Strengthening your safety culture: a tale of two leaders


Two leadersAndrew Sharman describes how a week in Siberia, alongside battling the cold, has left him intrigued by two leaders with different styles and how they can be used to motivate and influence.

I’ve just returned from a week of work in Siberia: three flights, two taxis, and a train ride, it was certainly a long way from home.  It’s Russia at its most remote.

I’m no stranger to long-distance travel: the previous week I’d been working in Durban, South Africa.  Over there it’d been 35 degrees Celsius, scorching sunshine and warm, smiling faces, while all week in Siberia I had been well wrapped up in my goose-down jacket, woolly hat and gloves and thermal underwear – minus 25 Celsius is no joke.

As I wandered downtown, dodging Russian drivers, while simultaneously focusing on the snow and ice beneath my feet, it was clear that the relaxed flip-flops, sunshine and smiles of South Africa had been replaced with a more sombre attitude of ‘Let’s just do what we need to do and then get back into the warm’.  With a temperature difference of 60 degrees between my work locations, and a physical distance of 7,104 miles, it felt like I was on a different planet.

No matter where I find myself in the world, I’m always intrigued by the local culture.  In post-apartheid South Africa there’s a burning desire for learning and growth.  Many are keen to point out that their nation is ‘second’ or even ‘third world’ in comparison to Europe.

Despite still being ‘under development’ there’s a sense of pride for the journey so far and a calm, understated confidence that the future is bright.  Working with clients there always brings a smile to my face as I see people from different backgrounds coming together to demonstrate a strong sense of community, team-spirit and a mindful dedication to improving workplace safety.

Despite the chill in the air, Siberia showed similar signs of humility and hunger when it came to improving safety. Working with the top team of an oil company, during our workshops we’d been discussing how to develop safety culture and build authentic safety leadership. We’d been exploring classical styles of leadership and with many of the executives present coming from engineering backgrounds they identified with the transactional style as their own natural or ‘default’ style.

Typically, process-oriented, transactional leaders are skilled in planning, direction and facilitation.  They quickly get things under control and are expert at identifying and driving appropriate action.  These are the leaders that ‘find and fix’ and ‘make things happen’.

Unusually, the Siberian company is run by two chief executives.  Nicolay is the visionary, having strategically plotted out the corporate direction well into the future. For Marina, a tightly-focused former lawyer with a disarmingly warm smile, nothing is a problem.

Servant leaders, like Marina, can appear selfless, concentrating on how they can support others in achieving their tasks and goals.  Totally committed, with high levels of awareness and empathy, they are excellent listeners.  Servant leaders actively seek out opportunities to help, bringing teams together and building a sense of pride and community.

Transformational leaders (like Nicolay) are those who have energy and drive in abundance.  Usually highly charismatic, they use their ability to look ahead to create a vision for their organisation’s prosperity.  Attentive to the needs of others, they paint clear pictures that persuade others to follow and support their cause.

The combined joint leadership at the oil company got me thinking.  It’s not unusual for an engineering company to have a wealth of transactional leaders – after all, getting oil out of the ground is key – but could the blend of servant and transformational leaders at the top provide a more effective climate for engineering mindsets to prosper and safety excellence to flourish?  I suspect it does.

Whilst leadership style should certainly be relevant to context, great safety leadership – combining transactional, servant and transformational elements – may just be the secret to bringing smiles to faces, warming the team spirit and helping us create safety excellence – no matter where we are in the world.

So what’s your natural leadership style? Do you adapt your style depending on the situation you’re in? Which servant, transactional and transformational leaders could you recruit as safety ambassadors in your business to help you provide an effective climate to further strengthen your organisation’s safety culture?

Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at and enter code SHP25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.

Free download: the Accident Investigation Guide

In partnership with Southalls this guide is designed to help guide you through the accident investigation process from start to finish. Whether you have years of experience in accident investigation, or you have never experienced the process before, this guide outlines the most fundamental parts of the investigation process, and encourages you to ask questions that you may not have previously considered.

Click here to Download now

Categories: Behavioural Safety, Blog, New Safety and Health, Trending

You May Also Be Interested In

Leave a Reply

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Dan Terry

An excellent read on the different styles of leadership, very interesting article thanks for sharing.

Andrew Sharman

Thanks for your comment Dan. We all have our own natural default leadership style that we tend to spend most time in – though we might venture out to adapt our style to suit other situations – how do you decide how to adapt your style to match context or meet desired outcomes?

John Kersey

very thought provoking and liked the idea of a blended leadership team. To a certain extent you have this in the traditional king + prophet model. I was formerly in the IT industry and transactional leadership would be the norm!

andrew sharman

Hello John, thanks for your comment and positive feedback. I wonder if, in modern times, we’ve been conditioned to be more transactional as we are challenged to ‘get more done (with less)’. The challenge for us then is to be able to adapt our leadership style to the context or situation. With your deep experience, how do you move between styles in order to be more efficient? What works for you?

Andrew Sharman’s Article in SHP Online: Strengthening your safety culture: a tale of two leaders | RyderMarshSharman

[…] Read the full  article here. […]

Andrew Sharman: Strengthening your safety culture: a tale of two leaders | RyderMarshSharman

[…] Read the full  article here. […]

Craig Laird

Very interesting and thought provoking article Andrew, thanks. I’m sure most of us conjure up images of individuals from our past that we think fit the leadership styles you mention perfectly, but I wonder how accurate we are in determining our own style. It’s certainly got me thinking…….

Andrew Sharman
Hi Craig, Thanks for your positive feedback – I suspect that you’re not alone in conjuring up images of individuals from our past! In terms of determining our own leadership styles – there’s a lot on this in my book From Accidents to Zero, including some exercises to explore other styles beyond your default style. SHPonline readers normally get 25% off the book at but until 10 April we have a crazy offer for 50% off. (it’s worth buying one for your boss too at this price!) Just go to the website and use code MarchMadness and the discount… Read more »

Author Bio ▼

Andrew Sharman

Andrew is the CEO of RMS Switzerland, a global consultancy specialising in safety behaviour, culture and leadership. With offices in the UK, and Switzerland.  RMS has an enviable track record of improving culture and enabling excellence for NGOs and blue chip organisations around the world through industry sectors including aviation, automotive, mining, construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and FMCGs. Find out more at

Andrew is also Professor of Leadership & Safety Culture at the European Centre for Executive Development in Fontainebleau, France, and Professor of Risk Management at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  He is a Chartered Fellow and Vice President of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH); a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Far from being risk-averse, he loves adventure sports including climbing, free flying, sea kayaking and swimming with sharks. He uses these pursuits to re-energise the language, perceptions and functions of safety and risk management and align the disciplines with broader organisational issues driving positive impact and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and businesses.

Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.

Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at and enter code SHP 25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.

March 31, 2016

Visit Safety & Health Expo, the UK’s largest health and safety event and conference