Research on Leadership and Culture Development for Higher Health and Safety I am continually looking for research linking the “soft skills” of leadership and culture with safety performance. Most safety programs are focused on “hard” or tangible systems and processes like regulations, training, audits, risk assessments, compliance, incident analysis, and the like. Those are critical elements in moving toward zero workplace injuries.

The focus of my research is on the underlying intangible or much less visible factors of values, perceptions, attitudes, boss and peer behaviors. These psychosocial factors have a huge and hidden impact on safety performance. Here’s some of the research I’ve found so far:

  • In an article entitled, “How Corporate Culture Affects Safety Performance” in Professional Safety magazine, safety researcher Judith Erickson reports on her three year study of the issue:

“the key ingredient to high safety performance is the company’s culture or management philosophy … the pivotal finding from the research is that the way in which employees are treated is the factor most significantly related to the level of safety performance … it was the most predictive factor in the level of safety performance. Research from disciplines such as human resources, occupational psychology, and business supports this finding.”

  • In a LinkedIn discussion group on “Safety is About Culture,” Judith Erickson explains further:

“A company that cares about its employees will care about their safety. Therefore, the emphasis should be on corporate, or organizational, culture and not on safety culture … focusing on just the safety program is once again treating safety in isolation, as if it’s not part of the organization … it’s the organization that should be assessed and evaluated, not safety.

  • The Gallup organization reports on a meta-analysis of 198,000 employees in eight thousand business units:

Employees who strongly agreed that they had a chance to do what they do best every day claimed fewer sick days, filed fewer workers’ compensation claims, and had fewer accidents while on the job.”

  • In a blog post on patient safety in our healthcare systems, Steve Harden comments on a study which found that only 47% of “staff feel free to question the decisions or actions of those with more authority.” He notes, “The data tells us that if any hierarchy is present in the interaction, over 50% of staff will not speak up. This is a serious patient safety issue.

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Do you know of other similar studies and research on how leadership and culture affects safety? Please send any links or references you may have to me at