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The role of business leaders is crucial to WHS performance. Good leadership can also improve business productivity.

Leadership: a definition

Leaders are people who influence the attitudes and behaviours of others. Sometimes they do this through their formal role and sometimes by their personal influence.

Leaders can be at all levels of an organisation: from the board and senior executives, through middle level managers such as site managers, to front-line supervisors.

  • A positive leadership and management style can improve an organisation’s WHS performance. There is strong evidence that performance is improved when organisations address WHS risks along with other important business risks.

Within organisations, leaders promote positive cultures by showing commitment to:

  • systematic management of risks
  • role clarity, worker involvement and workgroup cohesion
  • consultation and clear two-way communication
  • compliance with procedures
  • organisational learning
  • appropriate training
  • organisational justice and an environment of dignity and respect
  • supervisor support
  • a positive leadership and management style.

Organisational culture: a definition

An organisation’s culture consists of the values and behaviours that workers share and demonstrate. It can include the shared attitudes and beliefs that form part of the organisation’s written and unwritten rules.

Community expectations

Organisational cultures can be influenced by broader community values and attitudes. Community expectations can be powerful drivers of change and collectively influence the nation’s health and safety culture.

  • When the Australian community expects and demands that work be free from harm, failure to do this generates community pressure and action.

It is important to:

  • Lead and influence community debate on WHS through media and other public forums and mechanisms.
  • Counteract inaccurate media reporting about WHS.
  • Create more accurate injury and illness risk perceptions.
  • Generate community confidence that workplace risks can be managed.

If these messages are delivered by opinion leaders, they are more likely to be believed and acted on.

Good safety leadership is important

Leaders have a vital role to play when it comes to managing safety. When workers know their managers place high importance on working safely, they are more likely to be motivated to follow safety procedures and raise safety issues.

Good leadership promotes compliance with WHS laws.

  • For example, an officer’s duty of due diligence has elements of good leadership, such as knowing about WHS matters, having resources to manage WHS risks, and monitoring and evaluating.

There is strong evidence that performance is improved when organisations address WHS risks along with other important business risks.

Leaders who set the example by showing their commitment to WHS, being actively involved in their business and encouraging and valuing workers’ participation, create organisations that can be healthy and safe, and are also more likely to be innovative and productive.

Principles of effective leadership in work health and safety

Safe Work Australia Members have developed five leadership principles to help you develop your safety leadership practices and create a workplace culture that promotes safety. They include:

  • commit to safety
  • get involved
  • encourage participation
  • make WHS part of your business
  • review your performance.

Engagement and consultation

Engagement means involving all your workers in decisions, encouraging and valuing their participation. It is critical for developing a healthy, safe and productive workplace culture.

Consultation is a legal requirement and essential to managing WHS risks.

Leaders who engage with their workers and promote a culture of consultation and collaboration will actively improve WHS in their organisation.

  • Engaging and consulting workers helps you to make better decisions about WHS matters, and helps you reduce work-related death, injury and disease.

Tips on engagement and consultation

Engagement and consultation is a two-way process between you and your workers where you:

  • talk to each other about health and safety matters
  • listen to their concerns and raise yours
  • seek and share views and information
  • consider what your workers say before you make decisions.

Engaging and consulting requires you to:

  • Share relevant WHS information with workers.
  • Give workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views and raise health or safety issues.
  • Give workers a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process relating to the health and safety matter.
  • Take account of workers’ views.
  • Tell workers about the outcomes of any consultation and in a timely matter.

Measuring and reporting on work health and safety performance

We have collaborated with academics at the International Governance and Performance Research Centre at Macquarie University to improve the evaluation and reporting of WHS in business reports. To date, the following reports have been published:

When finished, this project will give senior decision makers in medium to very large organisations the information they need to meet their due diligence requirements under model WHS legislation.

It will also guide businesses on the type of information investors and other stakeholders are after in company annual reports.

Our national approach

The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 has identified leadership and culture as an action area to promote national activities that support the following outcomes:

  • Communities and their leaders drive improved WHS.
  • Organisational leaders foster a culture of consultation and collaboration, which actively improves WHS.
  • Health and safety is given priority in all work processes and decisions.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about work health and safety compliance. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.



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