Safety Leadership: The Impact of transformational leadership on safety outcomes

In 2010, Jane E. Mullen and E. Kevin Kelloway studied 54 leaders from 21 health care organisations, with the goal of unpacking if leadership training (more than just front line employee training) would have an impact on safety outcomes. The leadership training was specifically targeted at help leaders become ‘transformational’, as opposed to ‘transactional’ in their safety attitude and approach. Their findings remain current in 2021 workplaces.

In short, the study showed that transformational safety leadership training resulted in improved safety attitudes of the leaders, including on their intent to promote safety, and self‐efficacy (belief that the process can work). 115 surveyed employees (in the leaders’ teams) reported that the transformational training resulted in an improved safety climate, elevated safety participation, higher levels of safety compliance, a reduction in safety‐related events and injuries.

The message: Leadership training resulted in significant effects on the safety‐specific transformational leadership and safety climate outcomes in the organisations and teams studied! Winner.


The most frequently used safety training interventions rely on behaviour modification, which include antecedents (e.g. training), behaviour, and consequences. This is commonplace (our organisation has relied on the ABC of safety as part of our training until recently) though it is actually incorrect. That is because attitude doesn’t really drive behaviour, intention drives behaviour, as does social norms and perceived behavioural control. So much more than just attitude (although that plays a part).

The 2021 Style

The more effective training method involves workshops for enhancing transformational leadership behaviour. The workshops require leaders to brainstorm and understand the behaviours displayed by both effective and ineffective leaders. And, more importantly, the training sessions help leaders become facilitators, and to learn how to engage their teams in the safety improvement process.

“These skills are linked to active (e.g. transformational, transactional) and passive (e.g. laissez‐faire) theories of leadership. Leaders participate in exercises and discussions aimed at enhancing transformational leadership including role playing and watching videos that characterize transformational behaviour. The workshop emphasizes the development of action plans for incorporating transformational leadership in leaders’ everyday work activities” (quote).

What is important about the training mentioned about is that is not ‘Transformational Leadership Training’. It is ‘Safety-Transformational Leadership Training’. And, yes, there is a difference, as safety is an area of business that has the potential to cause loss of life, and as such, safety is an emotional topic. Work in the safety space takes a different type of contemporary leader, it takes a leader who cares enough about their teams, and enough about the safety process, to put those two elements together and to work at changing hearts and minds through the engagement of team members – who, know their jobs better than their leader does …

Start with Leaders, continue with Teams

In conclusion, the Mullen and Kelloway study demonstrated the importance of safety transformational leadership training.

What it does show is how much better the outcomes for the organisations studied could have been if those organisations continued the training process and tailored it for the teams. Training leaders in isolation never works (in 15 years of our experience) as well as it could if teams are engaged. That way, everyone in the organisation gets the full picture, gets the opportunity to contribute, and gets a feeling of engagement and understanding of the process overall!

Train your leaders, train your teams, and help your leaders be transformational. This will reduce incident and injury rates in your business.

The paper that this blog post cites above can be found at: https://bit.ly/33CINEA

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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