• Published
  • By Colonel John W. Blumentritt
  • AETC Directorate of Safety
"You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror." Who could ever forget these powerful words spoken by our commander-in-chief in November 2001? Indeed, President George W. Bush unabashedly put forward that neutrality has no place in the war against terrorism, and all must "fight this evil and fight until we are rid of it." Consequently, men and women around the globe continue to fiercely champion this noble pursuit.

Why launch this issue of Torch --­ a safety magazine --­ with these hard-hitting and uncompromising words seemingly more suited for a strategic studies journal?

To help answer this question, I'll share conclusions from a 2006 study on leadership and its effects on employee safety. In short, researchers found that when good leaders actively promote safety, organizations experience first-rate safety records and positive safety outcomes. In contrast, the opposite of good leaders who promote safety are bad leaders who strongly advocate "anti-safety" policies. Accordingly, a bad leader might direct employees to blatantly disregard safety rules and advocate carelessness.

Of course, very few leaders would actually verbalize this ridiculous position, so in the middle ground nests passive leaders, who don't advocate or criticize safety, but just sort of ignore it and let it happen. In fact, these laissez-faire leaders believe a work environment, if left alone, will be adequately safe by default.

What makes this study so interesting is that it refutes this middle ground idea. Specifically, researchers found that passive leaders, who simply ignore safety, negatively affect safety climate and safety consciousness within their organizations. In fact, this negative effect occurs at the same magnitude, but in the opposite direction, as good leaders, who actively promote safety.

There is simply no intermediary position on safety.

Consequently, there are good safety-centric leaders who actively promote safety and leaders who do not. As such, no in-between mishap prevention positions are feasible, and thus, there's no room for neutrality in the fight for safety. Therefore, all Airmen around the globe must fiercely champion the noble pursuit of safety by actively combating the evils of unsafe behavior and needless risk.

To be sure, and much akin to the war on terror, there is no compromise. ... You're either with us or against us in the fight against ... mishaps.

Research for this article comes from: Kelloway, E. K., Mullen, J., & Francis, L. (2006). Divergent Effects on Transformational and Passive Leadership on Employee Safety. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, v. 11 (1). 76-86.