So you want to drive your organisation forward to achieve health and safety excellence but you do not know where or how to start. Start by being authentic. We need many more authentic safety leaders right now. So what does authentic mean – “it is someone who is true to their own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures”.

Authentic Safety Leader

So what does an authentic safety leader look like when you meet one – well they are generally characterised as: confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, transparent, moral/ethical, future oriented and give priority to developing associates to become Leaders (1).

What does an authentic safety leader do?

They are “are more interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference than they are in power, money or prestige for themselves. They are as guided by qualities of the heart, by passion and compassion, as they are by qualities of the mind” (2).

How do they demonstrate they are interested in people?

They make health and safety PERSONAL, they take regular walks around the workplace actually talking to employees about how they feel about health and safety where they work. They ask such profound questions as:

  • What are you happy or unhappy about in relation to health and safety where you work?
  • How could your job be done safer than it already is?
  • How supportive is your Team Leader?
  • Do you ever make safety suggestions and are they listened to or acted upon?
  • How could the health of you and your colleagues be improved by the company?

And they do it regularly and unannounced and they follow up on issues that are raised with them.

Oprah Winfrey on the power of intention

I listened to an interview recently where Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn talked to Oprah Winfrey about her beliefs and her views on the power of intention. Being a safety leader is no different, start as you mean to go on, show real concern for your employees no matter what their grade, live the creed of being the servant leader and do your utmost to create a safe and healthy place for them to work each and every day. Sending your people home, safely, at the end of each day to their families is a noble objective and should be written into the objectives of all CEOs and Senior Managers around the world.

Listening is crucial

Authentic safety leaders also spend time listening to what others say. They should surround themselves with those that do not agree with them and those that are empowered to challenge them. Groupthink is completely outdated and is extremely dangerous.

No faking or acting required

Health and Safety needs to become part of the DNA of your organization. Leaders who show true authenticity do not have to fake interest in the wellbeing of their people, it is written all over their faces. They inspire the vision of a safe place to work, they motivate everyone to get on board the programme and their approach is consistent and ongoing.

One hour per day

How many CEOs give up one hour of their day each day to walking around their operation to see what is going on? That is what they should be doing. Even one or two hours per week would be a start.

As they travel the road to health and safety excellence (through people) they need to act in such a way that employees and other managers can ultimately believe in them and trust them because they do what they say they are going to do. Action as always speaks louder than 16 emails about how important health and safety is. Policies are all very fine but where are the resources – be they time, money, people etc.


D C E Chew interviewed CEOs and safety professionals and attempted to examine a number of safety activities, including top management involvement, to ascertain which are most effective in reducing injury rates. One of their conclusions was that “visible, physical participation of top management in safety may be particularly effective in increasing safety (3).

Build the future of health and safety excellence with Safety Leadership authenticity. You can do it –begin tomorrow.


(1) SPE 111762 – Influence from the top: senior managers and safety leadership H. Reid, R. Flin and K. Mearns University of Aberdeen and R. Bryden, Royal Dutch Shell =- published by Society of Petroleum Engineers 2008)

(2) Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic – 2003

(3) Chew, D. C. E. (1988). “Effective occupational safety activities: Findings in three.” International Labour Review, 127(1), 111.


This blog is one in a series written by Mary Darlington on aspects of Health and Safety and Safety Leadership – to read others go to:

Mary Darlington was born in Skerries, Co. Dublin, Ireland and began her professional life in Human Resources, eventually moving into the world of Health and Safety in 1989 while working with Bausch & Lomb Ireland in Waterford. During her time there the Company won many health and safety awards both with RoSPA in UK and NISO in Ireland.

She is a Chartered Fellow of IOSH and established her own consultancy in 1996. Her clients include: multinationals, SMEs, Public Sector bodies and not for profit organisations. She is a former Board Member of Health & Safety Authority and a former Chair of IOSH Ireland. She is the current Chair of IOSH South East District.

Mary is Ireland’s foremost Safety Leadership expert. She is a passionate health and safety trainer, speaker and consultant operating in Waterford, Ireland. Visit her website at: