4 Aug, 2014

The Importance of Leadership in Process Safety Management

The first pillar of Risk Based Process Safety Management is “Commitment to Process Safety.” 


A formalized mentoring system can ensure workforce involvement, compliance with company and regulatory requirements, increase the competency of personnel and enhance the process safety culture of the entire organization. Within this element there are several essential features that lead to a more effective process safety culture.

Providing strong leadership is critical for any organization that strives to manage the risk associated with the activities associated with process safety. Leadership is a skill that is not necessarily intuitive to managers and mentors. Leadership is a skill that can be learned.

In this Tip of the Month (TOTM), we explore process safety leadership.

This TOTM is part of a paper that was developed by PetroSkills | John M. Campbell instructor/consultants Clyde Young and John Kanengieter for presentation at the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) 9th Global Conference on Process Safety [1].

Over the last several years, significant resources have been devoted to examining the issue of process safety culture, and strong leadership has been cited as a key element to enhance a process safety culture. Study of major accidents within the oil, gas, chemical and allied industries have found that the safety culture of organizations is often proposed as a contributing factor, and development of a culture of process safety as the solution. Presentations at symposia and conferences point to enhancing culture and providing leadership as necessary to address breakdowns in process safety management systems.

The first pillar of the Center for Process Safety (CCPS) Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety (RBPS) is “Commit to Process Safety.” Supporting this pillar is the element “Process Safety Culture”, which is defined as, “the combination of group values and behaviors that determine the manner in which process safety is managed.” One of the four essential features of process safety culture is “strong leadership.”



What is “leadership?" It has been described as “organizing or influencing a group to achieve a common goal." This would intimate that the leader is a boss or manager, but is a manager necessarily an effective leader? There is considerable literature about leadership. This literature includes quotes about leadership, how to find “natural” leaders and how to develop leadership skills.  There are workshops about leadership and even university degrees in leadership. If there are so many resources dedicated toward understanding and teaching leadership, why is leadership listed as something that needs to be enhanced in symposia, papers and reports that deal with managing process safety in high hazard activities? It may be because leadership and culture are considered human factors. When associated with process safety, they are known as factors that can lead to loss of the standards of consistently reliable human performance. These standards are relied on as part of an organization’s defenses against process safety incidents.

Every person working in the oil, gas, chemical and allied industries should perform their jobs under the guidance of a process safety management system. CCPS defines a management system as a “formally established and documented set of activities designed to produce specific results in a consistent manner on a sustainable basis.” Producing specific results in a consistent manner all the time requires that all personnel perform at a high level. If culture is defined simply as “the way we do things around here,” this is influenced greatly by leadership. But leadership doesn’t reside in the role of one person. Leadership needs to be imbedded within the organization with every person. This is a skill that can be learned by all and dependence on one individual with authority or one person who might be considered a “natural” leader can lead to failure of the system.

When teams cease to function effectively and breakdowns are discovered in the system to manage process safety, it is highly likely that there is a breakdown in goals, roles and expectations in the team.

Every person working in or supporting the operation of a high hazard process must be able to recite and explain the goal of every team they work with.  There should never be in any doubt what every team’s goal is.

Because we may and probably do work on several teams, it is vital that we are clear of our role on each team. What is my primary function to support achieving the goal? There should never be in any doubt what every person’s role is on that team.

Does each person on the team have a concisely developed set of expectations for individual and team behavior? Is there some way for the team to check that the expectations are being met? What is the procedure for addressing deviation from expectations?

A PetroSkills client recently asked for a one-day Overview of Risk Based Process Safety Management for Upper Level Management. Four sessions of this overview have been delivered around the world to the business unit managers and their direct (team members) reports. Leadership and working as effective teams are two elements of the session that address the issue of process safety culture in this client’s operations.

A key learning point offered by participants is that a clear understanding of goals, roles and expectations comes from leadership and exhibiting the appropriate leadership role. Many leave the session with an action item to conduct team work sessions to establish/reaffirm goals, roles and expectations.

If you would like a copy of the paper presented at the CCPS 9th Global Congress, contact us.

To develop process safety competency attend our PS-4, Process Safety EngineeringHS-45, Risk Based Process Safety Management; and PS-2, Fundamental of Process Safety courses.  To develop competency in other skills, attend one of our other courses.

PetroSkills Consulting offers consulting expertise on this subject and many others. For more information about the services we provide, contact us.

By Clyde Young

PetroSkills Instructor/Consultant


1.     Clyde Young and John Kanengieter, “Process Safety Management Mentoring:  Developing Leaders”, The (CCPS) 9th Global Conference on Process Safety,  the Center for Chemical Process Safety , April, 2013.