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Why a Culture of Safety Starts with Leadership

According to the National Safety Council, a worker is injured on the job every seven seconds, with the highest number of incidents occurring in the civil service sector (including police and firefighters), shipping, and manufacturing. Employees working in certain industries must understand the importance of safety when it comes to saving lives and achieving organizational success, and their behaviors must reflect a commitment to safety every single day. Ensuring a culture of safety requires more than sending employees to safety training and providing the proper safety equipment. It requires leaders to instill a mindset of safety in their teams, reinforcing key messages at every level of the organization. When they see effective leadership behaviors, every individual will understand their accountability for safety in the workplace. Here are four ways leaders can help foster a culture of safety.

Establish the Vision

Efforts to build a particular organizational culture begin with establishing a vision that helps everyone understand the desired culture and why it is important. Sharing a compelling vision helps inspire employees and build their support for the vision. Once employees see the clear connection between safe work practices and better personal and organizational outcomes, they’re more likely to change their behavior to align with the vision for safety. Leaders can take the following actions to build a compelling vision for safety:

  • Assess the current situation and explain why it needs to change
  • Determine a clear goal—for example, a double-digit percentage reduction in safety incidents over a certain period of time 
  • Communicate the vision broadly throughout the organization so that individuals can understand and identify with it
    Take your safety and compliance training to the next level. Find out how to  build a culture of safety in our guide.


Without frequent and consistent communication, the vision for safety is little more than a slogan or a poster on the wall, and a culture of safety can’t develop. Leaders can influence employee behavior in support of a culture of safety by delivering key messages of safety, communicating behavior expectations, and providing feedback to help employees overcome obstacles such as resistance or fear. It is critical that frontline managers support communication around safety. When employees have frequent opportunities to talk with their manager about how their roles are changing or the challenges they encounter as a result of the safety vision, they are more likely to support the new culture and remain open to approaching their roles differently.

Empower Employees

In a culture of safety, individuals understand their responsibility for ensuring safety in the workplace, and they are equipped to take actions that will keep employees, customers, patients, and the public safe. Leaders empower employees to perform in support of the culture of safety by providing the knowledge, tools, and support they need to be successful.

Research shows that offering interactive safety training empowers employees by providing ample opportunities for individuals to develop new safety-oriented behaviors. For example, in an aggregated study of several oil and gas companies, companies achieved an improved safety record by implementing training that encouraged individual accountability for a safer workplace. When employees know how to change their behavior in support of the company’s vision for safety, they will have more clarity about what they can do personally to achieve the vision.

Reward and Reinforce

As with any other important company initiative, you will be more likely to achieve sustainable results with proper reinforcement measures in place. Building a culture of safety is not a one-off exercise, but a journey that requires recognizing and rewarding success as well as reinforcing the lessons and skills employees learn along the way. Leaders show their continued support for achieving the vision for safety by taking the following actions:

  • Recognizing individual efforts that result in the reduction of safety incidents
  • Celebrating milestones the company reaches as it gets closer to realizing the vision for safety
  • Supporting employee learning reinforcement through surveys, assessments, and follow-up training sessions

Building a culture of safety starts with leadership because leaders influence employee behavior and help them overcome obstacles to safety they encounter in the workplace. When leaders establish a strong vision, communicate frequently, and equip employees with the knowledge and skills they need to change their behavior, a culture of safety develops and every individual in the company can take personal action in support of safety in the workplace.

building a culture of safety beyond regulatory and compliance

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As Chief Operating Officer, Sue's extensive senior leadership experience and facilitation skills have established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert. She has a proven track record of successfully leading culture transformation in Fortune 500 companies and has established herself as an authority on training and development. Sue has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed solutions for Eagle's Flight.

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Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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