What is the role you fulfill working as a safety professional? Plenty of titles in the safety domains include the word “manager”. But, is that always what is needed; A manager?
Or would a “leader” sometimes be a better fit for the task at hand? Some may not even be aware that there is a difference between the two. Let’s have a look at these differences:
A Manager is:
– An administrator
– Someone who is replaceable
– One who maintains
– One who focuses on structures and systems
– A believer in (social) control
– One with a short-term perspective
– One who asks `how´ and `when´
– One with eyes focused on the bottom line
– One who mimics
– One who accepts the status quo
– A classic good `soldier´
– One who does things right
A Leader is:
– One who innovates
– One who develops
– One who focuses on people (they are the ones who make systems)
– One who is inspired by trust
– One who has a long-term perspective
– One who asks `what´ and `why´
– One with eyes focused on the horizon
– One who creates something new
– One who challenges the status quo
– Make their own decisions
– One who does the right thing
(Source: Warren Benni’s characteristic of those performing leadership compared to those performing management (2009))
What we see is that the manager and the leader are fundamentally two very different profiles, and therefore they apply very different means to a task at hand.
One is not better or more right than the other, but there will be a variety of tasks and functions to be served when an organization is working to stay on top of safety and to make improvements on this (e.g. as required in maritime by the ISM Code).
Some tasks will be better solved by the one approach, and others by the second approach. Generally speaking, it boils down to the level of uncertainty, dynamism, equivocality, and ambiguity that an operation entails — I.e. are we talking about an assembly line-like operation, or contrary to this; a complex interplay between people, organizations and technology?
While the management perspective certainly works very well in operations with low levels of unknowns, little variation, and high standardization (the assembly line), the leadership perspective is by far superior in high levels of dynamism, variation, and uncertainty (complex operations).
As mentioned already, one is not better than the other, the management and leadership perspectives complement each other and are both necessary in order to make an organization’ safety effort sustainable from a holistic point of view.
But, it is necessary to truly understand the nature of the task at hand and to know what is the right tool to apply in each case. Otherwise, we will most likely waste our resources by barking up the wrong tree, and potentially do more harm than good.
What is your perspective on safety work?
Managing Safety vs. Leading Safety (hmm, is there a difference?) was originally published in Scoutbase — Realtime Leading Safety Indicators on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.