Are you a leader or a manager? There's a bigger difference than you think

March 20, 2006
For safety professionals, leadership takes effort but returns greater rewards, both personal and corporate.

A recent book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, highlighted the differences in behavioral and thinking patterns between men and women. Similarly, leaders act and think differently than managers.

History proves that governments, nations, empires, and kingdoms fail for lack of leadership. Large multi-national companies as well as small businesses falter for lack of leadership. Sports teams and even families wander aimlessly for lack of leadership. More to the point, Safety Departments fail for lack of leadership.

If leadership is so important, why draw a distinction between leaders and managers?

Are you a safety leader or a safety manager?

I worked with and for many managers, but only a few real leaders. I learned how to lead from the leaders and how not to lead from the managers.

There is a clear distinction between leaders and managers. Managers are internally motivated toward their own careers. Managers are "me first" oriented. Leaders, on the other hand, are externally motivated. Leaders are "us" or "others" oriented. Managers get by where leaders have a vision.

Consequently, managers tend toward the status quo, where leaders champion change.

"The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."--Vincent T. Lombardi

Manager defined

Webster defines manage as 1) to handle or direct with a degree of skill or address as a) to make and keep submissive, b) to treat with care, 2) to alter by manipulation, 3) to succeed in accomplishing. Webster defines manager as a) one who conducts business or household affairs, b) a person whose work or profession is management, c) a person who directs a team or athlete. These definitions imply superiority of one person over another whether or not the responsibility and authority is earned. These definitions also imply a philosophy of eking by day-to-day. There is no apparent plan to get to a goal. "Accomplishing" is mentioned, but it appears that such accomplishment is by accident. I don't know anyone who accomplished anything in the workplace by happenstance.

My definition of manager is one who merely keeps the place from blowing up--no vision, no plan, just get me to five o'clock.

Leader defined

Webster defines leader as 1) a person who directs a military force or unit, 2) a person who has commanding authority or influence, 3) a horse placed in advance of the other horses of a team. Webster defines leadership as 1) the office or position of a leader, 2) the quality of a leader--the capacity to lead. My definition of leader is someone with a vision that provides the tools the team needs, lowers the barriers to accomplish required tasks, and plans and assists the career paths for each team member.

My definition of leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want them to do because they want to do it.

"The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore."--Dale Carnegie

Qualities of a leader

What makes a leader a leader? What makes people want to follow a leader? There are many defining characteristics of a leader.

Motivation--A key ingredient to leadership is motivation. Motivation is a tool leaders use to get professionals to get work done. It is not just a manipulative tool, but a task list to support team members. Motivation has three components--energization, direction, and feedback.

Energization involves a secondary drive--what do people want out of a job, a position, a career. Secondary drives include motives, interests, and attitudes. Motives include security, self assertiveness, gregariousness, and dependency. Interests include exploration, competition, protection, mechanical, conformance, risk, moral compulsion, variety, self-indulgence, and precision. Attitudes include attitudes about self, life, and work. Once leaders discover a person's secondary drives, they plan methods by which people can achieve the desired results.

Once a person is energized and ready do something, they need direction. Direction includes why, when, where, and who. More explicitly, direction includes goals to achieve, what products to generate, and how they are to be integrated and used.

Lastly, motivation includes feedback. Without feedback, performance cannot be measured effectively. Feedback reinforces behavior, allows mid-course corrections, anf keeps goals flexible.

Integrity. People look to leaders to set the example and the norm. It is imperative that as Safety Managers makes the rules, they also follow them to the letter. They leave nothing to question and chaos.

Loyalty. Leaders are loyal to their families, their company, their employees, and themselves. They make promises sparingly but keep them faithfully. They serve the people that work for them as well as the ones for whom they work.

Courage. Leaders are brave enough to ask management for resources to complete tasks. Leaders are brave enough to give credit to subordinates where credit is due. Leaders take the heat for failures. Leaders have the courage to lower the obstacles and break down the barriers. Leaders also have the courage to make difficult and unpopular decisions. I wonder sometimes what would have happened if Moses had taken a poll when leaving Eqypt? What about Patton in deciding on pusuit when he was dangerously low on fuel? Leaders have the courage to do what they feel is best and not was is expedient. The result is not everyone following that leader will always like that leader. This is part of being a leader.

Communications. Leaders are effective and articulate communicators. They express themselves persuasively in group settings. They are comfortable speaking in staff meetings, the safety meetings, the board room, and the training room. They are comfortable speaking to small groups, large groups, professionals, and lay people. They enjoy conveying their message with conviction. Leaders generally speak last on a subject and then speak authoritatively. People listen to straight talk and down-to-earth attitudes. They listen to people that genuinely believe in what they say, speak well extemporaneously, provide emotional links to co-workers, peers and superiors, and exhibit strong, deep convictions. 

Knowledge. Leaders are respected for their professional background. Leaders stay current on events in their profession. They know when the next proposed standard affecting their workplace is due to be published. They know the trends in research and the best commercial practices. They are well networked in their profession to achieve this knowledge base. 

Vision. Leaders convey a vision of the future. They are the catalyst that defines the organization's mission and potential. They enlist others in attaining such missions. People are in search of a leader actually working to a plan. People find security in associating with someone who is constantly looking ahead and willing to change to meet up-coming demands.

Humility. Leaders have no need for pride as they are comfortable in their abilities. They understand humility is a journey, not a destination. However, humility and meekness should not be confused with weakness. I don't know any successful safety manager who is a member of Dependent Over-abused Organization of Really Meek and Timid Souls (DOORMATS). Those that are, usually are not in leadership positions for very long.

"Humility is one of those things that, once you know you have it, you just lost it."--
David Miller

Personnel Development. Leaders understand people and their needs in the workplace. Leaders understand everyone and their needs are different. Leaders identify what people want out of a job, a position, a career. They map out short- and long-term goals, nurture a commitment to the group, pave a path for success, and lead by example.

They develop committed followers. The direct emotional connection leaders make with fellow professionals goes beyond the usual boss-subordinate relationship. Leaders involve others, seek advice, ask for information, solicit solutions to problems, and provide frequent positive feedback. They make subordinates part of the solution and responsible for what happens.

They empower associates. They encourage fellow professionals to be strong, self-reliant, and practice self-management. Leaders delegate to professionals and provide an environment to succeed. They allow professionals the opportunity to take limited risks that may lead to failure without fear.

Professionals that fear failure never take chances.

Strong professionals ensure success. Many managers hire people less intelligent than they are fearing that they may take their position. Leaders, on the other hand, hire smarter people. If they succeed, leaders get credit for hiring the right people. Leaders are always looking for their replacement. They understand that to move up in the organization they need to groom their replacement, maybe more than one, for contingency purposes.

"Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream of things that never were, and say, 'Why not'?"--
George Bernard Shaw

Leaders inspire lofty accomplishments. They give credit for individual success in a group but take responsibility for failures of a group, with no excuses. Leaders use completed goals to build higher and more difficult goals that encourage people to do more. Each goal makes the next level a little more difficult and constantly builds to surpass previous achievements. Leaders look for quantum leaps rather than the linear approach to performance improvement. They are passionate, committed, and tenacious about goal setting and accomplishment.

They model appropriate behavior. Leaders earned respect because they symbolize the group values and norms. They lead by example. They talk the talk and walk the walk. If Safety managers make the rules, they must also follow without exception. They exhibit knowledge in the field and they are respected.

Leaders focus attention on important issues. They ferret through the facts and discover key issues and tough problems. Leaders recognize only a limited number of goals can be pursued at one time, so they carefully choose what to emphasize.

They connect their group to the outside world. A leader serves as a link to the rest of the organization and the rest of the world. Leaders represent the group to the outside world, project the image of the group to the outside world, and relay information to and from the outside world. They get involved with university professors, researchers, and technologists to keep up with technical issues and keep in touch with their counterparts at other companies.

They teach other professionals the nature of leadership. Many technical professionals spend years learning a specific discipline, but little, if anything, in leadership. I've never seen a college course on leadership. Professionals need to know the tools for managing and leading effectively. Technical professionals can succeed in their chosen field, get promoted as a result of this success, and find that they have little management or leadership skills. They are potentially doomed to mediocrity or failure without proper training.

Leaders put technical professionals in the proper environment to learn leadership. Just as a safety professional learns that classroom safety is far different in the real world, so must a safety professional learn how to apply hands-on leadership skills.

 "Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory."--General George S. Patton

Delegating. It's one of the most important skills you'll ever master. Delegating doesn't mean passing off work. It means giving others authority, responsibility, and accountability. People who fail to delegate burn out early. People who fail to delegate do not allow more efficient people do the tasks. You can't do everything. Don't waste valuable resources of time, money, and morale.

Trust your staff. When questioned, one approach I use with my superiors is, "If you don't trust the people working for you, get rid of them and hire people you do trust." The same is true with professionals. Give them the opportunity to try and to learn. Let them know that honest mistakes are not punished. Let them know that you provide a safe environment for calculated risk taking and decision making.

Avoid seeking perfection. As engineers, we seek perfection. At some time, though, engineers must stop engineering and start implementing. This implies imperfection that usually meets some acceptable standard of quality. Also, it implies a continual evolution. If left to their own ends, engineers design and design and design, never implementing, but always making the design better. Accept that perfection comes with time, but everyone is not a perfectionist.

Give effective job instructions. The workplace is busy. Expecting people to read your mind spells failure. Explicitly communicate goals and performance standards early and provide frequent feedback.

Recognize that others have the talent and ability to complete projects. Understand that others approach problems differently than you. Just because it is different does not mean it is wrong. There are numerous paths to the same solution. Allow for and be flexible to this variability.

Know your true interests. Many people get promoted because of technical excellence rather than interpersonal skills. If you feel better suited as a technician, let your superiors know that early on.

Follow-up on progress. Failure to follow-up is the most grievous error in delegating. Provide clear milestones with dates and tangible products. Require a plan with priorities if milestones are not met. Follow-up is critical. If these plans are not met, consider re-delegation or taking the tasks yourself.

Praise the efforts of your staff. A simple thanks, taking employees out to lunch, a brief memo to superiors and to file, or a pat on the back are examples of how to say thanks for a job well done.

Remember--praise in public, punish in private.

Avoid reverse delegation. If an employee accepts delegated work, do not allow the employee to offer incomplete work. Provide guidance to successfully complete the work.

Don't make delegation an all-or-nothing proposition. Some employees need to build confidence a little at a time. Allow employees to do pieces with which they feel comfortable. Let them succeed to build confidence. Keep building until employees feel competent in the work assigned.

Support your employees with the knowledge, resources, authority, and responsibility that you require yourself. Tell employees what you expect form them and what they can expect from you. It is nice to know that they are not being left out to dry. You are there to help.

Delegate to the lowest possible level. This ensures that you are making use of everyone's talents and applying your time to the effort of your position--actions that make everyone the most effective and is an efficient use of resources.
"The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it."--
Teddy Roosevelt

What a leader does

What does a leader do when arriving on the scene? First, they assess the situation. They examine the OSHA 200 Log, Recordable and Lost Time Incident Reports, and Non-Recordable Incident Reports.

They figure out what has been happening, determine what needs fixing, and begin to plan a fix. Another thing that takes some time is determining what programs are in place. Are these programs up to date? Is accurate data being collected and distributed? Yet another thing is assessing the corporate culture. This provides an insight on how far the company needs to go to get to an ideal safety culture.

After assessing, it is time to formulate a plan. This takes time and effort and may require late nights during the formative stages. What does a plan consist of? Well, for one thing it consists of a time frame long enough to show results, perhaps five years. Realize that you may never reach your five goal because it changes every year. It changes every year because you review it annually. Writing it, storing it, and resurrecting it at the end of five years  defeats the purpose of planning.

Next, set an achievable goal--a certain incident rate value, a certain percent reduction in incident rates, improved productivity. With ISO 9000 pervading the workplace it should be linked to quality. Is it linked to engineering design improvements or to Process Safety Management? Is it attaining VPP status? Set a goal that reflects your own corporate vision. Identify steps that need to be accomplished--along with a time frame. Assess progress every year. On critical items, monthly assessments may be in order.

Regardless, make assessments.

Early on, meet with the team. This is not the initial first day meeting where you are introduced as the new safety manager. This is a personal one-on-one meeting. Some people refer to this team as subordinates. A leader refers to people as people--not inanimate objects. As you sit down with each person, ask questions like, "Where do you want to be in five years", or "What do you see yourself doing in five years?" You may be surprised at the responses you get, anything from, "Your job" to "President of the company" to "I really don't know." Don't chide anyone for tenacity or lack thereof. A leader's job is to help the team achieve goals so they can help you achieve yours. You actually work for them! Wow, what a concept!
 "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle."--Abraham Lincoln


Are you a safety leader or a safety manager? Do people follow you because they are required to or because they want to follow? It really boils down to the difference between a job and a career. Consider the difference between the outward appearance of soccer and football. In soccer it appears that the ball is just being kicked around. In football it appears that there is a plan. Safety professionals have plenty of people around to tell them what to do. Rarely is there someone invested in our careers and helping us achieve our own and common goals. There are plenty of managers to go around, but leaders are what makes people want to go to work, work hard, and enjoy it at the same time.

Have you simply grown into a position in which you are managing people and wondering why the attrition rate is so high? Perhaps considering some of the items presented here can help you lead your group rather than manage your group.

 "Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."--Ronald T. Osborn

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