You’ve Got Style! Understanding Safety Leadership Styles

safety-leadership styles: coerciveOne of the common misconceptions of newly minted front-line supervisors (and even some veteran leaders) is the false notion that leading people equally is the same as leading people fairly: “I want to be fair, so I just treat everyone the same.” While that sounds right on the surface, it’s actually a huge mistake. Because fairness is not about equality–it’s about equity. [content_protector password=”sls-01″ identifier=”sls-01″]

If I lead my disengaged, low-performing employees the same way I lead my engaged, high-performing employees, I’m not going to lose my low performers–I’m going to lose my high performers.


Because my high performers know there’s a difference between the effort they put into the job and the effort everyone else puts into the job; and if I’m not leading them differently and providing them with opportunities I don’t offer anyone else, then they’re going to look elsewhere for a leader who will. safety-leadership styles chart

I have to lead my people equitably–not equally. Leadership is situational. That means I have to apply different leadership styles to different levels of employees and different situations.

There are six safety leadership styles that we’ll be exploring in this series of Recordable INSIGHTS over the next several weeks that should help us apply the right approach to each level of employee and each situation. They are:

  1. Coercive
  2. Authoritative
  3. Affiliative
  4. Democratic
  5. Pace-setting
  6. Coaching

The Coercive style sounds bad from a leadership perspective, but it’s actually a useful style in some cases. Coercive is a very forceful, “do what I say” type of style. The objective of this style is immediate compliance–no negotiation, no discussion about options, just do it! It’s a no-nonsense style that gives clear directives, without input, and with very tight controls.

This style is effective in crisis situations, such as an emergency, a fire, or an imminent-danger situation in which someone could get seriously hurt or killed. It’s also a good style to use with problem employees, especially ones who are not responding to other leadership styles.

As useful as this style can be for these situations, it will have detrimental consequences if you try to use it for all employees in every situation. Engaged employees will quickly become disengaged under a coercive leadership style.

We’ll look at the characteristic of the next style in our next issue. But that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.



About the Author

Eric Svendsen
Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.