The best fleet managers know when situations call for a tough or an empathetic approach to working with their drivers. In 2012, Sharon Clarke published a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, analyzing which leadership styles have the strongest effects on safety culture. They examined two different styles of leadership, transactional and transformational, and identified how each style contributes to safety culture. The key takeaway: Different drivers perform better under different management styles.
Managing Drivers with Specific Goals
Say you have drivers under performance development plans (PDPs). These drivers have objective goals they are working toward in the name of improving their safe driving behaviors. To help these drivers achieve these goals, they need a transactional leader.
There are three defining qualities of transactional leadership: organization, performance, and compliance. More specifically, transactional leadership focuses on identifying short term goals, crafting a plan to achieve them, rewarding employees who meet them, and hold them accountable when they don’t.
According to Clarke’s research, “Transactional leadership is important in ensuring compliance with rules and regulations.” She found this was especially true when the transactional leaders’ goals were clear and easily understood by their employees. Essentially, leaders who set clear goals and create incentives for meeting those goals are good at fostering a safety culture where rule-following is paramount.
For drivers on a PDP, their manager should:
- Set clear, achievable goals
- Develop an easy-to-understand plan to meet their goals
- Reward good behavior and discipline poor behavior
Building and Renewing Your Safety Culture
In other situations, you may need to focus on improving your safety culture overall for all drivers, because all fleets face times when employee morale is low and building a stronger culture of safety is a primary goal. Situations like this require a transformational leader.
Transformational leadership focuses on identifying a long term change in culture and inspiring employees to achieve it. This inspiration can take many forms. Often, transformational leaders serve as role models for their employees and “walk the walk” so to speak. They also tend to understand their employees’ strengths and weaknesses and challenge subordinates to take ownership of their work.
Clarke’s research finds that “transformational leadership is primarily associated with encouraging employee participation in safety.” Unsurprisingly, serving as a role model for your drivers and practicing what you preach is a highly effective strategy for getting them to care about safety.
When building a safety culture, managers should:
- Serve as a role model of safety for your drivers
- Identify your drivers’ strengths and weaknesses
- Challenge your drivers to take pride in their safe practices
- Acknowledge drivers’ safe behavior
So What Kind of Leader Should You Be?
While your style may vary from driver to driver, you can focus on using one of the styles based on your fleet’s needs. If you’re focusing on individual driver improvement, then a transactional leadership style is your best bet. This type of leader will help you focus on carrying out rules, regulations, and goals for each individual.
However, if your fleet’s safety culture overall needs more of your focus, then a transformational leadership style is the way to go. By walking the walk, fostering a sense of safety ownership in all your drivers, and connecting your fleet identity to safety, you’ll be able to build an effective safety culture from the ground up.
Fortunately, there are tools like the Idelic Safety Suite that make it easy to understand where your fleet needs improvement and what kind of leadership will help you be a successful safety manager. Safety Suite is the only driver-management platform that lets every member of your fleet—from HR, to Training, to Safety—log all your driver data in one place. With Safety Suite, you have a 360-degree view of your drivers and a full understanding of their behavior in and out of the cab.
Safety Suite integrates all your spreadsheets, training software, HR records, and any other systems you use into one platform, eliminating double-entry across your fleet.
With Idelic, everyone can keep safety top-of-mind. Prioritizing safety doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
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