During his recent visit to The University of Western Australia, Dr Tunde Ogunfowora (Assistant Professor of Human Resources and Organisational Dynamics at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary) presented to UWA researchers on the subject of workplace fatalities, and the role of ethical leadership in frontline employee safety behaviour.  A brief summary of his well-received presentation, was hosted by the University’s Centre for Safety, is offered below.

Linking CEO Ethical Leadership to Frontline Employee Safety Behaviours

Each year, thousands of workers are killed on the job. In a growing number of these incidents (Frontline, 2008), the organizational leader is singled out by the media. This paper examines how organizational leaders effectively exercise the duty of care owed to their workers by acting ethically and fostering a culture of safety for reducing work-related injuries and fatalities. Drawing on social learning theory (Bandura, 1973, 1977) and Brown and colleagues’ (2005) ethical leadership construct, we developed and tested a multi-level, trickle-down model linking CEO ethical leadership to frontline employee safety behaviour. Specifically, we explored different paths of influence through CEO safety commitment, top management team safety commitment, and frontline supervisory safety commitment.  The results showed support for our hypothesized path of influence. Specifically, we found that CEO ethical leadership was positively related to CEO commitment to safety (rated by members of the top management team). Furthermore, CEO commitment to safety was positively related to perceptions of top management team commitment to safety (rated by supervisors). Top management’s commitment to safety was related to frontline employee perceptions of supervisor commitment to safety and, in turn, employee self-reported safety compliance and participation behaviours. The results also showed support for other alternate paths of influence. These findings suggest that ethical organizational leaders can create and foster a strong commitment to safety that permeates through different layers of the organization.