Safety Leadership Learning

Safety Leadership Learning

By George Robotham from


imageA few years ago I attended a presentation on leadership by General Norman Schwarzkopf. This got me really fired up about leadership and led me to research the topic thoroughly. I am convinced leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most things in life, it is certainly vital for successful safety. I have been working with companies to improve their general and safety leadership. I try to incorporate leadership principles in my safety work.


Having survived a number of years in industry I am acutely aware that leadership of an organisation can make or break the organisation. The importance of leadership is vastly underrated in Australian industry.

In my experience many supervisors and managers know little about general leadership. I would go as far as to say leadership is not understood by many in management. People are often promoted to supervisor / manager positions because of their technical skills and with little knowledge of and preparation for leadership.

General Colin Powell is reported as having said leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.

Honest and ethical behaviour is the centre piece of leadership, we constantly hear about otherwise highly competent leaders who fail because of ethical issues. When highly ethical leaders do not take up the leadership challenge less ethical people will fill the void. This appears to happen commonly in politics, business and the sporting world in Australia.

Recommended reading on Leadership

Briune P., A bastard of a place, about Australian soldiers at Kokoda, if you want to learn about leadership in times of adversity this is the place to look

Schwartz kopf N. It does not take a hero

Carter, L., Ulrich, D., Goldsmith, M., 2005, Best Practices in Leadership Development and Organization Change, John Wiley and Sons ,San Francisco

Johnson, D., 1990, Reaching Out, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey

Kouzes, J., 2005, The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching, John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey

Becoming a Transformational Leader-Perry K.

Understanding teams-Welbourn M.

Groups-Theory and Experience-Gersherfeld N.

Leadership-An Australian Focus-Dubrin J. and Dalglish C.

Leadership-Burns J.

Leadership Revelations-An Australian Perspective-Henry A.

Leadership-A Communications Perspective-Hackman M. and Johnson C.

Leadership Lessons from West Point-Crandall D.

A Leaders Legacy-Kouzes and Posner

Organisation Culture and Leadership-Schein E.

Leadership-Giuliani R.

Developing the Leaders Within You-Maxwell J.

Patton On Leadership-Axelrod A.

In Extremis Leadership-Kolditz T.

The Leadership Challenge-Kouzes and Posner

Portrait of a Leader-Peter Cosgrove

All the above are excellent, if you only have a small amount of time to read up on leadership I would recommend Kouzes and Posner

C.D. ‘s from the Australian Institute of Management

Understanding Integrated Leadership-Hede A.

Developing the Art of Leadership-Perry K

.Leading With Integrity-Thorsborne M.

Other references

Readers are particularly directed to the paper “ Leadership Principles for The Safety Professional” presented by Eddie Greer at the A.S.S.E. Professional Development Conference, June 13, 2001, Anaheim, California.

During peer-review of this paper the author was made aware of the A.S.S.E. paper “Dimensions of supervisor effectiveness” by Jim Spigener,25/6/04.This paper is considered particularly useful on the topic of safety leadership, there are some limitation in use associated with this paper and potential readers are directed to

George can be contacted on, he welcomes debate on the above (it would be indeed a boring world if everybody agreed with George)

George Robotham, Cert. IV T.A.E.,. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia,,,07-38021516, 0421860574, My passion is the reduction of permanently life altering (Class 1 ) personal damage

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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