Leadership has been extensively studied, researched and written about over the past few decades. This article explores questions on the topic of leadership as they relate to safety professionals. For example, how may SH&E professionals influence the development of a strong safety culture? Who are safety leaders that have made a positive difference in their organization? What can we learn from their strategies and behaviors? Why aren't there more strong leaders in the SH&E profession?

If effective leadership depends on context, what roles must SH&E professionals fulfill to be effective in their various settings? Different styles of leadership are needed under differing circumstances: the style of leadership that works best during a crisis is not the same as the leadership needed for innovation and start up, or leadership styles to maintain status quo. Research indicates different leadership traits or behaviors are effective in some situations and not in others (Hartman 1999). In general, what leadership roles and related behaviors may be most effective in the contexts and situations safety professionals find themselves?

Why Is It Important for SH&E Professionals to be Leaders?

The President's Messages in Professional Safety over the past few years from Eddie Greer (Leadership: See the Big Picture, April 2002), Mark Hansen (Looking for a Few Good Leaders, September 2002) and Skipper Kendrick (Thoughts on Leadership, September 2003) emphasize the need for leadership in safety. In his article "Time to Transform? Assessing the Future of the SH&E Profession," Darryl Hill detailed the characteristics of safety professionals yesterday, today, and of the future. The safety professional of yesterday was perceived as a "burden" and primary characteristics included specialists who put out fires. The safety professional of today is perceived as "compliance-oriented" and a generalist who is involved in short-term planning. The safety professional of the future must be perceived as a "Value-added business leader" with a degree in higher education (such as M.B.A., or Ph.D.) who is knowledgeable in all aspects of the organization (Hill 23).

Responsibility for results in safety, e.g. reducing the approximately 6,000 fatalities and millions of unnecessary injuries that occur every year in the workplace, lies primarily with management. It is important for safety professionals to not only enjoy trusting relationships with managers, but be able to influence and support management in fulfilling their safety responsibilities. Effective leadership in safety is important for both impacting safety performance and determining safety professional's career progress.

What Kinds of Leaders Are Needed?

Traditional roles of SH&E professionals may include policy enforcer, record keeper, or inspector. SH&E professionals commonly have management responsibilities as distinct from leadership expectations. What alternative roles exist for SH&E leaders to fulfill, instead of, or in addition to these? What roles offer the greatest impact and influence for SH&E professionals?

Participative Leaders

Participative leaders inspire others to go beyond what is expected. Appropriate roles for safety professionals as participative leaders include:

  1. Educating and questioning (Geller 2000)

  2. Challenging employees to do their best

  3. Enabling employees (Blair 2003)

  4. Practicing diplomacy (London 1999)

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