One of the first things that Dr. Rick Fulwiler, CIH, CSHM, asked the audience at his ASC 2013 session, “Achieving World-Class Health & Safety Through Transformational Leadership,” was “How many of you are striving for mediocrity?”

Many in the audience laughed, and his point was made: No one strives to be average and everyone in attendance at the conference was there to pick up “a few pearls,” said Fulwiler, that would take their EHS efforts from good to great or from great to excellent.

“If you want to improve when you leave here, you’re going to have to do something different,” said Fulwiler, who is the former director of health and safety worldwide for Procter & Gamble, the president of Technology Leadership Associates and an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “You’re going to have to change.”

His presentation focused on transactional leaders versus transformational leaders. A transactional leader embraces the business case for safety. He or she is task-oriented (ie, regulatory compliance), focuses on metrics, can be reactive rather than proactive, preserves the existing culture and practices and likely focuses more on the work than the worker.

“Transactional leaders is not bad leadership,” said Fulwiler. “In fact, it is essential.” However, he added, “Transactional leadership will not maximize or optimize the contributions of the workforce.”

For real change, Fulwiler suggests that EHS leaders and corporate safety cultures embrace transformational leadership. Transformational leaders:

  1. Are able to convince workers that their values and the leaders values are aligned, therefore achieving buy-in and engagement from workers.
  2. Empower workers to engage in the work process and contribute to its success.
  3. Are personally engaged with workers and cares about them and actively exhibits that concern.
  4. Maximize and optimize the contributions of the workers to achieve functional excellence.
  5. Focus on both the work and the workers.

Fulwiler noted that transformational leadership benefits not only safety but other aspects of the business as well. He used Scott Buttz, a general manager at a Cintas facility, as an example of a transformational leader. Scott, said Fulwiler, “is hard-wired transformational.”

Buttz comprises the characteristics of a transformational leader. He listens, communicates, cares, is collegial with and engaged in the lives of his workers. He has a wall in his office that includes photos of his employees with their families, doing the things they love to do, to remind him of why safety needs to be a core value of the company.

The “listening” part of the equation is important, said Fulwiler, who added, “Hearing is NOT listening.” Hearing tends to be passive and requires little energy or engagement with the speaker. Listening is part of a dialogue between people, is active and engages not just the ears, but the heart, mind, eyes and body as well.

Transformational leaders like Buttz are listeners, said Fulwiler. The only way to engage workers’ minds and hearts and make significant changes in a culture is to be a transformational leader who listens to them and invites them to participate in the change process.

Showing a diagram of two stick figures, one with a head and a heart and one without either, Fulwiler joked, “You can show this to your CEO and ask him which worker he would hire and I don’t think he’ll pick the one without a head or a heart.”

You can download a worksheet to determine where you rate on the transformational leadership scale and a worksheet to help you determine where your organization rates as a transformational enterprise.


Transformational Leadership Assessment

  • 0 – 2: Significant opportunity for improvement.
  • 3 – 5: Good start but there’s still room to improve.
  • 6 – 7: You get this transformational stuff and it makes sense.
  • 8+: You’re transformational! Now put it to use and share with others.

Transformational Leadership Enterprise Assessment

  • 0 – 2: Significant opportunity for improvement.
  • 3 – 5: Good start but there’s still room to improve.
  • 6 – 7: They get this transformational stuff and it makes sense.
  • 8+: Your enterprise is transformational! Is it being leveraged effectively?