Vulnerability vulnerabilities in leadership could put you at risk, according to a new study by a leading medical research institute.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne said the findings could lead to the development of new strategies to manage and prevent workplace exposures to vulnerabilities in the leadership.
“Leadership is a critical component in many organisations, but it’s even more so for the organisation’s core members, and the risks posed by a leader who has become too complacent and not taking action to protect themselves from vulnerabilities could have a devastating impact on the organisation,” Dr Daniel Ritchie, senior research fellow at the University’s Institute of Health Systems Research, said.
“The potential for vulnerability in leadership is very real, particularly if there are gaps in risk management or training and experience in the organisation.”
The study, conducted by the university’s Centre for Leadership, showed a high proportion of those in the top 10 per cent of senior leaders in the US were vulnerable.
“That’s a problem, not only for those organisations where they have the biggest leadership deficits, but also for organisations with the smallest leadership deficits,” Dr Ritchie said.
The study showed that the proportion of the leaders in a group that were at risk was higher than the average of the top 5 per cent.
Leadership gaps and lack of awareness about vulnerabilities led to the vulnerability, Dr R, said, which could lead the organisation to take a riskier approach to managing risks in the workplace.
Leaders could be more likely to underestimate the risk of vulnerabilities and fail to take action to address them, and that could lead them to fail to prevent the vulnerability from becoming an occupational health issue.
“When you’re a senior leader, you need to understand and take responsibility for the risks you face in your work,” Dr K, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, said of the findings.
“You can’t simply be a complacent or negligent person in your role, so the way you look at it is to look at what are the risks to the organisation, the risks of the organisation in terms of people being exposed to the work and the risk to the workforce, so how do we mitigate those risks?”
He said the results of the study were particularly relevant for the workplace because of the high number of organisations that were not following best practice in protecting their leadership and their employees from workplace exposures.
“A big problem with the workplace is that most organisations don’t even have a process in place to look for risk,” Dr C, a research fellow in the Department of Management, said in an interview.
“There are so many organisations that are not following the best practice and what that means is they’re not taking care of their own staff, they’re neglecting their own risk management and the organisation is not taking responsibility for those risks.”
The findings were published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Safety.
Dr Ritchie and Dr K both said they believed that a shift in the way leaders were managing and protecting their own health was needed.
“We are very, very aware of the risks that we face in our workplaces,” Dr D, who has conducted research on the role of leadership in the health and wellbeing of workers, said when asked if the findings were significant.
“But we’ve got to do it as a team, as a group of leaders, as people, as individuals, not as individual workers, as individual employees,” he said.
A similar study from the US, conducted in the same year, found that senior leaders were more likely than other workers to engage in inappropriate behaviours, and were more than twice as likely to have been exposed to a workplace vulnerability.
“It’s very important that we make sure that our leaders have the tools and the resources that they need to be effective in their leadership roles, so they can take the appropriate steps to manage risks in their organisations,” Dr J, an assistant professor in the University Health Centre, said at the time.
“To put it in perspective, the US is a small country with an estimated 30 per cent unemployed and 40 per cent people under 30 years old.
In Australia, it’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world.”
Dr K said that in addition to the study, the research had helped him to identify some key behaviours that were key to preventing workplace exposures and to managing risk.
He said there were three key areas that he wanted to focus on in future research.
“One, it was interesting to see that the senior leaders had the highest levels of exposure, so that could be an important piece of information,” he noted.
“Secondly, it could be that they have some of the highest risk levels of the senior leadership.
They have a higher risk of having to leave their jobs because of a workplace incident, and there could be some role-specific behaviours that they could focus on to try and reduce those risks.”
Thirdly, and this is really important, it showed that there was a clear link between the level of exposure to a vulnerability and how