In his article, 3 Strategies For Safety Leadership Now, Kevin Burns wrote, “As I’ve mentioned in the past, leadership in safety has nothing to do with management. You don’t have to be in management to be a safety leader, mentor or influencer.” Burns also believes safety should be embraced as a personal value and shortcuts and risky behaviors should not be allowed. Burns feels that being an effective safety leader also means you shouldn’t use condemnation of safety to influence your choices.
I give Burns two thumbs up on his ideas! Management and leadership are, indeed, two very different concepts. Management is actually an organizational skill while leadership is a relationship skill. Someone can be the best manager in the world by perfectly organizing people, work, schedules, etc.. However, yet at the same time, that same person may be a horrible leader because he or she has not developed the necessary leadership skills which foster trust and followership. In fact, you may have worked for someone like this.
Here’s my take on this: A successful safety leader displays what I call a “tough-caring” servant-leader approach to safety. The leader is tough because he or she expects high standards of performance. But more importantly, he or she has a sincere concern for the safety and success of each employee, and that’s the underlying motivation for being tough on safety. The leader is “other-centered,” not “self-centered”, and works hard through personal example and direction to help ensure everyone succeeds. Employees implicitly know this about the leader, so they’re more likely to respond with personal leadership by achieving those high performance expectations.
For more on this topic, be sure to take OSHAcademy Free Course 700 Introduction to Safety Management or Free Course 712 Safety Supervision and Leadership.