Motivators for Safety: the Role of Senior Leaders’ Regulatory Focus

Laura Sophie Fruhen, Kathryn Jane Mearns, Rhona Flin, Barry Kirwan

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


Senior leaders have been identified as crucially motivating their organisations’ members towards safety through their safety commitment (Guldenmund, 2007). Despite this highlighted relevance, little is known about the way senior managers exert this influence (Flin, 2003). Because individual differences are suggested as relevant for understanding leader behaviour (Lord & Hall, 1992), we investigate senior leaders’ regulatory focus in relation to their safety commitment and their teams’ performance. Regulatory focus describes individuals as approaching goals either through a promotion focus on positive achievements (such as productivity) or through a prevention focus indicated through avoidance of negative outcomes (i.e. risks) (Wallace & Chen, 2006). Because this suggests regulatory focus may have safety specific implications, we evaluate it as a relevant contributor to safety commitment and team performance in high reliability organisations. In line with Wallace and Chen (2006), we predict that promotion focus is positively related to general team performance and prevention focus is positively related to general safety commitment.
Senior managers (n =54; response rate = 90%), working in air traffic management completed questionnaires consisting of the regulatory focus at work scale (Wallace, Johnson & Frazier, 2009), the organisational safety climate scale (Zohar & Luria, 2005), which was revised for the assessment of individual safety commitment and team performance using Millward and Jeffries’ (2001) team survey. Hierarchical regression analysis was used to test the main effects of regulatory focus on safety commitment and team performance, with time in position as a control variable. Following this, safety commitment was tested as a moderator of the relation of regulatory focus and team performance, following guidelines by Baron and Kenny (1987) and a bootstrapping syntax by Preacher and Hayes (2004).
In line with our predictions promotion focus of senior managers positively contributed to team performance (ß = .47; p < .01) whereas prevention focus positively contributed to safety commitment (ß = .37; p < .01). Test of the interaction of regulatory focus and safety commitment in their influence on team performance show an interaction between safety commitment and promotion focus (ß = -.34; p < .01), but not prevention focus. The interaction shows that if safety commitment is high, a high or low promotion focus has no influence on team performance. Whereas a low promotion focus exerts an equally positive influence on team performance only where the safety commitment is high.
The results confirm Wallace and Chen’s (2006) suggestion of promotion focus as positively related to performance and prevention focus as contributing to an individual’s safety focus. The interaction effect shows the relevance of safety commitment for senior managers’ perceptions of team performance, as this overrides a low promotion focus. This effect might be specific to the industry the participants work in, where safety and performance are intertwined. The results highlight the relevance of individual characteristics for understanding how senior managers motivate others towards safety and by doing so make their organisations safer. This can support selection processes of this influential group as well as their education, highlighting the relevance of their safety commitment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventIWP International Conference on Work, Wellbeing and Performance: Thriving in times of uncertainty - University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 201228 Jun 2012


ConferenceIWP International Conference on Work, Wellbeing and Performance
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'Motivators for Safety: the Role of Senior Leaders’ Regulatory Focus'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this