Introduction

For the past 25 years the author and his associates have worked with numerous organizations across the globe to improve safety performance. The one constant appears to be that the key ingredient to success is the quality of safety leadership.

Defined as "The process of defining the desired state, setting up the team to succeed, and engaging in the discretionary efforts that drive the safety value" (Cooper, 2010a) safety leadership is widely recognized to be extremely important (Health and Safety Executive, 2001), especially when the prevailing safety culture is weak (MartÍnez-Córcoles et al., 2011). A company's safety culture is driven by the executive leadership team who creates, cultivates, and sustains its journey to excellence (Health and Safety Executive, 2008). They set the vision, the strategic direction, provide resources, and constantly emphasize and reinforce the importance of safety to people and the business. For a variety of reasons, ineffective safety leadership is a major blockage to achieving success in many companies (Cooper &; Finley, 2013).

The evidence from public inquiries into safety disasters shows that ineffective safety leadership often stems from confusion about [a] company safety management systems and the associated policies; [b] a leader's individual safety responsibilities and obligations; [c] the leader's and others' authority over safety; and [d] what leaders are being held accountable for. In turn, this confusion can create interpersonal conflicts at the highest levels which affect front-line operations by diminishing the quality of decision-making that negatively affects team performance.

Paradoxically, it is known that good safety leadership positively impacts a company's ‘bottom-line’ (Veltri et al., 2007), as those companies with good safety performance are better all-round economic performers (Fernández-Muñiz et al., 2009). This stems from [a] reduced incident rates; [b] improved working conditions and employee motivation; and [c] the positive influences on productivity and profitability. In other words, good safety leaders also manage their operations profitably.

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