The Difference Between Managing Safety and Being a Safety Leader

construction team at project site


An organization needs leadership to drive great performance in all areas of the business.

Leaders are critically necessary to help define safety goals, develop implementation procedures, and ensure compliance for the company’s safety programs. Most importantly, a safety leader must consistently motivate other employees to effectively mitigate safety risks. In this edition of the Advanced Consulting & Training safety blog, we’ll explore the difference between being a safety manager and being a safety leader.

Safety Leaders Versus Safety Managers

Safety leaders are the team leads that others rely upon, to consistently meet the safety goals of the organization.

Managers are part of the organization’ hierarchy and have defined responsibilities for their segment of the business to include the standard supervisor role with respect to subordinates.

Leadership means “to influence followers” – and this does not necessarily mean the department manager. Any member of a team can be a leader as long as they are able to influence the activity of the team in a way that ensures health and safety practices and policies are met by everyone.  A manager can certainly be a leader for safety. More often than not, businesses will look to managers to be a leader, but the primary distinction between a leader and a manager is that a leader will inspire the team to voluntarily recognize and fulfill their role in the company’s safety program whereas a manager will simply focus on enforcement measures.

The OSHA Safety Model

safety leaders at work siteThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a defined model that outlines the key objectives for safety leadership, regardless of the leader’s role in the company. The OSHA STARS model describes the requirements for safety leadership:

Supervision: overseeing work activities to make sure employees are safe

Training: conducting safety education and training

Accountability: insisting that everyone complies with company safety policies and rules

Resources: providing physical resources – tools, equipment, materials – so employees can work safely

Support: creating a supportive psycho-social work environment – schedules, workloads, recognition – so employees do not work under undue stress

The model starts with supervision to ensure employees are safe, but this is does not necessarily mean direct supervision by management.

A key function of safety leader is to ensure safety procedures are followed on the job and workers are safe. A review of the remaining components of the model provide the necessary requirements of a safety leader.

These are important attributes of safety leadership and do not always require performance by a member of the management team. A leader that emerges from the team of workers from the shop floor, or job site, provides a valuable connection to the operational team.

This connection can provide the daily influence to maintain safety procedures and avoid accidents.

What Makes A GoodSafety Leader

safety leader at job siteAs stated above, leadership does not always mean a manager or supervisor. It does require individuals with leadership skills to influence the rest of the team in meeting the goals of the safety program.

A key characteristic for safety leadership is the real commitment to help people stay safe. This genuine concern, along with the ability to inspire others to show that same concern, and follow safety regulations, is vastly different than a managers commands to follow the rules. This is an important distinction and one that more often leads to consistent safety results on any job site. Seeking the input of others on the team regarding any safety concerns that they have is an easy way to help inspire them take a more active role in workplace safety matters, and come forward about issues they see on the job. This helps to increase buy-in from them and other members of the team.

One other key quality that makes a good safety leader is the ability to defer to others who have more expertise with occupational health and safety matters, like a member of the joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative. A good safety leader will actively seek the input of people more knowledgeable about health and safety issues, practices and policies in their workplace so they can make more informed decisions about how to create the safest working environment they can create.

In Summary

Regardless of a person’s specific role in a company, a leader is able to influence the activity of the team. Any safety manager can certainly be a safety leader, just as much as any employee can act as a safety leader (especially if they are on the joint health and safety committee). The primary distinction between a safety manager and a safety leader is that leaders influence the team to voluntarily fulfill the required safety procedures through compassionate collaboration with members of their team. The voluntary aspect is an important distinction that defines increase employee buy-in and participation in workplace health and safety.

Contact us today to find out more about our services at Advanced Consulting & Training. We are a safety training leader in Ontario, helping organizations and their employees, both large and small, become safety leaders themselves.

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