Organizational safety studies have shown the large impact that leadership has on safety culture. A safety-specific transformational leadership style in particular shows evidence of promoting positive safety outcomes.
A research team recently explored the differences between transformational and passive leadership styles in relationship to safety culture and safety behavior outcomes in a sample of firefighters. Their findings provide guidance for public administrators, fire service administrators, and company officers to strengthen firefighter safety outcomes.
Company officers and fire department leaders can reinforce a safety culture through safety-specific transformational leadership tactics, such as:
- Model safety behaviors.
- Emphasize safety over risk-taking.
- Lead by example.
- Communicate safety expectations.
- Show concern for firefighter safety and well-being.
When these actions are taken, firefighters believe their leaders are committed to safety. They respond by performing in a manner that enhances safety.
An additional takeaway relates to passive leaders. This kind of leader can have harmful effects on fire service safety culture and weaken safety performance. Passive leaders are generally those that fail to make decisions important to firefighter safety, fail to intervene in safety issues, and don’t take action until something goes wrong.
Smith, T. D., Eldridge, F., & Dejoy, D. M. (2016). Safety-specific transformational and passive leadership influences on firefighter safety climate perceptions and safety behavior outcomes. Safety Science, 86, 92-97. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2016.02.019
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See also: National Safety Culture Change Initiative PDF 896 KB