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Employers Who Lead by Example Improve Workplace Safety

Construction Workers

An employer’s behavior has a major bearing on the safety culture in a workplace. New research confirms that the type and quality of leadership in a workplace affects the rates of workplace injuries and the overall safety of workers.

Researchers at Colorado State University questioned about 1,167 construction pipefitters and plumbers to understand the influence of employer or leader behaviors on the safety culture at work.

The researchers identified a quality called “idealized influence,” which led to workers admiring the employer or leader and copying his or her behavior. Employers and leaders who had this quality had a significant impact on workplace safety.

A leader who has high idealized influence displays a solid leadership style, charismatic qualities, and personal attractiveness. Leaders with idealized influence behave in a manner that encourages people around them to emulate them. This is extremely desirable in the workplace, where leaders can promote workplace safety.

The study also zeroed in on several other leadership-associated behaviors that were strongly linked with a safer workplace culture. Those qualities included:

Inspirational motivation, in which a leader is able to provide context and meaning to the work of subordinates or employees. An employer who uses inspirational motivation is able to establish a workplace safety culture that is appealing and encouraging for employees to follow. Such employers are able to challenge employees to come out of their comfort zones and are able to inject a sense of optimism about safety codes.

Intellectual stimulation, in which employers encourage employees to be creative and propose new ideas without criticism for employees who make errors.

Individualized consideration, in which an employer takes on the role of a mentor to workers or subordinates, listens to concerns and needs, and behaves in an empathetic and supportive manner.

Contingent reward, in which an employer uses positive reinforcement techniques to reward employees for desirable or positive behaviors to establish those behaviors as a matter of habit.

The researchers found that several positive safety outcomes were associated with employers who display these types of leadership qualities. Those positive outcomes included an enhanced workplace safety climate and increased safety-related behaviors in the workplace, all of which contribute to a lower rate of accidents and injuries.

The results of the study are intriguing because there is little research to show exactly how an employer’s leadership qualities affect workplace safety. However, the research does seem to confirm that a style of leadership that combines encouragement, example-setting, and positive reinforcement can actually help reduce accident and injury rates.

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