely on communication and listening skills as key elements to achieve team collaboration, decision making and many more.


For some, this is the “Ideal” type of leadership. Yet, does the “perfect leader” really exists? In terms of safety leadership, a leader must have certain qualities to thrive.


The main qualities of a Safety Leader


According to the ICSI (institute for industrial safety culture), Safety Leadership is the ability to motivate stakeholders around safety challenges and goals, and influence behaviour for safer conditions!”.


A safety leader must have certain qualities to achieve safety goals and objectives. Especially when in the company’s culture (mission, vision, strategy and values) the safety culture is clearly defined and embedded in its values. The role of a safety leader then is not only to make sure that the documentation related to safety culture is existent but also its application. A safety leader is not a manager or a CEO. Everyone can be a safety leader but the focus in our case is how the positive influence of a safety leader can lead to a better secure and healthy workplace.


Therefore, the main qualities of a safety leader are

  • Confidence and humility;
  • Motivation and commitment;
  • Empathy and understanding;
  • Communication and listening;
  • Inspire trust.


All these qualities will allow the best implementation of all safety procedures to ensure the safety of all stakeholders, and a safety leader will pave the way by setting the best example for everyone to follow. Therefore safety leaders are visionary and never lose sight of the future and they efficiently apply and involve safety culture within the company’s culture.


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Safety Leadership in actions


Actions speak louder than words, hence the importance of safety leaders in making sure that safety is as important as the achievement of business goals.


Make sure that Safety Culture is well embedded in the company’s culture


Safety Culture must not be static in a company. It evolves over time and must be adapted to all the new situations and new targets of the company. And above all, it is about keeping all the staff involved in driving the change and implementing the best practices in terms of safety.


Far too often, the company’s culture including the safety culture comes down to a document, that is communicated within the company, which embodies its vision and values and how safety culture is embedded within. Talking and reading about it is not sufficient enough. Actions must be taken and put in place. It is important that a safety culture is well-understood and adopted by all employees this will affect the image of the company and its attractiveness. To maintain its safety culture, the company can recruit new employees that share the same values, and know the importance of safety to achieve other objectives. In addition, the board of directors can also adopt and develop the safety culture through their management practices by ensuring and establishing a risk-centred culture in their operations. This way everyone is made aware of all the risks and hazards related to their activity and adopts the best behaviours in terms of safety measures and procedures.


Include and involve everyone


As mentioned above, having in place all the documentation about safety culture to be consulted is not enough. A safety leader must pave the way for safety in the organisation. It is not only up to the EHS department to be safety leaders, it starts with the top management


The board of directors must consider risks and hazards in the global objectives and missions of the company.


EHS managers must pave the way and involve everyone in complying with the safety procedures. They have a key role in helping the board of directors understand the importance of acting on risk management rather than reacting after incidents.


Team managers (operations, productions, etc.) must also set an example for all their team members as they are the first safety leaders for them. They must listen to them understand their needs and their safety concerns and be the right example of adopting the best practices and behaviours regarding safety.


Communication and collaboration with every stakeholder are the keys to success when it comes to safety culture. Relying on their feedback and listening to them is as important as the objectives to achieve.


Building, adapting and evolving the safety procedures


Identifying the risks and hazards of the company’s activity is essential for safety. Involving the employees in these procedures is important as they will be heard and their feedback is essential when it comes to facing the risks of their tasks. after all, it is for their safety that you are building up these measures. Moreover, involving all concerned stakeholders aims to simplify protocols and procedures, ensuring that all documents are also made useful for them.


Safety conversations can also be a major key element for a successful risk management plan. Gathering all the data, walking the walk, understanding the employees' needs, and listening to them will help the safety leader in reviewing the safety procedures and eliminate unnecessary procedures that are no longer effective.


Safety checklists are also ways to periodically control all the safety measures and equipment. Originally this task is entrusted to the EHS department, but it is more relevant to create these checklists in close collaboration with the operation teams as they will feel more involved in the process and eventually they will be the ones using them. These checklists can be innovative thanks to digital technology, and will then get the employees more involved by attaching videos and images of certain situations. Digital checklists will allow better involvement of all stakeholders.


Raising awareness is important to help everyone understand the importance of safety measures regarding incident management and their impact on the employees' health and the company’s goals. Identifying the right behaviours and setting the example will help everyone be more involved and aware of their safety and surroundings.


Finally, the role of a safety leader is also to accompany and support all stakeholders on new challenges to come and face them together. In 2023, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) requirements and criteria will be among the new challenges to face companies all over the world. Therefore your role as an EHS leader will be essential for the success of this new strategy.

Human error is not the main cause of workplace incidents. Leadership has an important role to play in avoiding incidents and paving the way for the best safety behaviour. In addition, the key role of the safety leader is to motivate and involve all stakeholders to achieve the objectives and goals of the organisation. The leader must get into action and be directly involved in all these processes to set an example and gain everyone's trust, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies, new processes, and new strategies.


To go further: 

> To improve your risk assessment process discover the occupational risks and the risk assessment template application on the BlueMarket.

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