4 Safety Leadership Skills Your Company Needs to Know

By Sean Flavin September 10th, 2020

Here’s a statement that may sound obvious to most companies: Strong leadership is instrumental when it comes to engaging employees, establishing safety policies and building safer workplace cultures.

According to David Crouch, the Director of Research and Development for Caterpillar Safety Services, the reason leadership is so essential is because “leaders are the No. 1 influence on employees’ attitudes, beliefs and ideas.”

Crouch reinforced this point during a recent presentation for Captive Resources’ (CRI) regular Risk Control Webinar series. His presentation was based, in part, on a five-year research project that Crouch and his team embarked on to discover the skills that leaders need to possess to make their organizations safer.

In the end, Crouch and the team identified four safety leadership skills (or domains) and 14 supporting elements within those domains that leaders should embrace when building cultures of safety excellence. If you’re looking to improve your abilities as a safety leader or help develop new safety leaders in your organization, continue reading for a recap of the team’s findings.

Safety Leadership Skill No. 1: Drive Accountability

According to Crouch, accountability isn't merely about holding others accountable; the best safety leaders lead by example, take responsibility for their actions, and create a strong accountability culture.

The team at Caterpillar identified five elements essential for safety leaders to drive accountability:


To drive accountability, leaders need to provide each team member with clearly and explicitly defined expectations. Make sure members know what you expect of them and how you will measure their ability to carry out those expectations.


It's not enough for safety leaders to just define expectations; you also need to provide adequate training to make sure team members can execute their jobs to the best of their abilities.


Now that you've set expectations and trained team members appropriately, it's your job as a safety leader to make sure that everyone has the resources they need to carry out their work safely.


Safety is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition — it requires an ongoing commitment to consistent improvement. As a safety leader, you need to measure your team's performance to assess whether they're executing expectations correctly and identify opportunities to improve.


As we’ve covered before, discipline and threats are not the best ways to motivate employees. Instead, safety leaders should provide positive feedback when things go right and encouragement to improve when things go wrong in order to steer employees toward safer performance.

Safety Leadership Skill No. 2: Create Connectivity

Of the safety leadership skills that Crouch identified, creating connectivity was perhaps the most holistic. According to Crouch, leaders need to take steps to include every department and employee in their quest to build safer environments.

Here are the next three elements the Caterpillar team identified focused on helping safety leaders create connectivity:


As a leader, it's much easier to create connectivity when you involve employees in the safety process.

"People are much more apt to support that which they help create," said Crouch. "If you have an incident, do an investigation and learn you have a process that isn't working, wouldn't it make sense to involve the employees who execute that process every day in helping us identify the new solution?"

According to Crouch, when you involve employees, they are much more likely to champion solutions and encourage their peers to follow the new processes.


To create connectivity in the organization, safety leaders need to inform every employee of all relevant information they need to work safely.


When leaders creates connectivity, they ensure that safety is integrated across the organization and is an equal area of focus in each department.

Safety Leadership Skill No. 3: Demonstrate Credible Consciousness

According to Crouch, credible consciousness is a safety leader’s ability to project a “believable, reliable and convincing awareness and understanding of what it takes to be safe.” To understand if you’ve aced this skill, safety leaders should ask themselves: Do those I lead see me as a credible safety leader?

To help you find out, the Caterpillar team identified two elements within the credible consciousness domain:


This element is essential to credible consciousness as leaders need to know and understand their surroundings. Leaders who demonstrate credible consciousness should be able to answer yes to the following questions:

  • Do they understand the safety processes within the team?
  • Do they have the necessary information to make wise, informed decisions?
  • Are they willing to continually learn and improve to lead a culture of safety excellence?


This element is about what leaders are able to do with that knowledge. When safety leaders are credibly conscious and use reasoning, they are able to:

  • Effectively appraise risks where they exist.
  • Internalize safety concepts and apply them personally.

Safety Leadership Skill No. 4: Building Trust

For team members to truly buy into safety, they need to be able to trust their leaders. To build trust, it's vital for you to consistently demonstrate care and concern for your safety and the safety of others.

To help you understand how to build that trust, the team identified the following safety elements:


The best safety leaders care about everyone’s safety all of the time. If you’re looking to build trust within your team, make sure to demonstrate how much you care about safety every day.


Safety leaders need to foster an environment of shared values and free-flowing communication that will inspire team members and establish trust.


Similarly, employees are more likely to trust leaders they know. Safety leaders need to be accessible and available to those they lead.


As a safety leader, it’s not enough to be accessible to your team; you also need to interact with team members and engage them in decision making and safety communication.

About the Webinar

This presentation was part of CRI’s Risk Control Webinar Series – weekly installments of webinars to educate the group captive members we work with on topics like workplace safety, organizational leadership and company performance. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these webinars are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect CRI’s positions on any of the above topics.

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