Case Study

Rob Jager

What is safety leadership?

Rob Jager, Chair, Shell Companies in New Zealand

The role of the leader

My experience at Shell has taught me that leadership plays a critical role in promoting workplace health and safety. As CEOs and directors we set the conditions and expectations in our businesses. We shape the culture. If we want our organisations to be safe we’ve got to demonstrate that safety is our number one priority. For me safety leadership is about a mindset. I sum this mindset up as having a passion for safety, caring about your people, being rigorous about compliance, and adopting an attitude of “chronic unease”.

Leadership in action

Leaders demonstrate safety leadership by what we say, do and measure. I take every opportunity to talk passionately about safety to my staff and contractors. This includes talking about what I’m doing to help them stay safe. I participate in a wide variety of safety meetings, including our annual Safety Day sessions, induction programmes and toolbox meetings. At Shell, we measure leading indicators, as well as lagging indicators. This provides us with a much more dynamic picture of our performance. We have a scorecard for how well we’ve performed on health, and our bonuses are partly based on this.


I’m not pretending maintaining a passionate commitment to safety is easy. Like everyone I juggle competing calls on my time, and the pressure goes on when the workload increases. This is something I know I need to monitor. Because the decisions we make about how we spend our time are the ultimate test of our safety leadership. I keep working at this, however, because I believe in the power of leaders to create a culture of safety. We can do this by what we say, do and measure, and if we have a mindset of passion, compliance, chronic unease and of genuinely caring about our people.