People-based safety (Geller, 2005) is an extension and evolution of behavior-based safety (Geller 2001; Krause, Hidley, & Hodson 1996; McSween 2003) which has been found to significantly reduce industrial injuries (Sulzer-Azaroff & Austin 2000). The components of people-based safety are reflected by the acronym - ACTS. Specifically, in a Total Safety Culture, people Act to protect themselves and each other from unintentional injury, Coach themselves and one another to identify barriers to safe acts and provide constructive behavior-based feedback, Think in ways that activate and support safe behavior, and focus and scan strategically to See hazards and at-risk behaviors.
The ACTS vision for a Total Safety Culture is easier said than done. Specific leadership principles and strategies are needed to empower a work force to become self-accountable for injury prevention and actively care for the safety and health of others. This is "people-based leadership" (PBL) and is the theme of the present paper. The author contributed two prior ASSE PDC papers on leadership, each subsequently published in Professional Safety. Each of these includes principles of PBL and warrant a brief review here. There is significant overlap between these prior papers and the current discussion, but this paper is more practical and prescriptive.
The author's first leadership presentation for the ASSE PDC (Geller 1999) distinguished between managers who hold people accountable and leaders who inspire people to be responsible or self-accountable. While mangers are assigned their supervisory position, leaders earn their role through interpersonal interaction. Everyone can be a leader, including managers.
The focus of that presentation was the description of ten leadership qualities needed for the achievement of an injury-free workplace. While these principles are only listed here, many will resurface later in this PBL essay. Specifically, in 1998 the author (Geller 1999) proposed that effective leaders:
Focus on process (or the behaviors needed to achieve an injury-free workplace).
Accompany training with education (in order to provide a reasonable rationale for certain safety instructions).
Use conditional statements (that allow for relevant refinement to fit a particular context).
Listen first (to learn the other person's perspective before offering direction, advice or support).
Promote ownership (by giving conditional directives and allowing others to customize safety-related procedure to achieve desired outcomes).
Encourage personal choice (thereby increasing participation and self-accountability).
Set expectations rather than mandates (in order to increase self-direction and selfaccountability for safety-relevant behaviors).
Are confident but uncertain of process details (realizing the process-relevant workers know better than they what hazards must be eliminated or avoided and what safety related behaviors must be improved).
Look beyond the numbers (acknowledging management requires measurement but realizing unmeasured human dimensions like self-esteem, optimism and belongingness need attention.
Make more distinctions between people (thereby disabling stereotyping and appreciating the unique interests, talents and attributes of individuals).