Aubrey Daniels says it well: "It’s as simple as this: safety starts with leadership. While incidents typically happen at the frontline, it is leaders who establish the physical and cultural setting within which the frontline works." (Aubrey Daniels International)
OSHA defines leadership by describing what managers do that demonstrates leadership. Management leadership means that business owners, managers, and supervisors:
In this first module, we'll continue to look at leadership concepts and principles, and in the next module, we'll discuss the many ways safety leadership is demonstrated through actions. We call this "doing safety."
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The following description of the five levels of leadership are adapted from John Maxwell's Developing the Leader Within You. It's important to understand that we're not correlating the five levels with higher positions within an organization. An employee at any level in the organization may display level five leadership, while the owner of a company may never develop beyond level one leadership. Now, let's take a look at the five levels of leadership. Think about which level best describes your current situation.
Leadership as a result of position: The boss may have power, but leadership has not been conferred at this level. Leaders at this level consider employees as subordinates - of lesser value. Typical results that you see in the work culture developed by Level I leadership include:
Leadership by permission: This is where real leadership begins. Leaders at this level begin to see their employees as followers rather than subordinates. The leader is not demanding followership, but is, through action and example, asking for it. The results of Level II leadership include:
Leadership because you produce: The Level 3 producer "makes, builds, writes, develops, sells" something in a way that impresses others, so they follow that leader. The leader at this level is admired for what he or she has or is able to do for the organization. People are impressed with this person's ability to produce. The Level 3 leader is "self" centered.
Leadership by developing others: You grow others. The leader achieving this level has learned that helping others be "all they can be" is the key to becoming fully successful. The Level 4 provider "gives, helps, encourages, supports" others to help them succeed. The Level 3 producer does not necessarily help others as does the Level 4 leader. The Level 4 leader is more "other-centered."
Leadership because of what you've done. When this person enters the room, everyone knows him or her. Some religious, political, social, sports, and business leaders have achieved this level. Some coaches, scout leaders, and other local leaders have, likewise, achieved this level.
Culture, to the workers, is their perception of "the way things are around here". That perception is influenced to a great extent by the leadership styles managers exhibit.
Every day, employees, supervisors and managers have many opportunities to communicate and act in ways that demonstrate effective safety leadership. Unfortunately, many opportunities go unanswered because they don't perceive them as such.
Employers and managers do not understand that the simple expression of effective leadership can result in enormous benefits to the corporate safety culture. The inability to perceive leadership opportunities as they arise limits the company's potential to succeed.
It's appropriate to assume that employees at all levels of the organization are good people trying to do the best they can with what they've got. The challenge is to demonstrate effective leadership that provides adequate physical resources and psychosocial support to achieve the kind of results expected of them. Ultimately, the workplace culture can make or break an effective safety management and leadership.
We can associate three fundamental safety leadership styles to the effectiveness of a safety culture: tough-coercive, tough-controlling, and tough-caring. Let's take a look at each of these leadership styles.
In this leadership approach, managers are tough on safety to protect themselves: to avoid penalties. The manager's approach to controlling performance may primarily rely on the threat of punishment. The objective is to achieve compliance to fulfill legal or fiscal imperatives. The culture is fear-driven and toxic. Management resorts to an accountability system that emphasizes negative consequences. By what managers do and say, they may communicate negative messages to employees that establish or reinforce negative relationships.
As you might guess, fear-driven cultures, by definition cannot be effective in achieving world-class safety programs because employees work (and don't work) to avoid a negative consequence. Employees and managers all work to avoid punishment. Consequently, fear-driven thoughts, beliefs and decisions may be driving their behaviors. Bottom-line: a fear-driven safety culture will not work. It can not be effective for employees and managers at any level of the organization. It may be successful in achieving compliance, but that's it.
Managers primarily using this approach are tough on safety to control losses. They have high standards for behavior and performance, and they control all aspects of work to ensure compliance. Managers displaying this leadership style may not have a high level of trust in their employees. Hence, they must control them.
This leadership approach is most frequently exhibited in the "traditional" management model. As employers gain greater understanding, their attitudes and strategies change to better fulfill their legal and financial obligations. They become more effective in designing safety systems that successfully reduce injuries and illnesses, thereby cutting production costs. In a tough-controlling environment, tight control is necessary to achieve numerical goals. Communication is typically top-down and information is used to control. A safety "director" is usually appointed to take on the role of a cop rather than a consultant. A safety cop is responsible for enforcement and control while the safety consultant is responsible for education, analysis, and creating solutions.
Tough-controlling leaders move beyond the threat of punishment as the primary strategy to influence behavior. However, they will rely to a somewhat lesser extent on negative reinforcement and punishment to influence behavior. Positive reinforcement may also be used as a controlling strategy. Tough-controlling leadership styles may or may not result in a fear-based culture.
Managers are tough on safety because they have high expectations and they insist their followers behave, and they care about the success of their employees first. This is a self-less leadership approach.
The tough-caring leadership model represents a major shift in leadership and management thinking away from the more selfish tough-controlling model.
A quantum leap in effective safety (and all other functions) occurs when employers adopt a tough-caring approach to leadership. Rather than being the safety cop, the safety manager is considered an internal consultant who is responsible for helping all line managers and supervisors demonstrate leadership by "doing" safety. Line managers must be the cops, not the safety department. This results in dramatic positive changes in corporate culture which is success driven.
Although positive reinforcement is the primary strategy used to influence behaviors, tough-caring leaders are not reluctant in administering discipline when it's justified because they understand it to be a matter of leadership. However, before they discipline, managers will first evaluate the degree to which they, themselves, have fulfilled their obligations to their employees. If they have failed in that effort, they will apologize and correct their own deficiency rather than discipline.
You can imagine that in a tough-caring safety culture, trust between management and labor is promoted through mutual respect, involvement and ownership in all aspects of workplace safety.
Top management may communicate their support for safety, but the real test for commitment is the degree to which management acts on their communication with serious investments in time and money. When management merely communicates their interest in safety, but does not follow through with action, they are expressing moral support, not commitment.
Real commitment is an expression of tough-caring leadership by example. Integrity, character, and self-discipline are values that all managers seek in their employees. Employees will demonstrate these important attributes when (and only when) they see management exhibiting these values first.
Great leaders truly care about those they lead. What better way to demonstrate leadership than by providing a safe and healthful place of work for all employees.
If you're a manager or supervisor, ask yourself, "Do I really like my people?" If the answer isn't yes, start now to rethink your opinion because it's almost impossible to demonstrate caring leadership if you don't actually like your people.
"We choose to have zero injuries. We choose to have zero injuries this day and do this, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, because we care for ourselves and others too." S. Farnham, Safety Manager, Contrack, International
They say "perception is reality." The employer can shape perceptions by educating employees, customers, and the public about its commitment to "safety as a core value." One way that can happen is by including commitment to safety in the company's vision and mission statements.
The vision statement lets the employee, customers, and the public understand who you are by defining the role your company plays and what its basic values are. The vision statement reflects the corporate culture. One way to understand corporate culture is to think of it as the company's unique "personality" setting it apart from all others.
XYZ Widgets values its "relationship with customer" above all. To be successful we treat all employees as valued internal customers. We respect their ideas, value their work, and provide whatever is needed so that they may accomplish excellence in a safe and productive manner.
The mission statement tells the world what you do. It lets everyone know why your company exists, by stating its intended purpose. The mission statement lets everyone know what your company's product or service is; who its customers are; what its service territory is.
It is the mission of XYZ Widgets to safely manufacture and deliver the highest quality megalithic cyberwidgets to our valued customers throughout the world.
If your company doesn't have a mission statement, try to develop one and convince management of the benefits that will result from a written mission statement. Now let's take a look at two basic approaches employers may adopt in safety and health program management: reactive and proactive safety.
It's sad but true - some companies have adopted an approach to safety and health that emphasizes a reactive strategy. A reactive approach assumes that accidents just happen, and there's not much that can be done about it. Consequently, the company places most of its effort into reacting to accidents after they occur. A reactive response occurs after an injury or illness and usually has the purpose of minimizing the costs associated accidents.
Reactive safety programs always cost much more than proactive programs: Always. Why? Because they aren't implemented until an injury or illness has occurred. When management emphasizes a reactive approach to safety and health, it sends some negative messages to employees:
Check out these examples of reactive safety programs.
Successful companies adopt a proactive strategy that emphasizes the prevention of accidents. They will do whatever it takes to make sure accidents never happen in the workplace. They believe there are no excuses for an accident. A proactive response to safety and health in the workplace occurs before an accident has occurred. It anticipates and tries to prevent accidents.
By emphasizing accident prevention, management sends positive messages to employees:
Proactive safety strategies are always less expensive than reactive strategies because the company makes investments that result in potentially huge returns. Remember, proactive programs are implemented to prevent future injuries and illnesses.
Check out some examples of proactive safety and health programs.
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If you have time, watch this very interesting video in which John Maxwell discusses the Five Levels of Leadership.