Aircraft crew coordinating in an aircraft hangar.

In the world of safety management, “power” might not be the first word that comes to mind. However, we’re going to explore an intriguing concept—the power that safety managers possess and how we can harness it to create a significant impact within our organizations.

Safety managers are, in essence, safety leaders, and they have the ability to influence and drive change through the power of leadership. In this article, we’ll break down the concept of power into a pyramid, similar to Heinrich’s Pyramid, and explore the different levels of power that safety managers can wield to make a real difference.

Understanding Power Within an Organization

At the base of our power pyramid, we have Legitimate Power, Reward Power and Coercive Power. These powers are closely associated with an organization’s hierarchy.

Legitimate Power comes from holding a position of authority, such as a vice president of safety. However, it’s important to note that in some cases, titles like director of safety may not necessarily carry legitimate authority. Reward Power allows safety managers to provide incentives for correct actions or use rewards to influence behavior, while Coercive Power involves using punishment to steer actions. Unfortunately, many safety managers may not have easy access to these powers, even if their titles suggest otherwise.

As we move up the power pyramid, we encounter Expert Power. This level of power is driven by knowledge and expertise. Safety managers who are highly knowledgeable about safety management, risk management and related principles have the confidence and capability to lead their organizations through safety management system implementation and maintenance successfully.

At the pinnacle of the power pyramid is Referent Power. This form of power revolves around charisma and how one relates to others. Charismatic leaders have the ability to influence and inspire their teams to achieve organizational goals. While charisma may not be the…