Safety Leadership: The Ultimate Risk Management Strategy

safety leadership

How safety leadership enhances your risk management program


Safety leadership is a key factor in every company’s risk management strategy. Every organization wants to be safe, but what constitutes as safe practice for one may not be adequate for another.

Tackling safety can be a daunting prospect. It can be tempting to simply compile a few checklists, post a few signs, and call it good. However, to truly be effective, safety should be integrated in every aspect of an organization, from the bottom to the top. This is best achieved when safety leaders commit to developing a culture of safety. The benefits are myriad:

  • Fewer employee accidents and injuries
  • Fewer claims and less opportunity for litigation
  • Better morale and positive work environment
  • Increased productivity

Read on to find out more about how you can implement these practices as part of a risk management strategy for your tribe or tribal enterprise.


What is Safety Leadership?

Safety leadership is just what it sounds like: demonstrating safe practices and habits through leadership traits. From a janitor to a CEO, anyone can be a safety if they display one or a combination of the following characteristics:

  • They care about safety on a personal level.
  • They display a “safety mindset” – safety and risk management influence all their actions and decisions.
  • They always wear designated protective equipment, follow guidelines, and act as a role model to others.
  • They identify safety hazards as well as solutions and air their concerns or ideas promptly through the appropriate channels.
  • They take the time to ensure that their subordinates and colleagues have the resources to accomplish projects safely.
  • They take steps to eliminate hazards before accidents or injuries occur.

While “safety leader” is a designation that has no bearing on job title, it’s important for those within management to make safety a priority in their leadership objectives. Effective safety leadership is one of the most powerful risk management tools an organization can utilize. Leaders must choose tactics that resonate with the organizational team – and what will resonate with one group may not resonate with another. Their approach must be as unique as the organization’s safety needs itself.

Related: A workplace safety incentive program helps stop accidents before they start


What is Safety Culture?

Safety culture is the collective customs, perceptions and attitudes an organization implements in regards to safety. It’s important to examine your current organizational culture in order to get an accurate picture of the direction it should take in the future.

Revolutionizing an organization’s culture is no small task. An EHS article, “Six Strategies for a Stronger Safety Culture,” establishes some basic practices that can lead to positive, lasting change. This can be difficult to achieve, but tailoring the following strategies to the safety needs and unique personnel of your tribe or tribal enterprise can be the first step towards a strong culture of safety.



Holding employees accountable to safety standards and implementing appropriate consequences for failure to comply can go a long way in encouraging proper safety protocols are followed. These behaviors will eventually become ingrained in the everyday behavior and mindset of an organization. In addition, management should set realistic, achievable goals for their workforce to foster a sense of shared challenge and accomplishment.


Engagement and Motivation

If the precedent for dealing with safety issues is inconsistent or haphazard, there’s a good chance employees will disengage from the get-go. Leaders should find ways to get employees excited and interested in positive safety results. Smith advises that the best way to foster engagement is by hosting a monthly safety meeting – not a one-way lecture that employees will dread, but rather a forum for lively discussion where concerns can be aired and ideas can be vetted. Every member should be encouraged to be an active participant.


Recognition and Appreciation

Positive recognition for model behaviors is a great way to encourage people to engage with the safety process. Smith advises that recognition occur at the aforementioned monthly safety meetings, so that it can be public and come directly from members in management.

Other methods, such as awards or a “shout out” board can also be implemented to accomplish appropriate recognition of positive behaviors. Appreciation is the best currency for validating past safety efforts and encouraging new ones. Appreciation can be as formal as a public award at a safety meeting or as casual as a quick face-to-face thank you. Whatever the method, a little appreciation can go a long way in making employees feel that their efforts are valued and make a positive difference in the organization.



This tactic has to do with an organization’s processes and behaviors at a managerial level. If a company’s rhetoric states that safety is a priority, but managers fail to follow up on injuries or report hazards, employees are not going to buy in to efforts to build a strong safety culture. If safety is not a priority at the top, it will likely not be a priority at any level. Ultimately, actions will speak louder than words, and safety efforts and initiatives must be followed up on in order to establish credibility throughout the organization. Only then will managers be able to secure the crucial buy-in that they need from their employees to see positive safety results.

Exercising safety leadership and revolutionizing safety culture will be the result of concentrated efforts over a period of time. But these are efforts that can pay major dividends. Everyone will benefit when the safety leadership and safety culture of your tribe or tribal enterprise reflects safety as a priority, and every member regards safety as a personal responsibility.

For more information, please check out the referenced articles below or contact your Tribal risk manager, Mark Sherwood, at



Safety Leadership: 11 characteristics of great safety performers

Six Strategies for a Stronger Safety Culture