After years of studying organizations that have achieved a level of greatness in safety, we have distilled ten characteristics that distinguish them from others. Among these characteristics, great safety organizations have clarity of vision, integrated understanding of the motivations of employees at every level, and engagement of all employees. What do these characteristics tell us about safety functioning in general—and the activities needed to achieve safety greatness in particular?

Fundamentally, the traits of great safety organizations are created by leaders who understand organizational culture and what their particular role in creating it consists of. These leaders focus on exposures rather than injuries, and know their personal relationship to the working interface. These leaders also practice behaviors that turn safety vision into safety practice at every level.

High vs. Low Performers: The role of organizational culture and safety climate

Safety advancement often means instituting fundamental changes in organizational practices, thinking, and even culture. In some organizations, employees respond to these changes readily. In others, the need for change meets ongoing resistance, sometimes to the point of failure. Why some organizations adapt easily and others struggle draws in part on the qualities of the great safety leader. Who the leader is and what leadership practices the leader follows strongly correlate to the safety climate and organizational culture that underpins performance. Understanding the qualities of a "change ready" culture (and how the leader shapes it) is the first step to lasting safety improvement.

There are several culture dimensions critical to high performance in safety, and they can be grouped into team, safety-specific, and organizational dimensions. Of these, the scales belonging to the organizational dimension are the most elemental to setting the stage for change. Employees attitudes toward change depend in part on their perceptions of basic aspects of organizational life, for instance how employees are treated by their supervisor. These variables are also situational and are directly influenced by leadership behavior:

  • Procedural Justice reflects the extent to which the individual perceives fairness in the supervisor's decision-making process. Leaders enhance perceptions of procedural justice when they make decisions characterized by consistency across persons and time, lack of bias, accuracy (decisions are based on good information and informed opinion), correctability (decisions can be appealed), respresentativeness (the procedure reflects the concerns, values and outlook of those affected), and ethicality.

  • Leader-Member Exchange reflects the relationship the employee has with his or her supervisor. In particular, this scale measures the employee's level of confidence that his supervisor will go to bat for him and look out for his interests. Leaders can enhance perceptions of leader-member exchange by developing positive working relationships with their reports and getting each person to see how achieving organizational goals can be fulfilling both to the leader and to the employee.

  • Management Credibility reflects the perception of the employee that what management says is consistent with what management does. Leader behaviors that influence perceptions of trustworthiness include consistency, integrity (telling the truth, keeping promises)

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