Enhancing Safety through Leadership (Completed – 2009-2014)
This Colorado research team brought together psychologists and human factor specialists to focus on the determinants of safe and unsafe behavior. The team concluded that construction employers serious about safety must work actively to develop and sustain a high level of safety culture. Their findings also presented more questions: Owners and managers create an organization’s overarching safety culture, but construction is a field in which workers frequently work autonomously on tasks, having little interaction with upper management. In this context, the day-to-day interactions of the foremen with the production workers – and even the tradesmen and tradeswomen with one another – play an essential role in fostering a safety culture on a worksite. Are workers rewarded or penalized when they point out unsafe conditions? Are they respected for speaking up – or for working while hurt? Does the on-site supervision send a message that production is paramount, or that safety is their top priority?
The goal of this project was to develop, conduct and evaluate a safety leadership program for future construction leaders. The target audience was 4th and 5th year apprentices involved in mechanical trades, but some apprentice instructors that evaluated the program also felt that apprentices in their 1st through 3rd would benefit from the training program. The training is designed to build future leaders in construction by working with apprentices to instill leadership qualities that encourage workers to speak up about unsafe practices before an accident occurs. The cirriculum was administered to 180 apprentices in the mechanical trades from three regions around the country and was extensively revised based on the information learned from testing. It began as a 5-hour program taught in person over 5 weeks but was subsequently refined to a 2-hour program. After the training, apprentices showed greater motivation to lead, increased their feedback giving and coaching behaviors, and also increased how much they motivated others.
Although the apprentices felt the 2-hour training program was useful and increased their knowledge of leadership behaviors, feedback from the apprentice trainers conducting the training indicated that they were uncomfortable teaching apprentices leadership skills and that they felt a video-based program would be more beneficial. The trainers also indicated that they would then be able to provide their own experiences with leadership that could reinforce the concepts outlined in the curriculum. The end result is a video-based training program with accompanying student and facilitator guides.
- The leadership development program created in previous years has been refined into a 2-hour video-based program, accessible at https://vimeo.com/channels/827238
- Apprentices in Denver and Chicago participated in the leadership program and submitted feedback.
- The research team partnered with contractors in other areas of the United States to administer the program to their workers.
- Researchers presented findings at six academic conferences, including the 2013 American Public Health Association annual conference, and published papers in the Journal of Applied Ergonomics, Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, and Safety Science.