Introduction and Literature Review

One of the basic assumptions about establishing a "values-based" safety or engineering culture is that topmost management is supportive and begins the process by pushing these changes downward. But not all organizations have supportive CEOs or Vice Presidents who will foster a supportive leader-development environment; some may be disinterested, some may be unaware, and some may not appreciate internal change. Some upper managers may be happy with simple compliance. Can an individual or small group far downstream develop leaders independent from the organization? Can a motivated individual or small group move the needle toward a supportive values-centered culture, even when upper management doesn't seem to care? We think it's entirely possible to do so by applying some rules and research generated by organizations with successful leader development cultures.

The fields of occupational safety and engineering have embraced the study of leadership with open arms in the past five years or so. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) have sessions and entire conferences dedicated to the topic of creating leaders and studying what the best leaders do. As most of us know, since 2004, ASSE has offered an annual conference for future safety leaders who are current students studying occupational safety and health. The conference offers the somewhat optimistic opportunity to "learn how to be an effective leader and communicator," and to get important career advice from seasoned professionals about career paths and improving interview skills.

ASSE offers onsite seminars about the principles of leadership; its Foundation offers leadership grants to "help safety professionals expand their knowledge and advance their education." Local chapters include "safety leadership" as PDC topics almost as frequently as they include the word "excellence." There is no end in sight to ASSE's interest in leadership.

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