Krista Hoffmeister’s study of Safety Leadership
If company owners and managers set a good example, does on-the-job safety improve for workers?
That question was posed by Krista Hoffmeister, a student at Colorado State University. Krista is part of a Safety Management Applied Research Team which surveyed workers, then published the results called The Differential Effects Of Transformational Leadership Facets On Employee Safety.
In this podcast, Ms. Hoffmeister tells host Brandon Nys about their findings: A leader’s safety behavior really does affect how subordinates behave.
Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast for more info, including links and transcripts
Brandon: Hello. We have a safety expert who is about to talk.
Krista Hoffmeister: This is Krista Hoffmeister. I am a student at Colorado State University.
Brandon: I am Brandon Nys, your host, and today we’re going to be talking about…
Krista: My article on safety leadership.
Brandon: Krista Hoffmeister is a student at Colorado State University, and she is part of a Safety Management Applied Research Team that has recently produced an article called The Differential Effects Of Transformational Leadership Facets On Employee Safety. Krista, how are you today?
Krista: I’m great. How are you, Brandon?
Brandon: I am doing well. Thank you for being with us today.
Brandon: You and your research team surveyed almost 1200 people in the construction field to see if there was a connection between the worker’s perception of their boss and their assessment of on-the-job safety.
Brandon: We can, kind of, interpret that as “If the boss sets a good example, on-the-job safety is improved.”
Brandon: Why don’t you elaborate on that a little bit.
Krista: Sure. There are two dimensions of safety behavior that we measured. The first one was compliance with safety rules and procedures. So, these are the typical things that their job has in place that they have to follow.
There’s also safety participation. And this really going above and beyond to improve the safety of the jobsite. “If I see something unsafe or see somebody doing something wrong, do speak up and say something? Do I go out of my way? Not necessarily because I have to, but because I want to.” Either following the rules are going above and beyond that.
Brandon: Does safety actually improve or is the workers’ perception just of improvement?
Krista: That’s a good question Brandon. In our study, we actually examined both of them. Depending on the workers’ perceptions of leadership—if they perceive their leaders as being more of a role model or engaging in specific types of behaviors—their perceptions of safety improve, as well as their actual safety behaviors. We didn’t see as much of a link between actual injuries and pain, however their safety behaviors did improve, so I would say it’s both, Brandon.
Brandon: Sure. Compliance is obviously something that’s mandatory. They have to walk in and they have to put on the hard hat to go on to the worksite. But participatory safety is obviously not as common. I would assume, based on your study, that a lot of that participatory safety is kind of top-down taught. So, I’m curious what leader qualities most affect that mindset in the workplace.
Krista: So, safety participation, for the most part, was similar to the other outcomes: Influenced by leaders setting a good example. You are correct in thinking that a lot of it is top-down. If I perceive my leader as being important, he knows his stuff, he knows what we’re supposed to be doing and I respect him for that, I think he has good values, I’m more likely to go above and beyond.
So, it really taps into that being a good leader is about who you are, as well as what you do. So, there are certain behaviors that you can engage in that certainly encourage things like safety participation. However, one of the biggest findings in our study is that it’s more about who you are as a person. What you value on the jobsite, off the jobsite and how you convey that to others that influences how your employees are going to be safe, or unsafe.
Brandon: Well, that make sense. I mean, if you have a boss that is a not-so-savory person and you don’t like being around them, I could see why you probably wouldn’t want to work so hard for them.
Brandon: So, most management is Transactional Leadership that comes from management, usually down to their subordinates. But there’s also a different type of management called Transformational Leadership. What, to you, is the difference between Transformational Leadership and Transactional Leadership?
Krista: I think that Transactional Leaders are reactionary. They focus on making sure that you’re not doing anything wrong, and correcting any mistakes that you make. They’re there to, essentially, give you the rewards that you’re promised for your job. So, most of the time, that means they’re there to give you pay for being at work. Or reprimand you if you’re not wearing your hard hat.
However, Transformational Leaders go beyond this by helping understand how people are related and how they can use the values of individual people to work towards a common goal. So, instead of focusing on what people are doing wrong or being reactionary, it’s really building this environment that supports a common goal where everybody can work together, and want to work together, toward—in this particular study—toward being safe. Motivating them to go beyond what they normally do. Getting them to think outside the box. Coaching them. And so it’s more than just, I would say, doing managerial related things and more about being a role model in setting an example for the workers on your jobsite.
Brandon: Okay. There are qualities about certain managers that the labor force will admire over others. It creates a situation where there’s an ideal. There is something to strive for from the labor force that they see in their management, and those are the things that they emulate to get to that point. What are some of those qualities that you’ve identified through this study that successful managers would have as a Transformational Leader?
Krista: Sure. So, I would say that the things that I’ve found are particular to the construction industry, not necessarily to my study. A big thing that comes out is that we want to respect our boss. And, in order to respect them, their leader needs to have the knowledge of what they’re doing. They can’t be right out of school, not having any experience. Ah, respect really comes from knowing what you’re doing and being able to communicate that to the workers. Simple things like having materials on time and sticking to a schedule. But, also respecting the individual lives of each employee. So, obviously, people have lives outside of work. Being able to understand that people do have other commitments and being able to work around that.
Krista: (laughs) It’s different in construction because it’s not about being all happy-go-lucky and positive all the time. Respect really comes from being realistic, not necessarily optimistic or pessimistic, but just realistic. “This is what we have to do. This is how you’re going to do it. And I believe in you, you can do it. But we need to get work.”
So the ideal leader in construction is really someone that knows what they’re doing and they have the confidence to take charge of the crew and lead them in a realistic way that addresses all of the challenges that may come up.
Brandon: In the construction field, specifically, it would be somewhat difficult for young manager to gain the respect of some people who may be kind of hardened veterans of the field. What tips might you have for a young manager who is trying to gain the respect of their crew so that they could be seen as a Transformational Leader?
Krista: The most common thing I’ve heard from construction workers that they respect in a leader is knowing what they’re doing. So, if you can find a way to, I guess, prove your knowledge. You did just come out of school but you still have all the knowledge that they had, even though you might not have the same amount of experience. But, also, be willing to be open to other ideas.
Being a new leader in construction, you are just out of school, you know what the best practice is currently. However, the people that may be working under you have potentially been doing this longer. And, so, they have their own ideas. They’re close to the job. So being willing to go outside of what you know and allow other people to contribute input.
Beyond that, being willing to get down and do the job with them. So not thinking that “because you’re a new manager that you don’t have to do work.” But getting down and actually doing a job when it needs to get done. And then not just directing people to do the job. So, a lot of times, they say “Get out of the jobsite trailer, stop talking your phone and actually get dirty.”
Brandon: So how would a new manager be perceived, in your opinion, by their crew if they were to come out and be presented with an issue and to tell them “I don’t have the answers. I don’t have the experience to fix this problem.” How do you think the crew would perceive them at that point?
Krista: That’s…that’s a difficult situation. I don’t know if that would actually happen, because of the pride of construction workers that I’m used to seeing. However, I think that that would be an interesting point to see where the safety culture, and their overall culture and trust in the leader that they have, comes into play. So, if you’re a new leader and you haven’t had any time to bond with your workers and the people that you’re overseeing, they may just see you as someone who really doesn’t know what they’re doing. And then eventually they’re just going to do what they want to do. And it’s up to them and their values of safety whether they’re going to be safe or not. And how they’re going to get the job done.
On the other hand, if you’re new but you’ve had time to bond with the people you’re…you’re leading, it’s possible that you’ve created a culture where you can have open dialogs like that. Where, if you say that, you’re saying “Okay, now we’re all on the same page. Let’s figure this out together.” And so it really comes down to what sort of relationship you’re establishing with your workers and the tone you set. “Are we a team, or am I your boss and you’re working for me?”
Brandon: That was more of the point of my question, was to see how a young manager, who is just thrown on the jobsite, can try to get over that little hump.
Brandon: That lack of willingness to work hard would translate directly to safety. I mean, people that say “Oh, that foreman, he’s just some educated kid. He thinks that we need to put on our welding helmets. I’ve been welding for 20 years and I don’t need to have a visor.” And then, all of a sudden, his retinas get hurt because he’s practicing poor safety.
Brandon: So, there were some phrases in your study that I’m curious to have you elaborate on a little bit. Could you explain for us what type of Intellectual Stimulation a manager can do on the jobsite for his crew that will incite more safety?
Krista: Hmm. Sure. So, first of all, let me explain Intellectual Stimulation to make sure that we’re on the same page. Really, this comes down to asking other people’s opinions and thinking outside the box rather than just saying “This is the way we’ve always done it. This is the way we’re going to keep doing it.” Thinking “Are there more innovative ways that we can do this, that get the job done safely and efficiently?”
A lot of times we’ll run into situations where there are a lot of trades working on a single jobsite and people are having to coordinate around each other to get their own job done. I was recently on a jobsite in Texas where the crew didn’t have a way to get materials up to the fourth floor safely. They had to take it in lots of loads and when there were heavy materials, they really had no idea how to get them up there without straining their backs, or having to carry a huge pipe with three people. They had to sit down as a crew and think about how they could address this problem.
They ended up building this trailer hoist that was outside the building where they could just lift all of the materials up to the fourth floor without even going in the building. It really helped take out the manual material handling aspect in the sense that workers didn’t have to weave around other people, look out for holes, or trip hazards, or strain their backs as they’re walking up four flights of stairs with these heavy materials. That’s an example of how, if you sit down with your group and put your heads together and think about how you can address a problem where you could do it the same way you’ve always done it, but “Is there another way that we can do it that we haven’t thought of that might save us time and money and our health? Is there a safer way to do it?”
Brandon: Okay. What is Individualized Consideration and why is that important?
Krista: Individualized Consideration is really similar to a coach. So, moving beyond thinking about your employees as a team and thinking about them as individual people. So, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses as individuals and using that to help guide you in how you direct their behaviors. So, assigning people to tasks that they may not be as strong on so that they can develop in that skill, or in a case where you have a short deadline, knowing who’s good at what can help you get things done quickly and efficiently.
If you understand what people value individually you can really use that to motivate them. So if I know that Joe really cares about his family, if I need him to stay late one day, instead of saying “Hey, Joe can you stay late one day?” I may change that and say “Hey, Joe I know that you want to go on that family vacation this year. If you stay late today, I can give you overtime and you can earn some more money towards that.” Changing the way you talk with your people and address your crew based on their individual needs.
Brandon: Okay and I’m guessing that this is related to that. What exactly is a Contingent Reward?
Krista: (laughs) So, a Contingent Reward is getting a reward for behavior that you engage in. So, a reward is contingent on a certain behavior. If you do this, I’m going to give you this. One of the things that we talk about a lot of these construction workers is when you say reward a lot of people automatically think “I have a tangible reward of things like money.” There was a study done a decade ago that showed that paying people for additional performance, or paying them for working harder, doesn’t account for as much variability in their performance that they actually do, as much as giving them feedback or verbal praise for what they’re doing. Rewarding somebody can go beyond just giving them money or buying the lunch, and it can be something as simple as recognizing what they’re doing. “Hey, I saw you’re doing a great job today.” Something like that can get your employees to go above and beyond what they’re normally doing because they see that you value them and you respect them.
Brandon: It sounds kind of dumb but that sounds just like a teacher I had in the second grade. When she saw things that the children were doing well, she would give them what she called a “warm fuzzy.” It was basically kind of a compliment. And, it’s interesting because, even as adults, and even in industries where you think that everybody’s kind of a macho, like “I can carry boards, and pillars, and all kinds of things and I work with my hands,” every now and again it’s good for them to have a “warm fuzzy.”
Krista: Exactly. And it’s interesting in construction because when we deliver leadership trainings built around these principles, we make a point to say “I don’t need you to go up to them and say ‘Oh, you’re doing an awesome job, you’re such an amazing employee.’ Something as simple as ‘Hey, saw that weld you did today. It looked awesome. Keep up the good work.’” Again, going back to being realistic, not necessarily optimistic, and always unnecessarily happy because that’s not the case with construction workers most of the time.
Brandon: With the bulk of your study considered, are the results that you found what you expected, or were there surprises?
Krista: So, there were some surprises. There were also some patterns that I did expect to come out that did come out. I really did expect Idealized Influence—so those attributes and behaviors that build respect in the leader—I did expect those to be some of the top things. I didn’t quite expect them to account for as much variance in the outcomes as they did. However, I think it’s really interesting because, although those things make sense that they’re at the top, they’re still sort of unclear as to what builds respect in a leader specifically in this industry.
I was actually surprised that Individualized Consideration—that coaching aspect that knowing your team individually—I was surprised that that I was a little bit lower on the list, just because the construction industry is built on this mentorship model were apprentices work with senior journeyman and they, sort of, grow up with certain mentors that they work with. I really expected that to be a bigger part of accounting for these safety behaviors than it was.
And then, I wasn’t surprised that Active Management By Exception came last. And that’s more of the Transactional Leadership that we see—so just making sure that people aren’t doing things wrong and punishing them when you do see something wrong. I wasn’t surprised that that was lowest on the list, and also frequently didn’t even contribute to the safety outcomes, just because I think people want to go beyond just a boss that only intervenes when they’re doing something wrong.
Brandon: Sure. For our listeners—we have a lot of construction managers, warehouse managers, people that are managing a crew—what might be your advice for having them be more of a Transformational Leader?
Krista: That is a good question. I think that the best advice I can give is to set an example and be a role model. A lot of times we find managers in construction that, sort of, think that they already have that respect. They don’t do things that could build respect among new employees. So…so making sure that you’re really talking about safety like it matters to you, make safety of value to you and let your workers see that you care about them. You don’t just care about numbers, you care about them. You care about them going home to their families.
And, work in a way that gets the job done, but in a smart way. You’ve obviously been doing this work for a while, and you know what you’re doing. But how can you do it in a way that gets the job done and get it done safely at the same time? Thinking outside of “Oh, there’s this trade-off between wearing my PPE and getting the job done quickly.” How can you maximize both at the same time, setting an example for valuing both equally rather than seeing safety as sort of a hindrance to getting the job done?
Brandon: You know, Krista, I think that’s excellent advice and that is really, kind of, transcendent from just the construction industry. I think anybody who deals with a workforce can adopt this advice—to really ingest and live safety.
Krista: Thank you.
Brandon: Krista, this has been an extremely valuable conversation. I really appreciate your time.
Krista: Absolutely. Thank you, Brandon.
Brandon: Once again, we’ve been talking with Krista Hoffmeister. She is a student at Colorado State University and is a part of The Safety Management Applied Research Team. If you’d like to read the study, The Differential Effects Of Transformational Leadership Facets On Employee Safety, you can can download it from our website. Just go to creativesafetysupply.com/podcast/ and find the Be A Safety Role Model podcast. I am Brandon Nys.
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