Abstract

While is has long been recognised that the behaviours of managers (from supervisors to senior managers) have an influence on worker behaviours and hence on workplace safety, it is only recently that industrial psychologists have begun to study this relationship scientifically.

This paper will draw on a series of studies of leadership behaviours conducted within the UKCS oil and gas industry, focusing on offshore platform supervisors (Mearns, Flin, Fleming &Gordon, 1997), offshore installation managers (O'Dea &Flin, 2001), and senior oil company mangers (Bryden, Flin &West, in prep). Additional material will be drawn from an ongoing study of management and safety in an international company from the energy sector (electricity generation) (Yule, Flin &Murdy, 2001).

A recent review of the leadership literature by O'Dea, Yule, Flin &Mearns (in prep) identified a number of factors that influence safety behaviours. These will be presented, indicating the direct and indirect paths of influence from managers to system operators. Recent findings suggest that transformational leadership behaviours (e.g. vision, intellectual stimulation, individual consideration) as measured by Bass' Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) may be particularly influential, however particular safety behaviours may be differentially affected by specific leadership approaches. Moreover transformational leadership behaviours are likely to be rather different in focus at more junior compared to senior levels of management and specific examples will be provided for illustration. The results emerging from these studies will be presented with reference to the emerging literature on safety leadership from other industries as well as practical applications for the selection, training and development of managers.

Introduction

"..the failure of Esso to implement its own systems, particularly in relation to risk identification, analysis and management, training operating procedures, documentation, data and communications" (Longford Royal Commission, June, 1999, para 13.37)

The role of management in safety is now well recognised, however to date, a very limited research effort has examined the mechanisms by which managers, especially senior managers and site mangers can actually influence the safety of their worksites. This paper presents preliminary findings from several studies, which have been investigating the impact of mangers' leadership style and workforce safety behaviours.

When the common factors are extracted from a review of the principal themes measured in published accounts of safety climate research, then the role of management is clearly seen. Flin, Mearns, O'Connor &Bryden (2000) examined 18 safety climate questionnaires from researchers working in different industries and found five common factors -

  • Management and supervision,

  • Safety system,

  • Risk (eg risk taking behaviours),

  • Work pressure and

  • Competence

. Similarly, Guldenmund (2000) scrutinised 15 measures of safety climate and found that Management's Safety Activity was a frequently appearing factor.

The UK Health and Safety Regulator (HSE, 1999) apparently is aware of this and associates the organisational factors influencing safety culture as follows:

  • Senior management commitment

  • Management style

  • Visible management

  • Good communication between all levels of employee [management action].

  • A balance of health and safety and production goals [management prioritisation].

With a little judicious highlighting, it is not difficult to discern an emerging theme - managers, especially senior management are key influences on the safety culture.

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