Safety leadership

21.02.24 11:26 AM By WasteMINZ

Safety leadership is an approach for all leaders and employees alike that prioritises safety in the workplace. It involves establishing and implementing policies and procedures that adhere to regulations that ensure the wellbeing of all workers. At its core, safety leadership is about creating a culture of safety within an organisation. It also means fostering an environment where employees are encouraged to speak up about hazards or unsafe practices and proactively participate without fear of reprisal (Paredes. R, 2023). In this article, WasteMINZ members Ajith Fernando (Reclaim Limited) and Danny McClure (Solid Waste Operations and Contract Manager, Hastings District Council) explain more about safety leadership and why it's important. 

Safety in Leadership Styles

In a recent review of 40 studies over the past ten years (Lekka. C, 2012), the literature has shown some consistent associations between specific leadership styles and safety outcomes.

  • Transactional Leadership
    Transactional leaders monitor followers carefully to enforce rules, reward success, and punish failure. Transactional leadership is associated with the illusion of a positive safety climate, behaviours and perceived reductions in accident rates.
  • Transformational Leadership
    Transformational leaders influence safety by providing positive insights for growth and change within an organisation that provides longevity.  Transformational leadership can enhance a number of safety outcomes by fostering a positive safety climate, promoting higher levels of positive employee participation and engagement in safety activities and allowing compliance within current safety rules, procedures and/or safety regulations.

MIPCo Model

One could argue that there are two groups of leaders and employees in any workplace: the safety committed and the safety complacent ones. When a safety problem arises, safety committed leaders and employees switch into a risk management mode to quickly assess the situation and consider next steps. Whereas safety complacent employees may be more concerned about the negative impact and look to defend their respective actions or inaction.

Some complacent leaders and employees may often feel that they are experienced or familiar with their work, they may tend to take unsafe shortcuts in their day-to-day work activities. Another negative outcome could be the creation of a toxic work environment, increasing the number of safety related incidents. Leaders and employees alike must know how to identify these behaviors and formulate an inclusive plan to avoid these situations from occurring.

The Manipulative Influencing Persuasive Coercive (MIPCo) Model shown below discusses four different types of techniques that leaders could apply to manage employees and thereby potentially improve the safety culture in an organization.

To note: Key points can be used in isolation and applied in an organsation to ensure best or better safety outcomes or improvements.


Coercion and Manipulation

Coercion can involve using forceful actions to compel a leader or employee to cease their current unsafe behaviors or coerce them to reverse actions already applied. However, it should be noted that this statement does not apply when an emergency services worker gives reasonable direction to a person to exercise or not exercise a power or perform a high-risk function in an emergency.

Manipulation can involve strongly suggesting an initiative to someone to relieve them from a potentially detrimental safety situation, which could be construed as negative directive to change. Unlike coercion, manipulation often involves an active attempt to change someone's mind or behaviour through manipulation of information.

Persuasion and Influence

Persuasion is an essential tool when communicating with others, allowing others to consider and/or adopt a particular belief, idea, or course of action willingly. It involves presenting a case in such a way as to provide insight and ideas that others can reflect on with a view to making more informed decisions around safe practices.

Influence refers to the ability of a leader or employee to positively affect the thoughts, behaviours, and attitudes of others. It is this positive insight that can shape the opinions and decisions of others to consider alternative options to ensure the utmost in safety protocols. Influence in safety leadership is built on trust, credibility, expertise, and emotional intelligence.

Persuasion can be used to encourage someone to comply with safety protocols without actually earning their trust or understanding their respective situation. With influence however, dedicating time to better understand a situation and the mindset of the person is a prerequisite -in the process of inspiring them to fully appreciate and apply safety procedures and protocols.

In some time-sensitive circumstances, positive persuasion techniques effectively become higher level instructions for expediting safety outcomes. However, for most transformational leaders and employees, a positive influence is the preferred means to a genuine positive safety outcome. This is because influence is based on a foundation of trust, credibility and a relationship that has been solidified over time (DeFalco. N, 2009).

It is essential for leaders and employees to use influence and persuasion responsibly and ethically, focusing on the greater good and the long-term success of their respective teams and organisations. Leaders and employees who apply these skillsets can motivate and inspire their teams to achieve remarkable results and create a safe and harmonious work environment (Getindo. T, 2023).

You can read more about influence and persuasion here. 


The four techniques identified in the MIPCo model can help leaders to achieve a reduction in risk-taking behaviors, decrease levels of reported incidents, increase reporting of near misses and allow for higher levels of learning from safety events. This has been shown to have several positive safety benefits and are also crucial for the development of a positive safety culture: in other words, increased leader and employee engagement, improved productivity and operational efficiency, a reduction in accidents and injuries as well as increased levels of positive near miss reporting. This allows for more transparent leader and employee accountability and responsibility for safety outcomes.

Effective leaders and employees generally strike a balance between influence and persuasion, knowing when to assert their authority or guide their team members through influence and when to use persuasion techniques to achieve buy-in for critical decisions or changes in relation to positive safety outcomes.



  • DeFalco, N. (2009). Influence vs. Persuasion: A Critical Distinction for Leaders.
  • Getindo Training (2023). Influence and Persuasion in Leadership.
  • Lekka, C. (2012). A review of the literature on effective leadership behaviours for safety. Health and Safety Executive: Research Report RR952, v-vi
  • Paredes, R. (2023). What is Safety Leadership?


Authors: Ajith Fernando (Reclaim Limited) and Danny McClure (Solid Waste Operations and Contract Manager, Hastings District Council)