As we explored in our employee engagement article, when it comes to boosting health and safety performance, most managers recognise that worker involvement is the key to success. A vital component in improving engagement is to ensure positive relationships between employers and employees. With this in mind we’ve put together a short article describing three of the most common leadership styles, exploring the pros and cons of each…
(Or perhaps ‘The Prince’!), this leadership style is more commonly known as ‘autocratic’ management. In this case, the manager is the sole decision maker, making choices based on their own judgements and rarely accepting advice from others. There are undoubtedly some benefits to this approach, particularly when quick decisions are required or when dealing with a large number of stakeholders and strong leadership is needed in order to get things accomplished quickly and efficiently. This is one of the reasons ex-soldiers make effective safety managers.
However, the downside to this leadership style is that – like a princess perched away in her ivory tower – employees can view you as being disconnected from the realities of the shop floor. It can also create a climate of dependency, where staff become so reliant on management decisions that they are unable to make decisions without thorough supervision.
Sometimes known as a ‘consultative’ style of management, this style is still essentially a dictatorial type of management, where communication is led from the top down. Nevertheless, this is a more ‘caring’ style of management than The Princess, taking into consideration the best interests of the employees as well as the organisation. For example, managers take the time to explain decisions to employees and obtain their support, helping employees to feel included while still maintaining the boundaries of an employer/employee relationship.
The benefit of this approach is it that it ensures employees feel valued, helping to increase morale and loyalty, and reduce work-related stress. Employers will be more concerned by employee wellbeing, and may undertake regular health surveillance in order to spot the early signs of work-related ill health, as well as making sure they regularly review health and safety policies and procedures to make sure employees are not exposed to any undue workplace risk.
One disadvantage of this management style is that it can again increase employee dependence – therefore hindering creativity within the organisation.
Finally there is ‘The Politician’. Commonly known as a ‘diplomatic’ leadership style, these managers are very open to employee opinions and welcome contributions. As a result, decisions tend to be made ‘by committee’, with a long consultation process preceding a majority decision.
Like the consultative managers, the diplomatic management style can help to boost staff morale and increase loyalty. It is particularly good when applied to complex issues, where specific expertise and advice is required – for example, in the field of occupational health and safety.
Despite this, this type of management can lead to confusion, and leave organisations slow or even rudderless – particularly when quick, critical decisions are required. It can also leave some employees feeling marginalised or sidelined, particularly if their opinions do not form the basis of a majority decision.
The magic number?
As you’ve probably guessed, the best managers wear all three of these hats, applying each of these management techniques when the situation requires. With recent changes in the law meaning that a health and safety failure could now result in criminal convictions for both your organisation and you personally, it is vital that you strike the right balance between ensuring employees feel involved, while maintaining your position as a strong, reliable leader. Behavioural safety training can significantly help you effect real changes to attitudes and beliefs in the workplace, helping you to employ a management style built on trust, respect and co-operation – three cornerstones for effective prevention of ill health and injury at work.
Paul Lynchehaun, Director – Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (Europe hub), from Laing O’Rourke will be speaking at RoSPA’s annual Construction Health and Safety Conference about cultural change through communications.