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Sandy Says: Transformational Leadership in Safety

July 9, 2012
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

For years, I’ve had a catch-phrase that I resort to for lack of something better to say. That phrase is “positive change.” I want to work for positive change in my professional career, in my personal life, in my community activities, in my volunteerism… Positive change.

Recently, I picked up a new phrase: Transformational leadership. A transformational leader is someone who shifts a corporate culture off its axis of conformity, mediocrity and familiarity. Transformational leaders are not afraid to take risks, often by sticking their necks out and taking a stand for something they feel strongly about. Transformational leaders don’t follow the path walked by others, they engage with their employees and forge a new path, side-by-side with those employees.

If you want to be average, avoid being a transformational leader. If you want to be world-class, you’d better be willing to embrace, celebrate and aspire to transformational leadership.

That message was delivered by Dr. Rick Fulwiler, a member of our editorial board, to safety professionals from Cintas Corp. and some of its larger clients. Rick and I have had many discussions over the years about world-class safety and now, transformational leadership.

“Think of the power of an organization that gets the workers and the leaders engaged,” suggests Rick, who says that embracing transformational leadership simply is common sense: “Treat people like you care about them and you’ll get a good product out of them,” whether that “product” is an actual commodity or safety excellence, he says.

Rick always has been supportive of the idea of America’s Safest Companies, and, in fact, gave a presentation to last year’s winners about transformational leadership. He will have that opportunity again this fall, when we launch our America’s Safest Companies conference in Chicago’s McCormick Place on Sept. 11 and 12. The purpose of the conference is to share and encourage world-class safety efforts and celebrate transformational leadership. (For more information, visit

Since 2002, EHS Today has been recognizing America’s Safest Companies. Our 120+ America’s Safest Companies have ranged from tiny operations utilizing innovative solutions to huge corporations that are benchmarked for safety by dozens of other companies each year. All of these companies have wisdom to share and many generously have agreed to do so at the conference.

They will discuss their efforts at achieving world-class safety, discuss what transformed their safety process from average to exceptional and share the leading indicators they use to determine if they are achieving their goals. In addition, the conference will feature a roundtable of CEOs, who will share why safety has a seat at the table in the C-suite at their companies, as well as a panel discussion by OSHA insiders, who will discuss the agency and its impact on EHS in the workplace.

“Organizational leaders, without a doubt, want their work force engaged,” says Rick, who recently shared his message about transformational leadership to a standing-room only crowd at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo. “Yet they operate mostly from a transactional perspective, focusing on numbers and tasks. That type of leadership will not lead to an engaged work force. Only when the work force is engaged in whatever the process is (safety, quality, production) will world-class results occur. Transformational leadership drives engagement.”

Join Rick, America’s Safest Companies and me in Chicago in September to learn more.

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