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  • Nancy Baldwin

Effective Safety Leadership

Updated: Feb 20

High-consequence industries are – as the name suggests – one where the stakes could be high if risk manifests or risk controls are breached. The aviation industry is a high-consequence industry, and like all organizations within these types of industries, leadership is a key factor in safety performance and culture. The problem, however, is that when one thinks of being a leader, he/she assumes this is a status bestowed with a position, such as a manager, director, vice president, etc. (Sanders, 2014). Leadership is not the same as management and is not a function of position in the organization. Good management is important, but a leader is one who influences to maximize the efforts of followers towards the achievement of a goal (Kruse, 2013). If you influence, inspire, and guide others towards a beneficial goal, then you are a leader – regardless of your position. In terms of being a good safety leader in your organization, there are some important characteristics of your leadership that you should consider.

Below are four of these features, using the attribute framework of Transformational Leadership (, n.d.):

1. Inspirational Motivation – Do you cast a vision for what needs to be accomplished? Communicating this vision with passion and self-conviction is critical to follower engagement and behavior. In fact, Singh (2012) found that vision casting within an organization was highly correlated to ethical behavior in followers. This means that communicating a vision can inspire right action. Whether you are implementing SMS or encouraging reporting, communicating a vision will build trust in and following of that vision.

2. Idealized Influence – Do you walk the walk and talk the talk? Your followers are watching you. For those you are trying to influence to hold you in high regard, your actions must follow what you are preaching. For example, if you are constantly encouraging others to report hazards and you yourself fail to take the time to do it, you are sending a confusing message to your followers which will ultimately degrade trust. Always take the high road and hold yourself to the same expectations you have for your followers.

3. Intellectual Stimulation – Every day in an organization, leaders are faced with novel issues that require a solution. Sometimes these problems come in the form of “either / or”, especially when facing production versus protection. But does it have to be this way? As a leader, you can change a dilemma into a paradox and encourage innovative thinking by looking for “and / both” solutions (Smith, 2014). This is not easy thinking but will be rewarding to the organization.

4. Individual Consideration – We always must remember that we are dealing with people, and as such consider their thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. A good leader will be sensitive to the needs (both current and developmental) of their followers. Do you have managers who don’t understand or align with the purpose of safety management? Take the time and coach them in what is needed, and the benefits associated with the required actions. Also, do others tell you that they just don’t feel safe? A great system to manage safety is not effective if interested parties don’t feel safe at the end of the day. Listen to them to understand why they are feeling that way. Encourage them with what the organization is doing; and if the organization can do more, take the action to lead the change that is needed.

Position does not make a leader – it comes down to influence. If you can inspire and influence others, then you are a leader. Good safety leadership is key to establishing safety norms as well as developing a positive safety culture. Consider the four attributes above and evaluate your safety leadership. If you find an area that needs to be developed, remember, good leadership skills can be learned. Make leadership development a goal for 2020 and get out there and inspire!

References: (n.d.). Cultural intelligence knowledge center. Retrieved from Kruse, K. (2013). What is leadership. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from

Sanders, C. G. (2014). Why the positional leadership perspective hinders the ability of organizations to deal with complex and dynamic situations. Virginia Beach, VA 23464| 757.352. 4550 ijls@ regent. edu| ISSN 1554-3145, 8(2), 136.

Singh, K. (2012). Developing ethics at the workplace through transformational leadership: A study of business organizations in India. Journal of Knowledge Globalization, 4(2), 31-58. Retrieved from

Smith, W. K. (2014). Dynamic decision making: A model of senior leaders managing strategic paradoxes. Academy of Management Journal, 57(6), 1592-1623.



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