Leaders' contribution to safety culture and empowering them to succeed

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Kerr, James
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of Professional Practice
Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga
Kirkwood, Jo
Forsyth, Glenys
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
safety culture
humour in safety
leadership styles
Kerr, J. (2023). Leaders' contribution to safety culture and empowering them to succeed. (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Professional Practice). Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga, New Zealand. https://doi.org/10.34074/thes.6336
Safety culture is an accepted concept which involves shared values and beliefs relating to health and safety within an organisation. Due to their position of influence within organisations, leaders are widely recognised as a crucial cog in the system in influencing the type of safety culture formed. While there is a wealth of research available on what effective leaders of health and safety do, there remains a gap in highlighting succinct ways in which leaders can learn these effective leadership techniques. This underscores the need for practical and actionable guidance to help leaders develop the necessary skills and behaviours to enhance safety culture. This thesis delves into the critical role of leaders in shaping safety culture within organisations, with a particular focus on identifying the behaviours, actions and leader values within the organisation that are contributing to safety culture. The research methodology involved the development and administration of a comprehensive safety culture survey aimed at senior leaders at the organisation within the Tertiary environment. This survey integrated both quantitative data and open-ended questions to gain comprehensive insights into the organisation’s safety culture. The data from open-ended questions was analysed using thematic analysis, allowing underlying themes to be uncovered regarding what is working well, as well as opportunities for growth. When developing recommendations, this project considered less traditional methods to support the development of safety culture training resources, such as incorporating humour into training packages. The literature review revealed that humour, when used thoughtfully, can break down barriers and improve receptiveness to safety messages. It can also foster a more positive and inclusive safety culture. Below are highlighted the key areas found to be working well, areas for growth and a recommendation summary. What's Working Well: • Values-based context in safety efforts • Habitualisation and normalisation of health and safety routines • Effective health and safety communication/kōrero • Role Modelling and Safety Hīkoi • Wellbeing and holistic approach to health and safety • A culture of collaboration taking place. Areas for Improvement: • Enhanced training is sought to further equip leaders in safety leadership • Enhanced access to Information/Resources • Establishing greater depths of relationship building and trust • While many leaders showed strong role modelling, a proportion of them expressed feeling additional development was desired • Communication of health and safety goals, targets, and objectives • Seeking kaimahi input on improving health and safety in the workplace • A portion of leaders require training and support to feel comfortable and competent in conducting safety hīkoi • Some leaders may benefit from shifting focus away from compliance-based approaches to more positive influence strategies • Leaders expressed the need for more dedicated time to focus on safety. Recommendations • Develop a comprehensive training package for leaders • Initiate mentorship programs for newer leaders • Implement comprehensive training on effective communication during safety hīkoi • Reinforce successful practices by openly communicating them with leaders • Optimise the organisation's access to health and safety resources.
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