• Kate Johnpeer

Are You a Safety Leader?

Does your name come to mind when you read the words “safety leader”? Safety leadership is a role that any professional in safety-critical industries can fill, regardless of their title. Let's look more closely at what safety leadership entails.


Safety has a wide range of definitions but I think we can all agree that safety means the lack of harm, danger, risk, or injury. Generally speaking, safety is critical for those of us in the aviation industry. Whether your title is manager, technician, pilot, driver, coordinator, dispatcher, or just about anything else, your actions, or lack of action, affect the lives and safety of others. Whether you are a technician topping critical fluids on an aircraft, a dispatcher sending medics to an accident scene, a scheduler coordinating a flight and selecting the appropriate aircraft for a mission, or a pilot working your way through an approach surrounded by rough terrain at night - we each have a role in safety.


What is leadership? Kevin Kruse (1) defines leadership as "a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal". Pause and re-read that. There’s a lot packed into that definition. So, if you hold the title of manager, or director, or supervisor, or captain are you therefore a leader? Well, not by default. A title is just a title. Leadership really depends on what drives you, and what you bring to the table. So, let’s explore this definition more closely.

The word social in Kruse's definition implies the existence of interpersonal contact or a relationship. It means that one person can affect another. Influence means that interpersonal interactions result in a definitive impact or effect on another person. Social influence can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the qualities and characteristics of that interaction.

When we look at the concept of maximizing effort, we must consider that when we are at work we make choices and take actions. Some of us cruise through our day just checking boxes and meeting minimum requirements and expectations while others give our full effort, finding elements of our jobs that we are passionate about and allowing those to fuel us, which drives us to go above and beyond. When we maximize our effort and go above and beyond in what we do and how we do it this will inevitably be recognized by our supervisors and coworkers in a way that makes a difference in their lives, actions, words and behaviors.

We now turn our attention to the last phrase of Kruse's definition, achievement of a goal. In many industries that goal can be defined as turning a profit. In aviation and other safety-critical industries we can’t discount the significance of profit but we also can’t stop there. Profit cannot be obtained without safety! If flights conducted by a particular organization don’t result in safe arrivals the profit will cease. If an ambulance crashes due to a fatigued driver or a UAV injures a person after an unsafe operation these will not be deemed as acceptable. Profit does not exceed the value of safety. Safety is the goal and profit is a byproduct.

Where does this leave us? Hopefully it leaves us refreshed on the significance of safety and focused on our goals. Profit can’t be our only goal because safety so significantly overrides it. Regardless of the title you hold, you can identify ways to embrace safety and develop leadership qualities that make a difference in your sphere of influence.

1. Kevin Kruse "What is Leadership?", Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership/?sh=1b7e22e15b90