Key Takeaways

- Little has been written about the specific aspects of servant leadership that improve an organization’s culture of safety and reduce undesirable events. One part of servant leadership—building community— holds promise in this regard.

- A sense of community helps workers take on a greater leadership role within their work groups. Community is also an important part of establishing a culture of safety, as openness in communications and psychological safety are essential to be able to speak freely about safety concerns.

- By comparing two organizations through a safety perception survey, this article discusses five dimensions of community and safety-related outcomes. It also describes ways that leaders can examine these dimensions in their organizations to develop a greater sense of community through safety to achieve a greater sense of mission and trust, and improve relationships, productivity and quality.

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Servant leadership was first linked to improvements in safety performance more than 25 years ago (Sarkus, 1996). The author’s insights originated from Robert Greenleaf’s leadership work (Frick & Spears, 1996; Peck, 1995), comprised of major themes such as vision, persuasion, caring, collaborating, inspiring followers to be servant leaders and building community. Greenleaf characterizes servant leadership in the following way:

The servant-leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . . The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest-priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society, will they benefit or, at least, not be further deprived? (Greenleaf, 1970, as cited in Frick & Spears, 1996)

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From a safety performance perspective, more recently, others have validated the strength and positive outcomes of servant leadership with empirical support (Cooper, 2015). However, little seems to have been written about the specific aspects of servant leadership that improve an organization’s culture of safety, along with the reduction of undesirable events. One part of servant leadership—building community—holds promise in this regard.

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