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Safety Leadership


We can't complete the course without discussing the supervisor's leadership responsibilities. We touched lightly on the subject in Module 5, but because it's so important, we need to continue the discussion.

Without effective leadership, the supervisor might manage well, but the resulting work culture may be counterproductive. We encourage you to view the classic video by Napoleon Hill on the Secret to Think and Grow Rich.

What Works: Tough-Caring Leadership

shaking hands

Tough-caring leaders are tough because they care about their employees' safety. This leadership approach is similar to the "servant-leader" model in which leaders serve those they lead. The tough-caring leadership approach is characteristic of the following:

  • Leaders understand that complying with the law, controlling losses, and improving production can best be assured if employees are motivated, safe, and able.
  • Leaders understand 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 safety cops, safety managers are responsible to "help" all line managers and supervisors "do" safety. Line managers, not the safety department, must be the cops. 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.

Remember, 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. Now, let's discuss two leadership models that DO NOT work!

1. Which safety leadership style best helps to ensure effective accountability?

a. Tough-Caring
b. Tough-Controlling
c. Tough-Coercive
d. Tough-Coping

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What Doesn't Work: Tough-Coercive Leadership


As you learned in Course 700, 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. 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.

Let's look at examples of the language you might hear from tough-coercive leaders:

  • "If I go down...I'm taking you all with me!" (I've heard this myself!)
  • "If you violate this safety rule, you will be fired."
  • "If you report hazards, you will be labeled a complainer."
  • "If you work accident free, you won't be fired."

As you might guess, fear-driven cultures, by definition, cannot be effective in achieving world-class safety 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 cannot be effective for employees and managers at any level of the organization. It may be successful in achieving compliance, but that's it.

2. The manager who has a tough-coercive leadership approach may primarily rely on _____.

a. verbal responses
b. the promise of recognition
c. the threat of punishment
d. fact-finding tools

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What Doesn't Work: Tough-Controlling Leadership

Managers primarily using this approach are tough on safety to control losses. They have high standards for behavior and performance, and they most likely rely on mandatory compliance with policies, procedures, and rules to control all aspects of work.

This leadership approach is most frequently exhibited in the "traditional" management model. As employers gain greater understanding, attitudes and strategies to fulfill their legal and fiscal responsibilities, imperatives improve. They become more effective in designing safety systems that successfully reduce injuries and illnesses, thereby cutting production costs. Tight control is necessary to achieve numerical goals. Communication is typically top-down and information is used to control. Safety "directors" are usually appointed to act as safety cops who are responsible for controlling the safety function.

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.

Examples of what you might hear from tough-controlling leaders include:

  • "If you have an accident, you'll be disciplined."
  • "If you don't have an accident, you won't lose your bonus."
  • "If you comply with safety rules, you will be recognized."

3. What is a tough-controlling leader most likely going to rely on to control all aspects of work?

a. Threat of punishment
b. Mandatory compliance
c. Recognition for compliance
d. Rewards for working beyond compliance

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What Leadership is NOT

John Maxwell on the Law of Influence.

In order to better understand what leadership is, let's first discuss what it is not.

Leadership is not power. Power is derived from status, position, money, expertise, charisma, ability to harm, access to media, control of assets, communications skills, physical strength. Leaders always have power, but the powerful are not always leaders. The thug who sticks a gun in your back has "power" but not leadership. Power is self-centered, ethically neutral (can be used for good or bad), amoral.

Leadership is not status. Status or position may enhance the opportunity for leadership. Some may have status or position, yet don't have a shred of leadership. It's very important to understand that position is assigned from above...leadership is conferred from below.

Leadership is not authority. The boss will naturally have "subordinates," but, if leadership is not present, he or she will not have followers. People will follow- confer leadership- only if the person acts like a leader.

Leadership is not management. Management is the process of controlling systems through planning, organizing, and supervising. Managers organize system inputs- processes, policies, plans, procedures, programs. Managing is a planned activity. Leadership is more spontaneous than planned. Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.

4. Managers _____ and leaders ______.

a. do the right things, do things right
b. do things right, do the right things
c. are spontaneous, are calculating
d. relate to people, relate to things

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Maxwell's Five 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. Employees at any level in the organization may display any of the five levels of leadership. As you read through the levels of leadership, think about which level best describes your the leadership styles you experience at work.

Level One Leadership - The Boss

Leadership as a result of position: The boss may have power, but leadership has not been conferred at this level. Characteristics of the work culture developed by boss 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.
  • The boss is primarily concerned with his or her own success.
  • The boss uses, and potentially abuses, people to further his or her own ends.
  • The longer the boss remains at this level, the higher the turnover and lower the morale.

Level Two Leadership - The Coach

Leadership by permission: This is where real leadership begins. The leader is not demanding followership, but is, through action and example, asking for it.

  • 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.
  • The leader begins at this level to work for the success of his or her followers.

5. At this level of leadership, a supervisor may have power, but leadership has not been conferred.

a. Level 1: The Boss
b. Level 2: The Coach
c. Level 3: The Producer
d. Level 4: The Provider

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The Five Levels of Leadership

Level Three Leadership - The Producer

Leadership because your production: 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.

  • 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 Leadership - The Provider

Leadership by developing people: 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 doesn't necessarily help others as does the Level 4 leader. The Level 4 leader is "other" centered.

  • 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 Leadership - The Champion

Leadership because of respect. When the champion 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. The champion is totally other-centered and has learned the "secret" - you get what you give.

  • 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.

6. At which leadership level does the "Servant-Leadership" model function?

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

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Workplace Culture

The most effective safety culture designs a safety management system that integrates the safety function with operations. To integrate safety most successfully into operations, it's important to consider safety as a core value rather than a priority. Values do not readily change. Priorities tend to change when the "going gets tough." When we're behind in our goals, we tend to take shortcuts in an effort to work more efficiently. The problem is that some of those shortcuts may be unsafe, increasing the probability of an accident. When safety is valued, the message communicated from management to employees is that we produce safely or we don't produce at all. Period. There is no prioritizing.

We have safe production or no production!

Corporate Culture and Personality

Corporate cultures reflect "the way things are around here." One way to picture an organization's culture is to think of it as its "personality." Who has the greatest control over what that personality looks like? The person who is at the top. Consequently, corporate personality over time usually takes on the personality of the head of the organization. Each department within the organization creates its own subculture controlled primarily by the head of the work group. The same relationship between culture and the personality of the person controlling the culture applies to each department within the organization. Again, the department is likely to reflect the personality and the values of the department head. I'm sure you can see how unique leadership and management styles can result in unique subcultures.

7. What's the difference between values and priorities?

a. Values are Top-down: Priorities are not.
b. Values don't change: Priorities do.
c. Values readily change: Priorities don't.
d. Values reflect leadership: Priorities reflect management.

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Management + Leadership = Culture

Kevin Burns - Safety is the New Leadership.

Another way to look at culture is to consider it the sum of management and leadership styles of the leader. Management is an organizational skill, while leadership is a human relations skill. The interaction between the two determines, to a great extent, the way things are around here. With this in mind, let's look at some of the factors creating barriers to a successful safety culture.

Barriers to achieving and supporting a safety culture:

  • Counterproductive beliefs - "Safety is 99% common sense!”, “It won't happen to me," and "It's all about money." These and other perceptions send the wrong messages to employees.

  • Fear, distrust and stress - According to W. Edwards Deming, this barrier must be overcome first! Fear creates struggle between safety and job security. Excellence is rare in fear-driven cultures.

  • Lack of participation - Do "just enough" to keep your job. Withholding positive reinforcement causes us to think, "Why bother, it doesn't matter how hard I work." Lack of participation is symptomatic of a culture of ineffective consequences.

  • Poor communication - Effective leadership uses communication to establish and reinforce positive relationships between management and labor.

  • Lack of accountability - Managers and employees fail to fulfill their assigned responsibility due to a lack of consequences. Accountability is more a function of leadership than management.

  • Lack of intervention - Supervisors hesitate to intervene when they observe another's unsafe behavior. May be symptomatic of pressures, lack of support from top management.

  • Safety is prioritized - Safety is #1. That is, until the going gets tough, usually towards the end of the production period.

  • Lack of leadership - Supervisors and other leaders fail to walk the talk, serve as proper role models. People want leaders—they are disappointed when their "bosses" don't act like leaders.

  • Lack of integration - The safety function and activities are considered separate from operations. Safety is not a topic at business meetings. Safety personnel do not participate in operational planning.

8. Which of the following is NOT a barrier to creating an effective safety culture?

a. Safety is integrated with operations
b. Assuming safety is "99% common sense"
c. Struggle between safety and job security
d. Hesitation to intervene when unsafe behaviors are observed

Check your Work

Click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and recheck your answers.



What's your leadership style?

Here's a fun little exercise that may help in gaining some awareness about your approach to safety leadership and management. Read each statement below. Quickly indicate whether you agree or disagree with each of the statements below. Go with your first response. Don't try to "psych" this because no one sees the results except you.

  1. The average person dislikes work: Will avoid it if possible.
  2. To most workers, work is as natural as play or rest.
  3. Workers do not need close supervision when committed to an objective.
  4. Workers must be directed, controlled, or threatened to perform well.
  5. Workers are usually committed to objectives when rewarded for achievement.
  6. People generally dislike change and lack creative ability.
  7. The average worker is self-centered, not concerned with corporate objectives.
  8. Workers not only accept, but seek responsibility.
  9. The average worker has a relatively high degree of imagination and ingenuity.
  10. Typically, workers lack ambition, avoid responsibility.
  11. Workers generally seek security and economic rewards above all else.
  12. The average worker is capable of self-direction when motivated.

Add up and enter your score from the exercise above.

Total "Yes" responses for 1,4,6,7,9,10,11  Total "Yes" responses for 2,3,5,8,12

What do your scores mean?

  1. The first set of questions on the left reflect a rather negative attitude about employees that will result in a more controlling leadership style. Your attitude about employees is less trusting, therefore you leadership style will tend to be more selfish and controlling.
  2. The second set of questions on the right reflect a more positive attitude about employees and your attitude will likely result in more trust. Consequently, your leadership style will tend to be more selfless and more caring.

It's important to understand that, due to the limited number of statements, this exercise is only supposed to give you a general idea of your leadership style. If you don't like the results, do some serious reflection and make a decision to improve your leadership style.


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Final Exam

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