Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Transformational Leaders? the Pivotal Role That Supervisors Play in Safety Culture

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Transformational Leaders? the Pivotal Role That Supervisors Play in Safety Culture

Article excerpt


This paper combines the findings of two studies conducted in 2006-08 and 2011 to argue that supervisors' influence on safety culture that impacts on workplace injury is substantial. Narrative is provided to show that there are pressures on supervisors who are first-line managers to produce increased outputs at an accelerated pace, while at the same time keep their team safe. Examples of the varying levels of quality of supervision skills are discussed using commentary from the participants, as well as the need for supervisors to step up and embrace their management role. This is not always an easy task for some supervisors in the construction and resources sectors, as many are recruited from the general staffbecause they show some signs of managerial aptitude. In many cases these supervisors find themselves one day a worker like everyone else and the next day a manager. Little or no managerial training is offered and these new supervisors have limited support and knowledge of the power they have to enforce safe working procedures. The paper concludes by calling for better use of formal supervisor training.


In the literature the terms 'safety culture' and 'safety climate' are often used interchangeably. The values, attitudes and beliefs towards safety that are held by an organisation are used to describe the safety culture (Williamson, Feyer, Cairns & Biancotti, 1997; Cox, Tomas, Cheyne & Oliver, 1998; Glendon & Stanton, 2000; Reiman & Oedewald, 2002). 'These values, attitudes, norms and beliefs guide behaviour by indicating to employees and management what will be rewarded or punished by the organisation' (Biggs, Dingsdag, Cipolla, Sheahan & Artuso, 2005, p. 2). Safety climate, on the other hand, is described as an indicator or 'snap shot' of organisational members' perceptions of safety in the organisation at a particular point in time (Cavazza & Serpe, 2009; Clarke, 2000, p. 75; Flin, Mearns, O'Connor & Bryden, 2000; Griffin & Neal, 2000; Guldenmund, 2000). For this paper, safety culture is the preferred term, because the two research studies reviewed take the broader view of safety values and processes for the construction and resources sectors rather than a micro view of a single event occurring in an organisation.


Research has shown that the extent to which managers exhibit transformational and constructive leadership styles is an effective predictor of the rate of injury within an organisation, directly influencing the improved safety behaviour of group members (Zohar, 2002; Coopey, Keegan & Emler, 1998; Cipolla, Biggs, Dingsdag, Sheahan & Artuso, 2005).

Avolio, Bass and Jung (1999) define transformational leaders as those who possess ideals and values that arouse the higher order motives of their followers. Managers play a pivotal role in changing the culture through their transformational leadership actions of collaboration, clear communication and trust within relationships (Avolio, Gardner, Walumbwa, Luthans & May, 2004). Many supervisors are the frontline managers in the resources and construction sectors and can and do transform their shifts according to their safety values - what they say, goes.

Bass (1985) and Bass, Avolio, Jung and Berson (2003) describe transformational leaders as having four attributes: idealised influence, whereby their followers trust and identify with their leader; inspirational motivation, whereby followers' work is challenged and leaders provide meaning; intellectual stimulation, occurring in a blame-free environment where leaders invigorate followers' adaptivity and creativity; and individualised consideration, whereby the specific needs of growth and achievement of followers are supported by their leaders. These attributes are evident in the management tasks of the frontline supervisor. Establishing trust between the supervisor and their team is pivotal in the development of a robust safety culture. …

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