Why not looking more often at HRO’s when we’re talking about Safety?


What can we learn from High Reliability Organizations (#HRO) where one has to keep errors to the absolute minimum? In addition to working in a disciplined manner, these organizations owe their success to how people think and act. They use the term collective awareness.

  • They focus keenly on faults.

  • They are reluctant to simplify; they investigate early signals seriously.

  • They are sensitive to implementation; employees and management ensure that in the here and now they have an image of their activities that contribute to the whole and coordinate this with each other.

  • They have dedication and resilience; if things turn out differently than expected, people can respond resiliently and remove or contain the effects of a disruption.

  • They have great respect for expertise; they deal with matters in specific situations, the decision-making process looks for people who have the best knowledge of this. So regardless of their hierarchical position.


Leadership plays a vital role in these types of organizations. Here follows a quote from a study by Clive Lloyd, who notes,

‘Authentic Leadership evolves as a model that goes beyond transformational Leadership and has trust as a core component (Mearns, 2008). Besides, Authentic Leadership's goals and overall approach promote many of the key attributes of high trust organizations, including a commitment to a shared purpose and respectful interactions.’

Positive Psychology


Along with crucial HRO traits such as resilience and mindfulness, the concept of authentic Leadership stems from the Positive Psychology movement. Positive Psychology draws attention to the positive qualities that people have that improve life, rather than what is wrong with people. The basic assumptions of the approach are that people are motivated and strive for involvement, responsibility, and enjoyment in their work.


Luthans and Avolio's description (2003) of Positive Organizational Behaviour (#POB) illustrates the development towards Positive Psychology: the study and application of positively oriented human-resource aspects and psychological capacities can be measured today, and thus also developed and managed effectively for performance improvement in the workplace.


The core conditions of POBs are Trust, Hope, Optimism, and Resilience. Luthans and Avolio (2003) relate POB to the full reach, the multifactor leadership model, and developments in moral and ethical leadership to develop the concept of authentic leadership.


They define authentic leadership as:

‘A process that draws on both positive psychological capacities and a highly developed organizational context, resulting in both greater self-awareness and positive self-regulating behaviour of leaders and employees, promoting positive self-development.'

Authentic leaders are characterized as: confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, transparent, moral/ethical, forward-looking and prioritize employee development to become leaders.


In their model of the authentic leadership process, Avolio et al. (2004) identify hope, trust, positive emotions and optimism as important intervening variables in the influence of leaders on the attitude and behaviour of followers. This recognition of the previously described role of trust in leadership pertains to the full range of Leadership and Safety.


Given the vital role that trust has in Safety, Authentic Leadership appears to be particularly suitable for investigating the influence of Leadership on Safety (Mearns, 2008). Indeed, a study (Nielsen et al., 2013) has confirmed a link between authentic leadership and safety performance, with the authors concluding:

‘HROs should consider recruiting and developing authentic leaders to promote positive safety climate and risk management.’

From: “Safety from Within” (www.veiligheidvanbinnenuit.nl)

© 2020 Rob Kreté, Safety from Within | Illustrations Tom van Dun, infocomics.nl