Yule, S.J., Flin, R. and Mearns, K., University of Aberdeen, Scotland
It is generally accepted that managers of all levels have an influence on workforce behaviour and the associated levels of productivity and safety performance. In terms of the latter, recent research has demonstrated that two levels of management: a supervisory level and a senior management level, are distinct in their method and mechanisms of influence on workforce safety climate (Yule, Flin and Murdy, 2001). If senior management play an important role in setting and maintaining safety climate, what leadership behaviours allow them to influence it to positive effect? This paper draws on qualitative research on leadership style and safety in an international company from the energy sector. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 44 UK senior managers including CEO, station/site managers and managing directors. Interview topics included self-perceived leadership style and effectiveness; areas of influence on workplace safety; incident reporting; culture; and visions for the future. The transcribed interviews were coded using a grounded theory method and detailed profiles of effective leadership with specific respect to safety were created. Similar data were collected from the direct reports of these senior managers (their subordinates) to allow profiles of idealised safety leadership style to be constructed. Comparing these profiles with the numerous available in the literature of effective management per se suggest that there is no specific 'safety leadership style'. However, one plausible argument is that the balance of leadership style components may alter to emphasise the leader's charismatic or transformational behaviours. These results will be discussed in terms of their applications for selection, training and development of senior managers.