Before specifying seven leadership lessons to enhance employee's efforts to cultivate an injury-free workplace, let's consider some fundamental distinctions between management and leadership. First, anyone can be a safety leader. Not so for a safety manager. Managers are typically assigned their position. To be sure, safety managers can be safety leaders.

Distinctions between Management and Leadership

The functions and actions of leaders are distinct from those of managers. Realizing these disparities enables us to empathize with the requirements of managers, and appreciate the value of going beyond managing (or directing) people to leading (or inspiring) them.

Leaders Focus on Process

Managers are typically accountable for outcome numbers. They use outcome numbers to direct the behavior of those who report to them. Most followers or subordinates of managers are assigned their subordinate responsibilities and did not choose their manager. In safety, outcome numbers are based on the relatively rare occurrence of an injury. These numbers (e.g., total recordable injury rate or TRIR) are reactive, reflect failure, and are not diagnostic for prevention.

In contrast, safety leaders hold people accountable for accomplishing proactive process activities – not numerical injury rates—that can prevent harm. When improvement in process activities is observed, leaders provide those responsible with positive recognition for their efforts. Those rewarded for their safety proactivity develop a sense of personal responsibility for continuing to make contributions and improvements.

Leaders Educate

In occupational safety, training is more common than education. Managers want employees to know exactly what they need to do in order to complete a particular task effectively and safely. With a "training" mindset, however, managers can come across as demanding. Their directive: "Do this because I said so," rather than "It's the best way to do it."

Education involves explanation. The principles or the rationale behind a particular set of procedures are elucidated for employees. Education answers the "why" question – why a certain protocol needs to be followed. By extension, it also answers the critical, "What's in it for me?" question. By taking the time to explain rules and procedures, effective educators help people develop self-accountability for a safety action plan rather than doing something a certain way because another person—a manager or supervisor—holds them accountable.

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