There is a lot of emphasis placed on the importance of creating a “safety culture” within an organization – but what does this mean? And how do you do it?

Many safety managers often report feeling like they are “in it alone” and that one of the biggest challenges in their day-to-day job is getting support from top management and fellow employees. This is unfortunate, because in a recent Health and Safety Industry Survey of hundreds of health and safety professionals in the United States, it turns out that these safety managers also believe that this support and “buy-in” is vital to their ability to drive health and safety practices.

Luckily, a recent study from the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) may provide some valuable strategies for encouraging workers to jump on board the safety train. A survey of more than 1,000 plumbers and pipefitters suggests that the most important variable when aiming to increase safety outcomes is “idealized influence,” which the researchers call a form of transformational leadership.

According to the study, “leaders acquire idealized influence when their employees admire their actions and integrity, and adopt them as role models.” These research results illustrate that “Walking the Walk” can save lives, according to the CPWR. What this ultimately means is that rather than relying solely on incentive programs or traditional training methods, if you’re not encouraging workers to lead by example you’re missing out on a powerful opportunity.

Example: Training a worker to report all near-misses is well and good, but will that worker take half an hour out of their day to fill out the necessary near-miss form if it means coming in late on a deadline and having to justify his or her actions to their supervisor? Maybe not – but if the worker has seen a senior coworker that they admire do just that, they will be more comfortable and likely to make that same choice.

How can you use this research to strengthen the safety culture in your own organization? We’re here to break it down for you!

1.       Identify leaders within your organization

It’s not enough to be a “leader” in the traditional sense in this case, although that may help. What you need is to identify the employees within your organization who are admired for their personal character, intelligence or skills. Think outside of the box, beyond the traditional leaders like managers, foremen, and C-level executives. For example, who are the people on your team who consistently stand out for delivering exceptional work and who are well-liked by their coworkers?

2.       Recruit the leaders to your cause

Gather these leaders together, and tell them that they have the power to create positive change! Everyone loves to be told that they are a valuable team member with the ability to make a difference. The research says that your workforce needs to see people they admire valuing safety and behaving safely. Your “recruitment” can be formal or informal, or both!

Consider introducing a mentorship program, where new hires are paired up with seasoned professionals who model the behavior that you hope to encourage. Or perhaps recruit your leaders to form a “Safety Squad” that will promote safety internally through a variety of initiatives, such as educational sessions.

3. Visibly support your leaders

Make a point of commending the safe behavior that your leaders are role modeling. Incentive programs may come into play here, but be careful! This can backfire if it discourages workers from reporting incidents or hazards. Instead, reward open communication about safety concerns, and never underestimate the value of a simple, well-deserved compliment.

Here’s the take away message: Recruit and encourage the right people to role model the behavior you would like to see more of, and the results of this study predict that you’ll see a huge shift in company safety culture. No more going it alone!

 Intelex Technologies, where this blog was originally posted, provides software solutions for EHS and quality management.  Visit for more information.