Leadership in safety-critical contexts

Student thesis: Unknown


This research explored whether the effectiveness of leadership styles differs in safety-critical contexts compared to contexts where safety is less salient. The existing leadership literature lacks consideration of the context in which leadership takes place. Leadership styles that are valued and effective in one work context, might be less desired and less effective in another context. Using Bass's (1985) transformational-transactional leadership framework, the present research argues that the extent to which safety is salient within a work environment, impacts on the effectiveness of transformational, transactional and passive leadership. Existing leadership research has focused on transformational leadership, but has paid little attention to transactional leadership. The present research argues that transactional leadership might be effective in safety-critical contexts, but might be less effective in contexts where safety is not salient. In work contexts, where employees are exposed to hazards and there is a high risk for injury, directive leadership practices, such as vigilantly monitoring performance and proactively correcting mistakes (i.e., transactional leadership), might be important for effective leadership. However, if safety is not salient within a work environment, then these leader behaviours might be less relevant. In addition, the research explored the competency of leader flexibility, which refers to leaders' ability to adjust their behaviour to the requirements of a certain setting. Two questionnaire studies were conducted to investigate the research objectives. In both studies three aspects of safety salience were explored, i.e., level of hazard exposure, likelihood for injury and impact on safety of others. In study 1, the sample consisted of participants with leadership responsibilities who work in contexts with varying degrees of safety salience. Results showed that leaders' perceived effectiveness of transformational-transactional leadership, and the frequency to which they adopt these two leadership styles, differed in dependence on the level of safety salience. Hazard exposure moderated the relationship between transactional leadership and safety incidents, indicating that transactional leadership is associated with lower incident rates if hazard exposure is high, but not if hazard exposure is low. Leader flexibility showed a significant relationship with leader self-efficacy and team performance whilst controlling for transformational-transactional leadership. In study 2, a two-source design was used where subordinates rated their leader's behaviour and leaders rated their subordinates' job and safety performance. The research was conducted in two host organisations; an oil and gas service provider and a food manufacturing company. Safety salience measures were investigated as team-level moderators. Results showed several cross-level interactions, which suggested that team-level safety salience impacts on the influence of transactional, transformational and passive leadership on safety and job performance. The research made an important contribution by merging the transformational-transactional leadership framework with contingency views of leadership (i.e., safety salience as a contextual attribute) and by considering leader flexibility as a leader trait in addition to leader behaviours.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester


  • Leadership
  • Safety Leadership
  • Transformational
  • Safety Performance

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