Leadership – its impact on safety and accidents

Report by Keith Bedingham, Chairman, Verax International.

April 3rd 2013. Sharon Clarke of the Manchester University Business School recently published (March 2013 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology) her findings on the relationship between Leadership practices and safety behaviour and accidents.

Her findings were based on a study over 5000 people working in hazardous environments. To summarise, Sharon found two types of leadership styles or practices, each of which impacted safety behaviour differently.

(i) Transformational Leadership

 This consisted of: –

– A vision for the future which supports the achievement of safety goals

– Demonstrating in their own behaviour that safety is important.

– Inspiring and encouraging individuals to reach higher safety levels and a “safety voice”  speaking up about safety issues.

– Allowing staff to suggest new and innovative ways (not risky solutions) of reaching safety targets.

– Coaching, caring/demonstrating a concern for employees’ safety and wellbeing.

– Proactively monitoring employees’ behaviour and correcting errors before they lead to problems.

 This led to:

 – Close attention to safety rules and regulations by employees and greater safety compliance.

– Greater trust between managers and their direct reports.

– Greater safety participation.

– Staff prepared to go beyond formal obligations.

– Higher levels of safety performance.

(ii) Transactional Leadership

– Emphasising rule based compliance

–  Active monitoring of staff

-Intervening in a visible way when problems occur

-Providing feedback on errors

-“Walk the talk” about safety

This led to:

– A perceived positive safety climate

– Safety compliance

– Less safety participation

A highly critical and punishment approach i.e. “catch them doing something wrong” was seen to increase the likelihood of accidents and more dangerous safety behaviour.

These findings are interesting in that they chime with Verax research into safety behaviour and as used in our Organisational (OTI) Health & Safety survey and our individual (Personal Effectiveness Profile – PEP) Safety and Wellbeing 360.

Verax found that informal recognition and praise for “good” safety performance was one of the factors most responsible for positive safety behaviour and low accident rates.

From a personal perspective, PEP, Self Presentation (Self Image, Self  Worth, Self Confidence) – all of which could be bolstered by positive recognition – had the most positive impact on individual safety behaviour and on personal accidents, minor illness, and absenteeism.

One conclusion that can be drawn from all these studies is that while organisations can do whatever they can to create safe environments and draw up policies, rules, regulations etc to keep people safe, it is in the interaction between manager and employee that we find the subtle nuances of human attitudes and behaviour that ultimately make the difference between safe/unsafe behaviour, accidents and injury.

Ref.  Clarke. S. Safety Leadership; A meta – analytic review of transformational and transactional leadership styles as antecedents of safety behaviours: Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology (2013), 86, 22 – 49

http://psychsource.bps.org.uk/details/journalArticle/4328651/Safety-leadership-A-metaanalytic-review-of-transformational-and-transactional-le.html

 http://www.verax.co.uk

…ends…

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