The characteristics of a real leader and why the leaders coming from the field of #OSH are so scarce

This post is also available in: Spanish

My last post in Prevención Integral -the site by the Specific Research Centre for the Improvement and Innovation at Companies (CERpIE) of the Technical University of Catalunya- is entitled “El director de #PRL: líder de líderes” [1] (“The OSH director: leader of leaders”).

The article is inspired by an interesting conference entitled “Required skills, behaviours and motivations of the OSH director to apply the OSH measures efficiently”[2], organized by the CERpIE-Technical University of Catalunya, held last March 25 in Barcelona, also broadcasted on the Internet, in the virtual campus of the University (

Fuente: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

When we talk about the term leadership, we often think in all those skills that few people meet with regard to the workforces they are in charge of. Skills like empathy, to listen, to provide a fair treatment, to inspire, to encourage, to guide, to support, to foster the workforce´s participation, and so on.

Indeed, to meet a certain level of these features is essential for any accountable person within an organization.

However, these are just a part of all the skills needed when it comes -as happens in the case of my article in PI&ORP- of a top director or responsible in an organization.

In the case of the high-level staff, the workforces and collaborators-driven leadership is supplemented with the leadership with regard to the rest of directors and accountable staff from other fields of the organization. In this context, we are talking about a real leader, a leader of leaders.

To meet the skills needed to develop this double role is the philosopher´s stone of the complete concept of leadership and, as happens with this legendary substance, is very difficult to get. So, that´s why very few people meet it.

To do so, it is necessary to join two elements of which I already wrote in the past: responsibility and authority [3].

On the one hand, responsibility embraces all the duties, objectives and goals established by the organization, spread by means of corporate manuals, procedures, instructions, letters, statements, e-mails, notes, corporate publications, meetings, etcetera [3].

The other element -and more difficult to meet- is authority, in the widest sense of the term. That is, the social recognition given by the organization thanks to the knowledge, the vocation, the expertise and the attitude not just in the working area of the candidate for leader, but also in other fields of the company, such as the economic, management, business strategy,… In a nutshell, real auctoritas [4] that makes possible to be a leader even -in certain way- for the top management [2]

All this issues, but more widely and much more better explained, were treated in the CERpIE-UPC´s conference. If you want go deeper into the matter, I refer you to the conference, as it will be online available till April 25, in the platform.

Why the leaders coming from the field of OSH are so scarce?

As a self-critisism to the collective of occupational safety and health professionals, I think that, in general, we develop our work very “isolated” from the rest of fields of the organizations. As a consequence of our professional zeal, the OSH departments and services protect their functional area as it was “my precious”. At the same time, we often support our duties in an axiomatic superiority with respect to other functions, under arguments based on a patronising laws: “safety is non-negotiable”, safety is the first”,…

We are technically good and develop responsibly our duties compared to other professional groups. This is a good stuff, and makes possible to fulfil many of the OSH objectives of the organizations.

But, in general, the occupational safety and health lacks of real authority. That auctoritas that makes possible to discuss with the responsible staff of other business areas -or even with the top managers- and convince them with sound arguments they understand, about the benefits of OSH also for their functional areas: social, environmental, economical development. That is, for the sustainable development of the enterprise.

Proof of this is, in my opinion, the lack of professionals from the OSH field who reached top management or decision-making positions with real influence on policy, governance and strategic development in their organizations (I just know two of them, at the moment) . However, I know many people from other professional fields with such high leadership level in their companies.

We, the risk prevention professionals are dedicated to our work: “safety at work”, “industrial hygiene”, ergonomics and psychosociology”, “safety plans”,… we don´t know about economy, communication, strategy,…

It is also truth that, in the latests times, there is a certain improvement in this regards within the risk prevention sector, materialized in specific approaches (healthy workplaces, social responsibility, sustainability,…) but, at the moment, these are macro-preventive signs which -as happens in the case of macro-economic indicators- will come later to the real OSH of most of businesses and organizations.

[1] MAIRAL, DAVID. 15 Apr 2015. El director de #PRL: líder de líderes. Prevención Integral. Consulted 19 Apr 2015.
[2] PREVENCIÓN INTEGRAL. 25 Mar 2015. Jornada Precongresual ORP: Habilidades, comportamientos y motivaciones necesarias del director de PRL, para aplicar las medidas de PRL con eficiencia. Consulted 19 Apr 2015.
[3] ARAGON VALLEY. 2 Feb 2012. Responsabilidad vs autoridad. Consulted 19 Apr 2015.
[4] WIKIPEDIA. 10 Jan 2015. Auctoritas Consulted 19 Apr 2015.