For many years the perceived wisdom was that Leaders exhibited certain key characteristics. As a consequence mere mortals’ efforts to become a Leader would fail unless their genetics contain the appropriate characteristics like charisma, the ability to inspire and passion. It was also probably fair to fall into the trap of thinking only an extravert could be a leader!

Fortunately, modern management thinking has started to redefine the definition of leader with emphasis on the individual’s mind set or way of being rather than position and power. Equally there is increasing evidence that introverts make very good leaders, so innate personality is less of a deciding characteristic.

Goffee and Jones in their book “Why should anyone be led by you?” and the writing of Edgar Schein increasingly put greater emphasis on communication skills, transparency and trust as characteristics that make an individual effective at being a leader and influencing others to achieve.

This modern approach chimes well in the Health and Safety space where we increasingly are able to recognise leaders at all levels as positive influences on Health and Safety outcomes rather than just the figurehead holding high office.

Leadership should be thought of as something that we do with people.  It is situational, non-hierarchical and all about relationships. Is this not the case where Health and Safety is achieved to high standards, drawing on the combined strengths of the workers and the management team, in preference to the managers attempting to manipulate behaviour using models of scientific management?

The situation determines what the leader needs to do. Leadership is not dependent on hierarchy but is a social construct between the leader and those who aspire, or are willing, to be led. In a Health and Safety setting the role of the leader changes with operational circumstances and throughout the project life cycle, yet success is always anchored in the need to work with people rather than just imposing controls on their behaviour.

It is time for leaders to follow the advice of Edgar Schein and “do less telling, learn to ask better questions and do a better job of listening and acknowledging”.  Above all else leaders need to be Authentic and in so doing become brave enough to be themselves and recognise they have strengths and fallibilities just like those they seek to lead. Being comfortable and consistent whatever the circumstance will separate you from many who claim to be Leaders yet fail at the most basic of leadership requirements: having willing followers.

If you wish to further develop your Leadership skills and learn how to apply them to improving Health and Safety within your business arena, contact HASTAM about the new NEBOSH Health and Safety Leadership Excellence course.

We’d love to debate some of these topics further with you !

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