Contextualizing leadership: Transformational leadership and Management-By-Exception-Active in safety-critical contexts

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Within the existing leadership literature, the role of context for shaping the effectiveness of leadership is yet to be fully understood. One type of context that poses particular challenges for leaders is an environment where safety is highly critical (i.e., high exposure to risk and likelihood of an accident). We hypothesize that such environments call for specific transformational and transactional leadership behaviors, which differ from those behaviors most effective in less safety-critical contexts. We tested for moderating effects of perceptions of hazard exposure and accident likelihood on the relationship between transformational leadership and Management-By-Exception-Active with safety and job performance outcomes. The moderation effects of accident likelihood on the link between transformational / MBEA leadership and subordinate performance were supported, demonstrating variation in the effectiveness of leader behaviors dependent on followers’ perceptions about the likelihood for an accident. MBEA leadership was found to be more strongly linked to contextual performance and safety participation if accident likelihood was high, but not under low accident likelihood conditions. Transformational leadership was found to be less strongly related to these performance outcomes in contexts where safety was perceived as highly critical. Our findings have important theoretical and practical implications, and call into question the universality of the transformational-transactional leadership framework. Practical considerations focus on the implications for managers and supervisors who operate in safety-critical contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-305
JournalJournal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


  • Transformational Leadership
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Management-By-Exception-Active
  • Occupational Safety


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