What is Safety Leadership?

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An article by the Huffington post claims that 98% of adults agree that texting and driving is a dangerous. However, 49% of adults admit that they do it. Something doesn’t quite add-up. Although, in the world of safety and risk, we’re not surprised. We’re always faced to confront the fact that people will get worked-up over accidents, but are unable to recognize their own unsafe behavior. This holds true for amateur and professional drivers alike. People don’t recognize their bad behaviors that endanger themselves and others. That’s why safety leadership is vital in the transportation industry.


Most people and professional drivers—like truck drivers, bus operators, etc.—have a difficult time recognizing their own bad driving behaviors. Safety results are heavily influenced by the culture of a company.  The culture of a company comes from cultural norms. Norms are the accepted way of behaving in a particular setting. They’re put into place and maintained by the leader. Everything you do or don’t do as the leader creates norms for your employees.

Managers and supervisors are in a unique role to carve out a safety leadership role for themselves. Even if it doesn’t seem so, employees care about your opinion because you’re their boss.  Simply put, people do what their boss inspects (no, not expects). In other words, employees will spend time on tasks that they think their boss cares about. Therefore, the boss is directly responsible for safety results.


Safety Leadership is setting the standard for safe behaviors. It’s making sure that employees understand the exact right and wrong, or safe and unsafe, behaviors in their job. They need to hear you talking about them and see you doing them. They need you to teach them.

We refer to it as “Were you there” leadership. When an unsafe behavior or an accident happens, were you there? Through proactive leadership, you set examples and establish norms for safe behavior of your employees. You become a presence in the hearts and minds of your employees. “Were You There” Leadership gives you a sense of ownership that carries down to all of the operators and employees.


The “boss” of a transportation company is in a unique position to leverage safety leadership. Terminal managers and shift supervisors, as examples, interact with drivers on a regular basis. However, managers are not always leaders. There’s a big difference.

Managers deal with “things.” They control schedules and products, direct people to perform tasks, and count inventories. Leaders, on the other hand, deal with people. They inspire others to pursue shared goals. They influence the way others behave. Peter Drucker once wrote, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”  You need to do both. “You’re not a leader if you turn around and no one is following you.”


Just remember YOU decide:

  • who controls how safe your operation is.
  • who your drivers are in the hiring process.
  • how, and how well, they’re trained.
  • what behaviors are safe and unsafe behaviors.

Left to their own devices, people will continue to think their driving behaviors are always safe. Safety leadership means you create new norms that your drivers follow. You hold others and yourself accountable for their own lives and the lives of others.