LEADERSHIP IN SAFETY: Aligning Safety Culture with Corporate Culture ​


Is there “Safety Culture”? And if there is how do we define it? The defining of safety culture throughout organizations has been widely differentiated from the corporate culture.  The question is why? Enterprise Risk Management would ask 5 Whys; a refined example of the KAIZEN model, also adopted by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (2004). Safety culture has many definitions: from Confederation of British Industry’s "…attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety" (CBI 1991) to “…the product of individual and group attitudes, perceptions, and values about workplace behaviour and processes that collectively result safety work units and reliable organizational products.” (HSC 1993, cited in Cooper 2000). This paper offers a practitioner’s perspective, proposing to completely integrate safety culture into the corporate culture of the organization as being the best alignment for all stakeholders.

In today’s fast paced world, organizations need to be adaptable to change, and to achieve this leadership has to be an integral part at all levels of organizations, allowing more autonomy in business units, allowing for quick decisions and accountability at all levels.

Models:  Organizations need to move from a worldview of dialectic communication (managers as bosses with the firm ‘last word’) to dialogic communication(Selman 2014) (accountability and engagement of all, at all levels, or co-creation). We continually move towards, using all levels of worker as partners and integrating their respective knowledge into new design and new processes. Organization today needs to be listening to the experience of the front line workers when re-creating, or carefully looking at process to not only make processes inherently safer, but to streamline process and allowing for proper realignment of design often increasing production as well as well-being and safety of workers, the general public, and the environment. Models such as Appreciative Inquiry, Empathic Listening, Organizational Behaviour, Organizational Leadership, Human Factors, Behavioural Based Safety as well as Process Safety will be considered as well as communication in HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) initiatives.  

Conclusion: We will learn how to properly communicate Health and Safety as an integral part of the Corporate Culture. How this will instil a behaviour and attitude throughout an organization rather than remain only in the ‘High Hazard’ workforce, and the benefits of a global awareness in the organization. We will also look at how leading by example if you will, and endeavouring to maintain this attitude outside workplace can lead to a different attitude in all our lives, and how we deal with others in general. Guldenmund’s (2000) view: “In essence, safety culture describes the organizational attributes that reflect safe work environments”. So why then, all the hype about safety culture?  This paper presents a focus on corporate culture, discussing how to make safety right; from the top down, while inviting leadership and engagement from all levels.


Let us look closely at how the leader manages the workforce of today. Leadership has evolved, or is continuously evolving, to directing managers in a style of leadership direction; as opposed to the forceful management of the past. The resilient organization will adapt and prosper through lean periods by being, and remaining, adaptable and progressive. We will look at Behavioural Based Safety (BBS) and we will also look at Human Factors (HF) and how these models fit into the picture, and properly fit into a Safety Management System model. But mostly we will demonstrate the levels of leadership, how we treat our workforce and engage and empower them leads to a safer and healthier, to a more productive, and ‘present*’ (*read: aware and responsive) workforce.

This paper lays out the ground rules, and demonstrates where and how this works for other organizations.  We will discuss tools, such as “Prevention by Design”, which requires participation and engagement of several layers, or better yet, all levels of stakeholder; from approval from the Board of Directors and CEO’s to Professional Engineers (PEng) to the architects, and any and all other jurisdiction, or stakeholder which should have input leading to final approval.  Questioning will lead to a comprehensive view of the big picture.  We will look closer at how projecting listening and engagement skills opens up the door to transparency and open dialogue (dialogic communication, see Bushe/Marshak 2009, and Selman 2014) within, and external to, the organization.  We will set a tone for the organization to be functional, fair, and forward moving; forward thinking, through

demonstrated practice of the resilient, adaptable organization and how the workforce, and in particular HSE competencies benefit from active, forward thinking leadership.

“Management must always in every decision and action put economic performance first.

It can only justify its existence and its authority by the economic results it produces.”(Drucker, 2006)

This is exactly my argument, as we must instil the safety as a matter of course, while ensuring the resilient organization.  The only way to do this is to empower the workforce to claim a stake in the bottom line, understand that unless we deliver at the end of the day there is no organization, without placing ourselves, or anyone else in harms’ way, we must understand the justification of the organization to produce economic results.  At the same time communicating to governance loss at any level is unacceptable in today’s world. When we consider Drucker’s (2006) statement, one of the leaders at the forefront of management and leadership in context, we see there is really no room for loss and this removal of risk is paramount, yet there needs to be economic value produced to justify the organization.

How can we best benefit the organization through development of shared, intrinsic values, allowing the organizational culture to evolve, read corporate culture defined by the attitude (“…attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share” (CBI 1991)), and inclusiveness of engaged workforce, which will enable, engage, and empower a workforce, and also eliminate or at least minimize loss at every and all levels.  From our perspective we look at personnel, and sometimes slowdowns, and stoppage.  We will also, for this paper, include any deviation, and interruption of business. This will be any loss or business interruption, which can be attributed, in whole or in part, to human interaction in our work environments. We ask the questions of why we do tasks in a certain manner if there is a possibility of loss, whether it be corporeal, or any other loss be it in product, machinery or time: i.e., business interruption. When we are in business interruption, and especially if there is enough foresight from the floor to have seen a potential interruption, when do we allow the workers to engage and make decisions, which will affect bottom line?  Do we still prevent any input from the worker and teams? Or do we encourage and empower our teams to be more active and effectively make decisions, which lead to identification of loss and business interruption?  These are the question we need to closely look at and see where great organization have lead us in the past to rethink our management and ultimately our leadership styles.


What in fact is safety culture?  There are several definitions: the Cullen Report (2001) into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash saw safety culture as "the way we typically do things around here", others put it down to, “…the way in which safety is managed in the workplace.”(Cox and Cox 1991, cited in Cooper 2001). Thompson (2013) states “When Personal Culture First Meets Organizational Culture; Personal Culture Wins...” There are some divergent and many other definitions to go to, but what needs to be looked at closely is how can “Safety Culture” be a stand-alone to the Corporate, or Organizational Culture? The argument here is it cannot be a stand-alone; safety is an integral part of the organization and therefore needs to be aligned with Corporate Culture and established from the top down. And I state here it needs to be established from the top down, yet in this paper we will show how great leaders establish from the top, yet allow, and encourage, bottom up leadership by initiating and supporting worker engagement, transparency and ownership at all levels.  The Corporate Culture of a resilient, adaptable organization will include the above mentioned models or variations of these coupled with Dialogic Communication (Bushe and Marshak 2009) in some form or other, such as; empathic listening, appreciative inquiry, open and transparent systems of communication from the top down.

"Empathic listening (also called active listening or reflective listening) “…is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust… …an essential skill for third parties and disputants … … enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret … … response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation or mediation. Among its benefits, empathic listening:

builds trust and respect,

enables the disputants to release their emotions,

reduces tensions,

encourages the surfacing of information, and

creates a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving.” (Salem 2003)

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method for studying and changing social systems (groups, organizations, communities) that advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.  Developed… …1980s primarily by students and faculty of the Department of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, …” (Bushe 2013)

Dialogic Communication is brought forth also by Jim Selman in Possible Futures (Selman 2014).  Both have valid arguments for dialogue in transformational change models we can use in corporate culture development. So we will lay down reasons and examples of why worker safety in the workplace counts fundamentally on the Corporate, or Organizational Culture to survive. And on leadership to demonstrate values and “walk the talk”. Consider too the values resilient organizations adhere to in order to keep up in a global, fast paced environment. And to retain and maintain itself in such a fast paced global framework in which we live today this includes engagement at all levels. To bring this forward into the safety and wellness of the organization is first off tantamount to engagement and collaboration at all levels of the organization.  In today’s world we count more and more on, and allow more workers, to be decision makers. (Maslow)  By empowering the worker to be an integral part of the decision making process. We allow them a higher level of personal fulfilment (see: what Sawatsky calls “feeling significant” (Finlayson, 2005), or actualization as Maslow (McLeod 2014) put it.  The highest level of self-fulfilment within the organization; leading to wellness and personal fulfilment of the workforce. What exactly is “Corporate Culture” and how does it purport to “Safety Culture”? For example, one instructor in Organizational Behaviour uses the example ofMacDonald’s restaurants processes and procedures manual to explain its perception of corporate culture. Yet the defining of culture should not be confused with structure and preparation, as in the E-Myth (Gerber 1985), or as I reinforce here, an alignment of values and a common goal of benefit. This is what we need to work at for our Organizational, or Corporate Culture, and therefore this reinforces there is no such thing as a stand-alone safety culture when what we are looking to achieve is a enterprise wide alignment of value in our corporate culture, and the Health, Safety and Environment needs to be a comprehensive piece of the full puzzle. Otherwise you have systems failure.   Since we are discussing safety at work, it is of prime importance to know where we sit in the culture of the organization, and if I, as with many colleagues in safety and health in the workplace, believe it relies heavily, if not primarily, on support from upper management and the whole of the community to completely succeed. As Ben Sawatzky, founder of Spruceland Millworks (Finlayson, 2005) put it “I’ve always strongly believed my job is to recognize people and reward their efforts, and that they go home at night feeling significant,”

Leadership Styles

We take a look at leadership styles at all levels of organizations. We will look to demonstrate how enabling an engaged and empowered workforce will create the corporate culture of inclusiveness where bottom line will be supported by a happy, healthy, mindful, and team spirited inclusive organization.

Kaizen Model

Kaizen is a ‘Lean Business Model’ developed during WWII in Japan by Toyoda guru Masaaki Imai founder of Kaizen Institute (kaizen.com) and author of many books on the subject, namely: Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success (Imai 1986)

Looking at the Kaizen model (Kaizen Institute 2015): or change for the better, is not a new model. The premise is continual improvement through empowerment and engagement of the workforce.  Introduced in the 1970’s by Toyota in Japan it became popular and created a new Corporate Culture where activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. This quickly changed the Safety Culture of the organization as any loss or potential loss was also became within the power of the worker and supervisor to identify and report, leading to lower potential losses and achieve buy-in from the workforce.

Adaptive Change

Heifetz and Laurie (1997), commenting upon Adaptive Change stated that Leaders do not need to know all the answers, but that they do need to ask the right questions. In their discussions on adaptive change and how this will assist in securing the outcome Heifetz and Laurie (1997) speak of how to secure leadership from the top, or become a leader from the bottom:

Leadership… …requires a learning strategy. A leader, from above or below, with or without authority, has to engage people in confronting the challenge... To an authoritative person who prides himself on his ability to tackle hard problems, this shift may come as a rude awakening... To the person who waits to receive either the coach’s call or “the vision” to lead, this change may also seem a mixture of good news and bad news. The adaptive demands of our time require leaders who take responsibility without waiting... One can lead with no more than a question in hand.” (Heifetz and Laurie 1997)

So the question is how do you develop the Corporate Culture, call it an adaptive change framework, which will allow and empower the leaders from above and from below to know they are not only appreciated for their input to the organization. They have a duty as significant members of the team to act on impulses, which could benefit the organization.

Mastermind Theory

(Hill 1928) Proposes the Mastermind Theory as: “two or more people who work in perfect harmony for the attainment of a definite purpose.”  This was not a new concept at the time; Hill was taking from the wealthy Scottish steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Yet there is documented proof this system has been used going back ages: Napoleon Bonaparte had a ‘War Council” and would always confer with his generals and senior officers.  As did the Great Kahn have a war council, which sat to confer over every important war decision. And possibly others before these historic figures used a form or group consciousness collaboration.


How does Stewardship fit into the OHSE picture? In this day when organizations need to look more closely, either through choice or direction from regulatory requirements of shareholder pressure, where does stewardship fit into this picture and how do we present a business case to “Effectively communicate desired results and vividly demonstrate desired behaviour” (Ulrich, Zenger and Smallwood 1999).

Expectancy Theory

The expectancy is the belief that one's effort (e) will result is attainment of desired performance (p) goals” (Scholl 2011)

What is Expectancy Theory and how does it fit into the bigger picture? “Executives spend too much time drafting, wordsmithing, and redrafting vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose statements, aspiration statements, and so on. They spend nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the values and visions already in place.” (Collins, J. as referenced by Shepherd, Smythe 2012)

Participative Management

Participative Management is the forefather of adaptive, and other inclusive leadership models that we now embrace. Sydney Harmon CEO of Harmon Kardon, in the 80’s developed this style of management which he developed intuitively as he moved to engage his workforce as the manufacturing plants rebelled at the management.  Mr. Sydney Harmon resolved the conflict by allowing workers to feel significant by applying this, at the time, new leadership model of “Participative Management”.

Enterprise Risk Management (ERM)

And more recently in his presentation of the ERM model (Lam 2014) tells us that risk, in Chinese characters, comprises 2 symbols, danger + opportunity. This leads to the best description for ERM; “an approach to managing all of an organization’s key business risks and opportunities with the intent of maximizing shareholder value.” The basis of ERM, developed by financial organizations to deal with the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 (SEC 2002), an Act to protect investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to the securities laws, and for other purposes. This is following on from a number of corporate and accounting scandals, including ENRON, ADELPHIA, Tyco Corporation. ERM is being adopted, not only for financial and insurance organization, but is more and more being used by organizations from mining to construction and is overseeing the enterprise wide risk: which for HSE professional and practitioners we will soon be, more and more, reporting to ERM divisions of upper management and, as in many developing countries move away from HR departments to a competency driven by risk and opportunity: Identifying both risk and opportunity with the goals of eliminating the first and increasing the latter.

And in this day and age, when organizations are directed more by insurance, finance, and as always by the bottom line.  The sustainable, resilient organization looks more closely at ERM, and introducing the position of chief risk officer (CRO) to oversee all risk, including but not limited to operational risk, of which SHE is a direct report and a more enlightened approach to OHSE, combining more modern models of reducing, and eliminating losses through not only behavioural based, but also a closer look at combining systems thinking and HF in the diagnoses and treatment of risk, and potential losses.

5 Why’s Model

The Kaizen model was associated with the early uses of the 5 why’s model (a Root Cause model), which is being used in ERM today, and has been adopted by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE 2004). This model takes the question ‘WHY’ and asks a series of questions to each and every answer. Thereby questioning the answer until we have a result which is less, or not at all, questionable. This method allows for a better collaboration of HSE audit and investigation models by going deeper from root cause, to behavioural based forward to Human Factors reasoning and continuing to ask question until the resolution embraces and includes until all avenues of possibility are explored. “The “5 Whys” strategy is an easy to use, effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem.  You can use for troubleshooting, problem solving, and quality improvement initiatives.” (Hill 2005)


How we use the leaderships styles to engage and empower the workforce, allowing participation and a “ say”, the worker has direct access to participatory leadership and growth motivation, some of the concepts of leadership we discussed earlier point directly to the need for self-actualization, or growth motivation and the need to feel “part of”.  This need is fulfilled through the development of leadership initiatives, which do allow the bottom up leader to flourish within the organization. Allowing the worker to pick-up the safety glasses that the ‘status quo’ says are “sissi”, and to lead by example and say: “I’m gonna wear these because I like my eyes, I like to look at my children when I arrive at home after shift!” And when the toughest of ironworkers, or what have you tough guy, picks up the safety glasses, the rest follow suit.  Convince the strongest, the rebel, the least likely character to buy into the need to stay safe, and you are creating the culture of inclusion, the culture of buy-in, the culture to self-actualization and comfort leads to an attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values based corporate culture.

We will define how HSE fits into the organization as a whole, creating corporate, or organizational culture. We look closely at how we need to develop HSE as a core competency directly attached, or as an integral part of, governance, as opposed to its historic position as an add-on to human resources departments, all the while acknowledging the human component which originally derides from, or belonged to, the HR departments of the past. This was all well and good in its time, as HSE has a huge Human Factors (HF) component and belongs as sub-species of operations, or better as sub-category of Operational Risk which is itself a sub-category of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) which attaches to governance directly.


Let us look closely on past worldview, and as we continue, as resilient adaptable organizations, to create change in this world we must embrace engagement in “Dialogic” forms of communication.  Moving from a place of directing workers in every phase and aspect of their task to a place of intelligent humans looking for the best and most streamlined approach to, not only completing the task at hand, but knowing the final outcome and contributing to this will make them feel significant at the end of the day. The goals of this inclusive process will be akin to the “Mastermind” (Hill 1928) process of collaboration. Hill’s argument (1928) for the “Mastermind” theory is a collective group can feed off the others, whereas a single person does not know, or able to understand the whole process.  Therefore if we use these tools of Dialogic Communication within the organization to build a world class Corporate Culture, where everyone feels a part of the whole, and goes home at night feeling significant, will increase our return and minimize, if not entirely eliminate, loss.

As we strive to: “…have the intellectual capacity to make sense of unfathomable (sic) complex issues, the imaginative powers to paint a vision of the future that generates everyone’s enthusiasm, the operational know-how to translate strategy into concrete plans, and the interpersonal skills to foster commitment to undertakings that could cost people’s jobs should they fail.” (Ancona et al 2007). Here we have a fairly good descriptive of the complexities of the human component of an organization’s governance perspective, or what should be closely considered in making decisions within governance. Remembering all the while how complex the undertakings of governance, here we include only a small aspect of things, which need to be carefully considered when making decisions; making decisions, which could mean the making, or breaking, or the organization as a whole.

This is why we need people who take charge at all levels to create and maintain intuitive and adaptive organizations which are able to ‘go with the flow’ in this fast paced, ever changing global environment in which we live. “Great people are great because they surround themselves with other great people at all levels and allow them to actively and intuitively participate in the growth of the resilient organization.” – (Marquis 2015) HSE practitioners, professionals, and aspirants are becoming a larger part of this as we allow our workforces greater autonomy and engagement, allowing for development of the leadership qualities at every level. This benefits the organizational structure as well as the employees, partners, and management alike feel significant at the end of the day.




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