EHS Management

Leadership Principles for Safety Professionals

What’s your image of a good leader? Someone charming whom people want to follow? Someone who has a cool head in a crisis? Someone with a great idea? What about you? If being a good leader isn’t something that comes naturally to you, is there anything you can do about that?

Safety Leadership

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Yes! You can learn to be a better leader. And the folks at WorkCover in Queensland, Australia (Queensland’s equivalent of a state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) program), have created materials specifically for the purpose of developing better health and safety leaders. Here’s a look at their four-part model, called “LEAD,” that defines specific skills and competencies of effective safety leaders.

The LEAD Model

Drawing on multiple theories of leadership, the LEAD model integrates leadership principles and safety by identifying:

  • Behaviors and business practices that are part of effective safety leadership
  • How safety leadership impacts the workplace at every level
  • How to actively engage the workforce and develop a positive safety culture
  • Key drivers of safety culture and their effect on safety performance

The acronym, “LEAD,” is intended to make it easy to remember the specific skills or competencies of an effective safety leader:

  • Leverage. To leverage something is to use it to its maximum advantage. Safety leaders can learn to leverage their position to ensure that the organization’s safety commitment and safety goals are clearly communicated. In addition, you can learn to provide constructive feedback and positive recognition to workers, reinforcing safety skills and goals.
  • Energize. Leaders can learn to use a combination of rewards and punishments, moral arguments (focusing on safety as “the right thing to do”), and emotional appeals to motivate workers to actively participate in safety initiatives.
  • Adapt. A leader’s work is never done. Leaders must have the ability to learn from mistakes, change, and grow with the business—and to bring workers along with them. Adaptive leadership skills include active listening and creative thinking in a culture that is open to learning from its mistakes. In particular, a leader who is skilled at adapting will be able to respond to mistakes in ways that unify workers and increase their determination to address workplace hazards and protect one another.
  • Defend. Leaders must be vigilant about identifying workplace risks and hazards, including hidden risks like psychological complacency. To defend workers against these hazards, leaders must make it their business to ensure that appropriate controls are in place.

By combining these four leadership skill sets in different ways, good leaders can help their business be both flexible and stable, as needed, and can both protect the business and help it prosper. If you’re interested in learning more, WorkCover provides a self-paced workbook to help you master the LEAD model.