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  • Writer's pictureJason Starke, Ph.D.

Servant Leadership and Safety Citizenship Behavior: Are they Related?

Updated: Feb 20

The implementation of a safety management system (SMS) is challenging for any organization, but obtaining and maintaining employee involvement in the SMS is quite another challenge. There are numerous strategies to increase engagement in the SMS including external incentives, gamifying aspects of the SMS, and implementing software tools to increase efficiency to name a few; however, I rarely see a focus on the importance of leadership in this aspect. While there are many sources that indicate the importance of leadership in implementing an SMS and maintaining the infrastructure to support safety management, there isn't a preponderance of discussion about leadership's ability to inspire engagement. Employee engagement, usually manifested as providing key information about safety in operations through safety reporting, is absolutely critical to the overall success of safety management efforts.

It is important to state that there are aspects to increasing engagement that are not leadership specific. The ease of use regarding any applications that are used to support employee input, feedback on the provided information, and communicating/celebrating positive changes made due to employee input are all very important in what motivates employee participation. However, how do we get employees to really want to participate - how do we get employees to want to make a difference solely out of the desire to better the organization without external motivators? Inspiration is provided by leadership - more specifically - an appropriate style of leadership that is deliberate and present. In an earlier blog, I talked about how transformational leadership is a viable approach to leading for safety. There are other approaches to leadership that work to inspire and influence employees in reaching organizational goals, but leadership styles that are more "push" than "pull" and are participatory rather than removed (i.e., Laissez-faire) seem to work well in creating an intrinsic motivation in employees to engage with the SMS. However, the simple equation of appropriate leadership style = increase engagement in the SMS may not tell the whole story.

The goal is, as stated before, to get employees to want - from intrinsic motivation - to make the organization better and safer. Furthermore, these employees through this desire will perform activities outside of what is required of them to make the organization a better and safer place. In other words, the employees who truly desire to make the organization safer will do things they are not expected or paid to do in order to improve the overall safety of the organization. This is referred to as safety citizenship behavior. What we want is a leadership style that will instill and inspire safety citizenship behaviors in the organization. However, as I alluded to above, there may be another variable. This variable is related to the fact that people want to make the organization safer because they are strongly committed to the organization. If we dare to to take it one step further, this strong commitment to the organization is actually what leadership inspires.

I am currently doing research to determine if servant leadership is positively related to safety citizenship behaviors as mediated through organizational commitment. In other words, I am proposing that the positive influence of servant leadership is transmitted through organizational commitment to safety citizenship behavior. Said another way, it is proposed that servant leadership inspires organizational commitment which in turn inspires safety citizenship behavior. If the findings support the hypotheses of this study, we may have a model of leadership that will help organizations increase participation in the SMS. Not to mention, we will also have a model of leadership to increase organizational commitment, which is sorely needed, I feel, in today's shortage of skilled workers. This could be significant as leadership is a learned skill which means senior management and mid-level management alike could learn a skill to inspire safety citizenship behaviors in the organization. A pretty neat skill if you ask me.



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