Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Improving Safety Leadership: Leading with Emotional Intelligence

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Decades of research show that IQ is one of the best predictors of success for organizational leaders. This should be no surprise since strong analytical skills are needed to deal with numerous competing challenges at higher organizational levels. However, EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, may be equally important. One study showed that 71% of executives value EQ over IQ with their leaders (, and another showed that 93% of employees said they’d remain loyal to an employer whose leaders show genuine concern for their well-being (

So, what is emotional intelligence?

EQ reflects our ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others and then use this information to effectively manage relationships. This includes high levels of:

Unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, organizational leaders can actively improve their own emotional intelligence. This starts with having or adopting high EQ beliefs like the opinions of others are important even when different than yours, the process of coming to a decision (and not just the decision itself) is important, and getting input from others boosts morale and generally leads to better decision-making. These beliefs lead to improved EQ behaviors like:

This has direct applications for safety in terms of improving the quantity and quality of safety conversations with employees. Leaders show high EQ by actively listening to employees and fostering an open environment where employees are comfortable raising safety issues and asking questions. People feel appreciated and are more optimistic when they understand that their concerns are being heard and felt. High EQ leaders also ask more open-ended questions to promote in-depth, collaborative discussions around safety. They then respond quickly to address and advertise improvements based on these discussions. This results in improved discretionary effort for safety, increased perceptions of appreciation and respect, more open and transparent work environments, and enhanced morale and safety culture.

So, take active steps today to boost your own EQ. It will pay dividends for you both on and off the job. And it will certainly help you promote and boost your organizational safety culture.


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