A Safety Manager’s Guide to Impactful Leadership

Jason Starke

By Jason Starke
Director of Safety and Product Development, Baldwin Safety & Compliance

Posted on October 2, 2023
Aircraft crew coordinating in an aircraft hangar.

In the world of safety management, “power” might not be the first word that comes to mind. However, we’re going to explore an intriguing concept—the power that safety managers possess and how we can harness it to create a significant impact within our organizations.

Safety managers are, in essence, safety leaders, and they have the ability to influence and drive change through the power of leadership. In this article, we’ll break down the concept of power into a pyramid, similar to Heinrich’s Pyramid, and explore the different levels of power that safety managers can wield to make a real difference.

Understanding Power Within an Organization

At the base of our power pyramid, we have Legitimate Power, Reward Power and Coercive Power. These powers are closely associated with an organization’s hierarchy.

Legitimate Power comes from holding a position of authority, such as a vice president of safety. However, it’s important to note that in some cases, titles like director of safety may not necessarily carry legitimate authority. Reward Power allows safety managers to provide incentives for correct actions or use rewards to influence behavior, while Coercive Power involves using punishment to steer actions. Unfortunately, many safety managers may not have easy access to these powers, even if their titles suggest otherwise.

As we move up the power pyramid, we encounter Expert Power. This level of power is driven by knowledge and expertise. Safety managers who are highly knowledgeable about safety management, risk management and related principles have the confidence and capability to lead their organizations through safety management system implementation and maintenance successfully.

At the pinnacle of the power pyramid is Referent Power. This form of power revolves around charisma and how one relates to others. Charismatic leaders have the ability to influence and inspire their teams to achieve organizational goals. While charisma may not be the primary focus for safety managers, being friendly, approachable and patient can go a long way in building positive relationships and influencing change.

Putting Power Into Perspective

So, what’s the key takeaway from this power pyramid? For many safety managers, the powers associated with organizational hierarchy at the pyramid’s base may not be readily available. However, this should not discourage you, because you can still be a powerful influencer by concentrating on your expertise and your ability to connect with others.

To become a safety leader, commit to continuous learning and expand your knowledge in safety management. Stay up to date with industry trends and best practices. This expertise will not only boost your confidence but also empower you to guide your organization effectively through the complexities of safety management.

Furthermore, aim to be a positive and approachable presence in your workplace. You don’t have to be overly charismatic or put on a facade, but being friendly, understanding and patient can help you build trust and create an environment conducive to positive change.

Being a powerful safety leader doesn’t require a fancy title or the ability to enforce punishment. Instead, focus on your knowledge and your ability to connect with others. By doing so, you can wield the power of expertise and relatability to influence change, enhance safety and truly make a difference within your organization.

Remember, knowledge and a positive attitude can be your most potent tools in the world of safety management. Embrace them, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a safety leader who transforms your organization’s safety culture for the better.

Baldwin Safety & Compliance Baldwin Safety & Compliance
Customized Safety Management programs developed by experienced and credentialed safety professionals include training, manual management and SMS implementation/software. Based on ICAO and other international standards and regulations, Baldwin’s programs support Business Aviation, Charter, FBO, Airport, Medical Transport and Regional Airlines by providing advanced software, an outstanding customer experience and our Commitment to Excellence.

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