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Inspiring Safety: The Crucial Role of Leadership in Encouraging Safety Accountability

Safety in the workplace isn't just a set of protocols or checklists; it's a culture that needs to be supported and owned by every employee. The key to this culture lies in effective leadership that promotes safety ownership. This article explains how leaders can inspire safety ownership and build a strong safety culture within their organizations.

safety manager and safety workers
Safety Manager and site workers

The Power of Leadership in Safety Culture

Leadership greatly influences how safety is perceived and prioritized within an organization. Effective leaders understand the benefits of fostering a culture that benefits everyone, not just themselves. The BP oil spill in 2010 serves as a powerful lesson in leadership failure. Tony Hayward's self-centered response highlighted the importance of leaders focusing on collective responsibility rather than individual inconvenience.

Core Principles of Leadership for Safety Ownership

To foster safety ownership, leaders need to adopt certain principles and behaviors that encourage a collective focus on safety:

1.     Center on the Issue, Not Yourself: Leaders must focus on resolving safety issues rather than on how these issues affect them personally. This shift in focus helps build trust and encourages employees to take ownership of safety problems.

2.     Embrace and Learn from Mistakes: Following the "Own It, Correct It, Learn From It, and Move On" (OCLM) approach, leaders should address mistakes constructively. This mindset helps create a learning culture where errors are seen as opportunities for improvement rather than occasions for blame.

3.     Treat Everyone with Dignity and Respect: Paul O’Neill's (former CEO of Alcoa) three questions provide a benchmark for a respectful and inclusive workplace:

a. Are employees treated with dignity and respect?

b. Do they have the tools and support to make meaningful contributions?

c. Are their efforts properly recognized?

Creating a Culture of Safety Ownership

Building a culture of safety ownership involves more than just policies; it requires an environment where employees feel valued and empowered:

1.     Empower Employees: Give employees the autonomy and resources to take charge of safety in their roles. This empowerment fosters a sense of ownership and accountability.

2.     Recognize and Celebrate Contributions: Acknowledge both small and significant safety achievements. Recognition reinforces positive behaviors and demonstrates that the organization values safety.

3.     Promote Open Communication: Encourage a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting safety concerns and suggestions. Open communication is critical for identifying and addressing potential hazards.

4.     Provide Continuous Training and Development: Regular training ensures that employees are equipped with the latest safety knowledge and skills. It also shows that the organization is committed to their well-being.

The Impact of Leadership on Safety Culture

Effective leadership that promotes safety ownership can transform an organization. Benefits include:

  • Enhanced Employee Morale: Employees who feel respected and valued are more motivated and engaged.

  • Increased Productivity: A safe work environment reduces the likelihood of accidents and disruptions, leading to higher productivity.

  • Reduced Accident Rates: When safety is a shared responsibility, employees are more vigilant and proactive in preventing accidents.


Safety ownership is a journey that requires continuous effort and commitment from both leaders and employees. By fostering an environment where safety is everyone's responsibility, organizations can achieve excellence and ensure the well-being of their most valuable asset – their people.

Ken Chapman, Ph.D. and Tony Orlowski

Co-Authors, Safety Beyond The Numbers

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