Last week I discussed some of the important work on employee safety that was presented at this year’s Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). I want to continue this recap today with an emphasis on safety leadership, using the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA. Specifically, I will discuss a symposium titled ‘Leadership for Organizational Safety’ led by Mark Griffin from the University of Western Australia.
Commitment to Safety from Management and Top Leaders
Griffin and colleague Laura Fruhen proposed an interesting conceptual framework of individual-level safety commitment for managers in which they identified the behaviors (e.g., prioritizing safety over goals) and experiences (e.g., personal responsibility) that managers view as demonstrations of their commitment to safety. This well represents our main goal of effective safety leadership. By utilizing the strategies in the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA, safety leaders exhibit their commitment to reducing the accident and injury rates in their organizations.
Relatedly, Sean Tucker (University of Regina), Babatunde Ogunfowora (University of Calgary), and Dayle Diekrager (Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board) found that CEOs who display ethical leadership also show a strong commitment to safety, which impacts top and middle management commitment to safety, and ultimately frontline employee injury rates. Considering the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA, these CEOs lay out a strong vision for safety and demonstrate their credibility to both management and employees by prioritizing safety in their organizations, which influence others to buy-in rather than simply adhere to their safety initiatives.
Informal Safety Leadership
A study conducted by Sara Guediri (University of Manchester) and Fruhen investigated the role of informal safety leaders in organizational safety performance, emphasizing that workplace safety is not just the responsibility of one formal leader, but rather that it is also shared among coworkers. Their results indicate that when focused on job tasks, shared safety leadership influences safety performance, but only by the extent to which formal safety leaders are effective at influencing employee safety. Here at Select, we strongly believe that anyone in an organization, no matter what position they hold, can be an influential safety leader. We also agree that workplace safety starts with management, because leading by example to develop a strong safety culture is necessary for motivating employees to improve their behaviors related to their particular safety blind spots.
Safety Leadership Training and Leadership Style
Sharon Clarke and Ian Taylor (University of Manchester) implemented a safety training program aimed at improving leadership styles to managers who work in hazardous environments. Their results show that behaviors associated with the leadership styles learned in training positively influenced employee perceptions of the organization’s safety culture, and in turn their safety behavior over time. Likewise, our research at Select shows that safety leaders who incorporate tools from the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA into their approach to management, we see greater buy-in from subordinates. Although our training program is relatively new, we are already experiencing improvements in our clients’ safety performance and look forward to seeing the long-term effects of this training on employee safety.
Proactive Safety Leadership
In a study by Matteo Curcuruto, Griffin, and Sharon Parker (University of Western Australia), employees who reported that their supervisors take a more proactive approach to safety, such as coaching subordinates and holding everyone accountable to safety rules, were more likely to engage in strong safety behaviors such as discussing safety concerns with coworkers and suggesting safety improvements to management, compared to employees with supervisors who take a more reactionary approach to safety. This research clearly aligns well with the Acts as a Coach factor of the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA, in which effective safety leaders guide employees to improve their safety behaviors and maintain open communication about safety issues.
These projects, along with those I discussed last week, show the new directions that researchers and industry professionals across a variety of disciplines are taking in our efforts to improve workplace safety. Although we are still far from our ultimate goal of zero accidents, injuries, and deaths on the job, these new developments have us closer than ever.