Leadership Competencies: Take the Test and See How You Stack Up
By Dr. Josh Williams and Emily Wood
Smart safety leadership is critical for exceptional safety performance. There are five core leadership competencies that can help you, as leaders, better reinforce safety excellence and prevent incidents and injuries. Successfully applying the competencies in your everyday work will improve your influence over team activities. This includes shifting the narrative from “safety is managed through enforcement” to “safety is managed through team participation” as employees recognize their why for safety and actively engage in safety efforts. Anchored in years of research and experience, these leadership competencies include: Actively Care, Walk the Talk, Build/Live the Vision, Recognize Often/Foster Growth, and Drive Thinking and Speaking. A brief discussion of each is provided below along with a self-assessment to see how you (and your organization) are doing along these dimensions.
Leaders exhibit active caring by showing personal concern and respect for employees, being open and receptive with others, and by practicing empathy, compassion, and humility. Employees who feel appreciated and believe their leaders care about them take fewer risks on the job than those who don’t believe this (Størseth, 2004, 2006). Active caring is not something you can send employees off for an hour and on their return see them actively caring for others. Fostering an environment where employees are committed to owning their safety and the safety of those around them takes time and requires for leaders to be visible to their frontline employees, showing personal concern and respect for employees on an individual level. Leaders need to create an open environment where employees are comfortable bringing up issues, concerns, and suggestions.
Walk the Talk:
Leaders walk the talk for safety by role modeling positive safety behaviors, spending time out in the field with employees, providing respectful safety coaching, and demonstrating both integrity and commitment to safety. Leaders who effectively “walk the talk” create improved safety culture, morale, and trust with employees. Leaders at all organizational levels must recognize they’re not exempt from complying with safety policies and procedures. The moment a leader chooses to not walk the talk, the credibility and employee trust once earned will disappear. Continually walking the talk leads to employees following safety rules more often and will result in an overall decrease in the frequency and severity of injuries (Halbesleben et al., 2013). Setting the right example demonstrates your commitment to safety and everyone’s overall health and well-being.
Build and Live the Vision:
Leaders build and live the vision by clearly defining “what good looks like” for desired safety performance. Living these values themselves, demonstrating the vision in daily interactions, and sharing the vision in a compelling way will help inspire employees to align their goals to that of the organization. Research shows that employees who feel meaning and value for their safety commitment demonstrate higher levels of discretionary effort for safety efforts and initiatives (Griffin & Hu, 2013). Leaders need to stress compassion over compliance when addressing the importance of safety.
Recognize and Foster Growth:
Leaders should recognize and foster growth by showing genuine appreciation for employees, investing in team growth, and providing recognition for desired safety behaviors. Leaders who regularly recognize employees and facilitate growth increase discretionary effort and improve organizational safety culture. Research demonstrates that increasing the quantity and quality of safety recognition improves safety outcomes and safety culture (Zohar, 2002; Kines et al., 2010). When implemented correctly, successful safety appreciation programs can result in cost savings of $2.00-$10.00 per dollar spent on program implementation and maintenance (American Claims Management, 2019). Genuine recognition promotes safe behaviors and employees should be appreciated for working safely.
Drive Thinking and Speaking:
Leaders drive thinking and speaking by creating an environment of psychological safety, getting employee input on safety solutions, encouraging system thinking, and reinforcing teamwork and collaboration. Leaders who effectively create this environment increase employee engagement and decrease the likelihood of serious injuries and fatalities. Research shows that leaders who create open environments where employees regularly provide input on safety issues and decisions experience significant improvements in safety performance (Hale, Guldenmund, van Loenhout, and Oh, 2010).
Leaders need to encourage employees to speak up and involve them in important decision-making efforts. This leads to better decisions, more open communication, and improved safety culture.
Take the Test
Take this brief test to see how well you’re doing with these five core competencies. Rate yourself from 1 (needs considerable improvement) to 5 (excellent). Focus on your lower-scoring items for future improvement and continue progress with higher-scoring items. Next, take a pulse of your overall organization using the same rating scale. Work with leaders to reinforce company strengths and shore up current weaknesses. Improving these leadership competencies will drive safety culture improvement and fuel discretionary effort for safety from employees.