The general management literature suggests that the key difference between leaders and managers is that:

“Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right things” and that the: “unique and essential function of leadership is the manipulation of culture.”

If leadership is viewed as a process rather than an innate personal quality, the key requirements for a leader are to:

  • Set a clear and credible vision of the future state the organisation is trying to achieve
  • Establish the style and tone of communication, the social architecture and organisational culture
  • Create an atmosphere of two-way trust between leaders, managers and the workforce
  • Visibly demonstrate: commitment; persistence; willingness to take risks / accept losses; consistency; self-knowledge and above all learning

Directors Role: Doing the Right Things

HSE research has shown that: “Directors exert a fundamental influence over standards of health and safety management and levels of health and safety performance.” The research also estimated that effective board leadership can deliver a 5 –10% reduction in workplace accidents and ill-health.  

In light of the difficulties of prosecuting directors for health and safety offences under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (consent, connivance, neglect) there has been much debate over the need to introduce proactive duties for directors to lead health and safety management. The debate is ongoing.

There is joint guidance (INDG417) from the HSE and Institute of Directors (IoD) on leading health and safety at work which advocates strong and active leadership from the top by

  • Visible, active commitment from the board
  • Establishing effective ‘downward’ communication systems and management structures
  • Integration of good health and safety management with business decisions
  • Ensuring that health and safety is a regular agenda item for board meetings
  • Naming a board level director as the health and safety ‘champion’ to send a strong signal that the issue is being taken seriously and that its strategic importance is understood
  • Taking responsibility and ‘ownership’ of health and safety at board level
  • Ensuring that health and safety arrangements are adequately resourced, competent health and safety advice is readily available, risk assessments are carried out and that employees or their representatives are involved in decisions that affect their health and safety
  • Increasing ‘visibility’ of board members on the ‘shop floor’. Board members should be seen to follow all safety measures themselves and to immediately address any breaches
  • Gathering first-hand information for board level performance reviews
  • Publishing details of health and safety and wellbeing performance annual reports to investors and stakeholders
  • Including an assessment of senior manager’s contribution to health and safety performance in their appraisals

Managers Role: Doing Things Right

Middle managers provide the connection between strategic apex and operating core of an organisation. For managers to be able to do things right, and to become committed to the organisation’s health and safety objectives an effective infrastructure has to be in place:

  • A robust health and safety management system (OHSAS 18001 or HSG65)
  • Management health and safety training
  • Clear targets for health and safety management (proactive – including positive behaviours)
  • Provision of adequate resources to enable objectives to be met
  • Monitoring and review of performance against targets
  • Recognition and reward for good health and safety performance.

Senior Management commitment

Management commitment should be demonstrated by the proportion of resources (time, money, and people) and support allocated to health and safety management and by the relative status of health and safety against other business priorities such as production, cost etc. The active involvement of senior management in the health and safety system is very important.


Managers should lead by example when it comes to health and safety. Good managers appear regularly on the ‘shop floor’, talk about health and safety and visibly demonstrate their commitment by their actions – wearing PPE, following safety rules, where appropriate putting health and safety concerns over commercial considerations.