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Safety leadership

About this topic


In any organisation, leaders and managers strongly influence the behaviour and attitude of all staff: they shape the organisational culture.

This is why many organisations operating in high risks industries, such as oil & gas and nuclear, for which safety culture is paramount to achieve sustainable performance, have introduced safety leadership in their competence management.

Safety leadership does not need to relate to a position in an organisation. Rather it can be seen as a set of skills that someone can develop to help people understand the safety challenge, believe that it is important and feel empowered to improve safety. Safety leadership skills can include:

  1. Demonstrating a commitment to safety
  2. Listening and questioning
  3. Challenging and explaining
  4. Encouraging accountability
  5. Promote a growth mindset and continual improvement
  6. Empowering and showing humility
  7. Destigmatising failure

Relevance to rail

Railways make no exception. Any company contributing to any railway system needs that staff at all levels act as safety leaders on a daily basis, no matter what their distance to the frontline risks is. Those safety leaders influence perceptions, shape the behaviour and support the development of the safety culture.

Approaches and models

To develop safety leaders, it is important to clearly set out what safety leadership looks like for the organisation and to create training and development that allows staff to reflect on their current safety leadership style, understand how important safety leadership is and identify ways to improve.

An example of this has been developed by the European Union Agency for Railway. To respond to the growing interest of its stakeholders, the European Union Agency for Railway has established safety leadership principles, interlinked to the European Railway Safety Culture Model (ERA-SCM).

Those principles, along with a film relating an accident, structure a 1-day safety leadership training, targeting managers at all levels. The training aims at being an effective arrangement to improve participants’ safety leadership skills, providing them with useful knowledge and tools. Still, high-level commitment, continuous follow-up and long-term dedication are key success factors to ensure any ambitious cultural change.

Safety Leadership training in Irish Rail

What are the key HOF issues? Irish Rail identified a need to refresh our senior managers on safety leadership, to highlight the importance of leading by example and to create awareness of the pivotal role of leaders in shaping the safety culture of the...

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