What is Your Preferred Safety Leadership Style?

safety leadership

Although you may be a successful ‘manager’ and may be able to complete assigned tasks to the satisfaction of your superiors, safety leadership can only be confirmed by your followers. Where “managers” manage assets; “leaders” lead people.

Leaders’ relationships influence the behaviour and actions of others to help them to achieve their personal goals and those of the organisation. They promote appropriate interpersonal relationships through suitable communication to motivate others to voluntarily achieve these goals. Also, others see them as an effective leader.

Great leaders have a higher level of emotional and empathetic involvement in the tasks personally assigned to them, as well as their employees, and give attention to what events and actions mean. An effective safety leader has high emotional intelligence and the confidence to take calculated risks.

This article discusses the attributes of good safety leaders and determines the differences between operational and participative safety leadership styles. We look at when it is appropriate to use the two styles.

Operational Leadership and Participative Leadership

There are two very different leadership styles that good leaders use: Operational Leadership and Participative Leadership. Successful leadership demands the ability to adopt an appropriate leadership style relevant to the circumstances or situation.

Successful leaders can recognise the changing situation or circumstances and modify their safety leadership to a style to one that has the highest probability for the best outcome.

See our article, Are Safety Managers Simply Performing Busy Work?

Operational Leaders Are Autocratic

Operational safety leadership maintains command and control of an operational task, for example, when dealing with an emergency. These circumstances rely on an autocratic style of leadership where immediate obedience to orders may mean the difference between life and death. Operational leadership requires quality decisions to be made rapidly in response to operational requirements. Operational leaders are autocratic leaders who generally have ‘one-way communication’ styles where they seek little feedback from others.

Leaders who adopt an operational style determine what tasks are to be done, who is to do them, how to group the tasks, who reports to whom, and where to make decisions. They motivate and direct others, delegate, select the most effective communication channels and resolve conflicts. Operational Leaders monitor activities to ensure they are being accomplished as planned and correct any significant deviations.

Participative Leaders Share the Decision-Making

Participative Leaders invite decision-sharing within a group or team and encourage two-way communication. This safety leadership style calls for group or team members to exercise a high degree of responsibility and freedom of action within the management of a particular project. They use as little authoritarian control as possible and are concerned with relationships within the group as well as getting the job done safely.

This sharing of control requires the delegation of similar levels of authority and responsibility. The participative leader must motivate and influence team members towards achieving team and organisational goals. They also provide opportunities for team members to achieve personal goals within the teamwork framework thus ensuring motivation and ownership.

Participative leaders get part of their reward through personal achievement with the project’s success and the culmination of their team’s efforts.

What Are the Advantages of a Participative Leadership Style?

There are several advantages of including employees in the decision-making process and using a Participative Leadership style. Involving others in the decision-making process brings greater knowledge or expertise to the project. A wider range of values and perspectives is generated, representing a range of safety issues and concerns at stake in the decision.

Employees have a greater commitment to implementing a decision in which they were involved and can identify potential obstacles to implementing the decision, as well as ways to avoid them. However, participative decision-making takes time, and the team must be experienced and well-structured. When group members are overly concerned with gaining consensus in participative decision-making, groupthink occurs. Great safety leadership dies when groupthink is prevalent because the questioning of safe practice ceases.

See our article, Effective Safety Communication Do’s and Don’ts.

See our courses that improve communication skills to support participative leadership, Active Listening, Effective Communication and Resolving Conflict.

Safety Leader Competencies

The qualities of an excellent safety leader include several competencies.

First, they need to demonstrate clear safety leadership in setting the direction for the team and in communicating the safety objectives, targets and purpose.

Second, they need to guide and direct their team and coordinate efforts and resources towards the strategic objectives.

Third, they need to understand and accept responsibility and accountability for their role, decisions and actions and those of their team members.

A strong leader demonstrates loyalty to the organisation by accepting corporate responsibility for the decisions of senior management. They also recognise when others are in charge and can follow and support them.

See our article, Best Tips to Motivate Your Employees.

Choose Your Safety Leadership Style

Excellent leaders have a repertoire of safety leadership styles. They select the most appropriate style following a sound appreciation of the complexity and context of the situation and the preferred working styles of individual people.

Great leaders enhance team performance by inspiring people and empowering them to make decisions. They promote a positive team spirit in which people feel committed, motivated and encouraged to perform and develop.

Great leaders seek to delegate authority to its appropriate level and encourage people to take ownership of problem-solving and workplace safety is everyone’s business.

See our microlearning course Leadership Skills.

Role Models to Champion Safety

Great leaders are approachable and make an effort to be visible to their team members, however, they do not undermine people. They remain accessible to people, creating an atmosphere in which they feel able to discuss safety problems, concerns and ideas.

Excellent leaders seek to avoid making people feel intimidated by rank or status. They are conscious of the importance of being a role model for others to follow, by demonstrating and promoting the professional safety standards, values and attitudes of their organisation.

They can take operational command of incidents where the required level of responsibility is greater than would be expected from more junior employees. Finally, excellent leaders demonstrate self-confidence in their safety leadership role.

Safety Training That Trains Critical Risk

The Tap into Safety Training Platform can help to train your leaders in critical safety thinking because we base our training on the hierarchy of hazard controls.

Our interactive training is high-quality at an affordable price, uses MicroLearning, and is assessed against the knowledge of controls and critical control measures. Our analysis reports show where there is a need for more understanding and help to prove ongoing competence and compliance.

The Platform can be accessed online or on mobile devices. Please contact us for more information.

To Conclude

Think about your leadership skills and preferred leadership style. Are you mostly an Operational Leader or a Participative one?

When might you be able to increase your Participative Leadership techniques to involve your teams more and help them to grow their skills and take greater ownership and responsibility for safety in your workplace?

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