Course 113 Introduction to Safety Leadership

What is "Leadership?"

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You don't have to be a superhero to be a great leader.

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:

  • Make worker safety and health a core organizational value rather than a priority.
  • Provide sufficient resources and support to implement and maintain the safety and health program.
  • Visibly demonstrate and communicate their safety and health commitment to workers and others.
  • Continuously improve the safety management system to protect workers, eliminate or control hazards, and improve the safety culture.
  • Set an example through their own actions.

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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1. Effective safety leaders see safety as a _____.

a. first priority
b. core value
c. key function
d. vital responsibility

Next Section

The Five Levels of Leadership

A summary of John Maxwell's 5 Levels of Leadership.

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.

Level One - The Boss

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.

Click on the button to learn more about the characteristics of Level 1 leadership.

Typical results that you see in the work culture developed by Level I leadership include:

  • Dependent subordinates who are not followers and certainly not self-leaders.
  • Subordinates do what the boss says because they have to.
  • Subordinates do what the boss says because he or she occupies a position.
  • Subordinates work to avoid negative consequences.
  • The boss's influence does not extend beyond the lines of his or her job description.

Level Two - The Coach

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.

Click on the button to learn more about the characteristics of Level 2 leadership.

The characteristics of Level II leadership include:

  • Leadership is conferred at this level. The leader has permission to lead.
  • The leader commands, not demands.
  • The leader begins the very important journey away from self-centered attitudes towards selfless action.
  • Followers do what the leader says because they want to.
  • Followers begin to work to receive recognition as well as avoid punishment.

2. Which of the following is characteristic of John Maxwell's Level Two leadership?

a. Subordinates do what the boss says because they have to
b. Subordinates work to avoid negative consequences
c. Followers do what the leader says because they want to
d. Subordinates do what the boss says because he or she occupies a position

Next Section

The Five Levels of Leadership (Continued)

Level Three - The Producer

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There are many levels of leadership.

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.

Click on the button to learn more about the characteristics of Level 3 leadership.

Typical results that you see in the work culture developed by Level 3 leadership include:

  • People follow the leader because of what he or she does for the organization.
  • This is where success is sensed by most workers.
  • People like the leader because of what he or she is doing.
  • Problems are fixed with very little effort because of momentum.

Level Four - The Provider

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."

Click on the button to learn more about the characteristics of Level 4 leadership.

Typical results that you see in the work culture developed by Level 4 leadership include:

  • People follow the leader because of what he does for them.
  • The "Servant-Leader" functions at this level.
  • The leader's commitment is to developing followers into self-leaders.
  • Tough-caring leadership is displayed at this level.
  • The leader has completed the transition from selfish to selfless action.
  • Do whatever you can to achieve and stay on this level.
  • It's possible for all of us to achieve this level of leadership.

Level Five - The Champion

Leadership because of what you've done: When this person enters the room, everyone knows him or her. Just think of the most famous religious, political, social, sports, and business leaders for examples. However, you don't have to be world-famous to be a champion. There are thousands of teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and other local leaders that have, likewise, achieved the status of champion.

Click on the button to learn more about the characteristics of Level 5 leadership.

Typical results that you see in the work culture developed by Level 5 leadership include:

  • Employees follow because of who the leader is and what he or she represents.
  • This step is reserved for leaders who have spent years growing people and organizations.
  • The transition, or transformation, from selfish motives to selfless action is complete here.
  • Few make it to this level.

3. Which of the following John Maxwell leadership levels seeks to develop workers into self-leaders?

a. Level 2 - The Coach
b. Level 3 - The Producer
c. Level 4 - The Provider
d. Level 5 - The Champion

Next Section

Leadership Shapes Culture

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.

Kevin Burns - Who Safety Managers Serve

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.

4. What influences, to a great extent, a company's safety culture and "the way things are around here?"

a. Day-to-day routine
b. Management policies
c. Leadership styles
d. Workplace environment

Next Section

Leadership Styles

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.

Tough-coercive leadership is not effective.
Tough-coercive leadership is not effective.
(Click to enlarge)

Tough-Coercive Leadership

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.

5. Which of the following leadership styles is most likely to result in a fear-driven safety culture?

a. Tough-counteracting
b. Tough-caring
c. Tough-controlling
d. Tough-coercive

Next Section

Leadership Styles (Continued)

Tough-controlling safety leadership is not truly effective.
Tough-controlling safety leadership is not truly effective.
(Click to enlarge)

Tough-Controlling Leadership

Managers who have 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 instill a high level of trust in their employees. Hence, they think they must have tight control of their employees.

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.

6. Which leadership approach is the safety manager more likely to take on the role of a cop rather than a consultant?

a. Tough-coercive
b. Tough-controlling
c. Tough-caring
d. Tough-consulting

Next Section

Leadership Styles (Continued)

Tough-caring leadership is most effective.
Tough-caring safety leadership is most effective.
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Tough-Caring Leadership

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.

  • Managers understand that complying with the law, controlling losses, and improving production can best be assured if employees are motivated, safe, and able.
  • Management understands that they can best fulfill their commitment to external customers by fulfilling their obligations to internal customers: their employees.
  • Communication is typically all-way: information is used to share so that everyone succeeds.

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.

Positive Reinforcement

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.

7. Which leader uses positive reinforcement as the primary strategy to influence behaviors but is not reluctant to discipline when justified?

a. Tough-creative leader
b. Tough-coercive leader
c. Tough-controlling leader
d. Tough-caring leader

Next Section


Leadership by example, integrity, character and self-discipline.
Leaders get what they give.

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.

Leaders Get What They Give!

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

8. Employees will demonstrate leadership personal attributes when _____.

a. their leaders tell them what to do and how to do it
b. their leaders come down hard on them
c. they first see those attributes in their leaders
d. they have been adequately educated on leadership

Next Section

Perception is Reality

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 to that is to include management's commitment to safety in the company's vision and mission statements.

Vision and Mission Statements

What we do depends on who we think we are.
What we do (mission) depends on who we think we are (vision).
(Click to enlarge)

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. Click on the button to see an example of a simple vision statement.

  • 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. 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. Click on the button to see an example of a simple mission statement.

  • It is the mission of XYZ Widgets to safely manufacture and deliver the highest quality megalithic cyberwidgets to our valued customers throughout the world.

Now let's look at two basic approaches employers may adopt in safety and health program management: reactive and proactive safety.

9. Where should safety be expressed so that employees, customers, and the public best understand the company's commitment to safety?

a. Vision and mission statement
b. Vision statements
c. Mission statements
d. Policy and program statements

Next Section

Successful Leaders are "Proactive"

Be proactive to prevent accidents.
Be proactive to prevent accidents.
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Don't Just React to Safety

It's sad but true - some companies adopt a reactive approach to safety and health that assumes accidents just happen and there's not much that can be done about it. This head-in-the-hole approach emphasizes taking corrective actions only after an injury or illness occurs in the hope that it will save some money in the long term.

However, reactive safety programs always cost much more than proactive programs: Always. Why? Because they suffer much higher accident costs.

Also, when management takes a reactive approach to safety and health, it sends a message to employees that it's all about money, not employee safety. Click on the button to see examples of a reactive safety programs.

Examples of reactive safety and health programs in which corrective measures are taken only after an accident.

  • Incident/Accident investigation that only determines blame
  • Early return to work program
  • Incentive programs that cause employees to not report incidents/accidents

Be Business Smart: Be Proactive

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. Corrective actions are taken before an accident occurs.

By emphasizing accident prevention, management saves money and sends a positive message that employees are more important than money.

Proactive safety strategies are always less expensive than reactive strategies because the company invests in safety and health with potentially huge reductions in accident costs. Click on the button to see examples of a proactive safety programs.

Examples of proactive safety and health programs in which corrective measures are taken before an accident.

  • Incident/Accident analysis to determine root causes
  • Hazard investigation - inspections
  • Wellness program
  • Incentive/Recognition program that rewards safe behavior
  • Safety committees/teams
  • Education and Training
  • Job Hazard Analysis
  • Hazard communication program
  • Lockout/Tagout program
  • Confined Space program
  • Disciplinary program if tied to behaviors

10. Which of the following strategies emphasizes prevention of accidents?

a. Reactive strategies
b. Positive strategies
c. Proactive strategies
d. Leading strategies

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Watch this brief video in which John Maxwell discusses the Five Levels of Leadership.

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