Leadership in Transportation Safety

NHTSA 2012 OverviewA recent Forbes article, titled; “Kindness does not equate to weakness in leadership” explores how we might make changes to our leadership style without undermining our authority as managers of employees/operators.

Kindness is often mistaken for weakness and vulnerability, but with regard to leadership kindness is best described as being able to demonstrate grace under pressure, leading by example, or balancing a genuine concern for the well-being of subordinates with the organization’s goals (i.e. the classic “win-win” scenario).

The author of the Forbes article sums it up nicely:

Think about esteemed leader Colin Powell for just a minute. In his book It Worked For Me, he talks about the skill set needed to be a drill sergeant. While every soldier is taught to fear his or her drill sergeant, the best drill sergeants aim to also instill strength and confidence in their soldiers. By building that strength through kindness, the sergeant is better able to deliver the very tough decisions that they need to make.

Of course, its important to remember that kindness doesn’t mean we never fire chronic poor performers who refuse to change their habits.  Kindness does NOT mean that we “wimp out” on tough decisions, or fail to do what’s necessary.

Kindness simply means listening, seeking a balance, and acting out of real concern whenever possible to assist our operators.


From a safety standpoint we talk about performance coaching sessions as “compassionate interventions” with operators who chronically take risks while behind the wheel (often leading to violations, failed inspections because of poor pre-trips, etc.)

The goals of the safety professional may (arguably) include:

  • Increase awareness of safety policies, goals and corporate achievement
  • Motivation of operators to engage their cooperation
  • Detect violation of policy and understand motivators (policy misalignment with production goals, failure to explain properly, etc.)
  • Monitoring of driver performance, violation history, etc.
  • Post-crash investigation (including rulings on preventability, fault status, etc.)

At issue isn’t the specific content of this bullet list, or how it’s worded — but rather how YOUR specific criteria is executed.

smc 1Is your safety leadership style:

  • Stern, but kind?  
  • Compassionate, but uniformly executed? 
  • Uncompromising, but educational and coaching based?
  • Focused on both right message and how it gets delivered?

Demonstrating kindness without compromising standards may be the key to increasing results without sacrificing tenure or increasing turnover.

What do you think?  Would kindness undermine safety and production?  Will seasoned drivers unfairly take advantage of kindness or see it as patronizing?  Can we be like that Drill Sergeant that inspires fearful respect while also coaching for better results?

blog rainy traffic day 1


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