ASSE’s Safety 2013 features a number of educational sessions on the topic of leadership. None probably will be looked forward to more than the session Tuesday afternoon on “Transformational Leadership - A Key Element in the Journey to World Class.”

Transformational Leadership is a fancy term, but the presentation here is real world, involving Cintas’s multi-year journey to safety excellence. The presenters are Richard C. Gerlach, Ph.D., CSP, CIH, CPEA, senior director, safety and health for Cintas Corporation, and Richard Fulwiler, Sc.D., CIH, CSHM, one of the leading experts in transformational leadership applied to occupational safety and health.

The facts on Cintas: Based in Mason, Ohio; revenues of more than $4.1 billion in 2012; a workforce of approximately 30,000 people; and approximately 430 facilities in the U.S. and Canada. Cintas designs, manufactures and implements corporate identity uniform programs, and provides entrance mats, restroom supplies, tile and carpet cleaning, promotional products, first aid, safety, fire protection products and services and document management services for approximately 900,000 businesses.

A fatality that rocked the company

A Cintas employee, Eleazar Torres-Gomez, 46, was killed at an Oklahoma Cintas laundry plant on March 6, 2007, when he was dragged into an industrial dryer because of an unguarded conveyor. Federal OSHA investigated the fatality and proposed a $2.78 million penalty for, among other things, 42 willful violations of its lockout/tagout standard. In 2008, Cintas reached a settlement agreement with OSHA, paying 90 percent of the penalty and agreeing to hire Dr. Fulwiler and former OSHA chief John Henshaw to review Cintas' safety and health management systems to recommend improvements to those systems.

“The fatality we incurred March 6, 2007 rocked this company like nothing I ever saw,” Dan Braun, senior VP value improvements – operations, tells ISHN in an exclusive interview. Braun says Cintas had set its sights on being a “truly sophisticated” world class safety and health performer in 2003, when it hired Dr. Gerlach. Obviously, the journey to excellence accelerated after the fatality.

Transactional v. transformational leadership

In the May issue cover story of ISHN, Dr. Fulwiler wrote of the distinctions between transactional and transformational leadership:

A transactional leader:

  • A quid pro quo relationship between the worker and leader, frequently relying on  disciplinary action
  • Task oriented e.g. regulatory compliance
  • Preserves existing culture, conditions and practices – preserving the status quo
  • Likely to focus more on the WORK than the WORKER

A transformational leader:

  • Results in the worker’s values aligning with their leader’s values
  • Empowers the worker to ENGAGE in the work process – to go beyond their self interest
  • The leader is personally ENGAGED with the worker – the leader cares about the worker
  • The contribution of the worker is maximized/optimized
  • Focuses on both the WORK and the WORKER

“Transactional leadership is not all bad,” writes Dr. Fulwiler. “In fact, it is essential for the success of any enterprise. Most senior managers are hard wired to be more transactional than transformational. They need to understand the benefits that can come from achieving a balance that requires them to become more transformational. H&S pros may have to ‘coach up’ their management on this concept. “

A culture of caring

According to Dr. Fulwiler, five of the most critical skills that characterize a transformational leader:

  • Listening
  • Communicating
  • Caring
  • Collegiality
  • Engaging

Dr. Fulwiler uses an anecdote from Cintas to reinforce his message: “A new general manager took over who was very transformational and in three years turned the entire business around. He made it clear that this turnaround started with the health and well being of his employees (partners as Cintas calls its workers). He provided me with this statement which characterizes his transformational vision: ‘Our (my) vision was to create a culture of CARING’.”

“That full commitment, seeing businesses improve and seeing people safe and taking it home, is the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever  been involved in during my entire career, says Braun. “You’ve got to be all in, there is no other answer, or it won’t happen.”