Current Projects

Chronic unease toward safety in senior managers

Laura Fruhen, Prof Rhona Flin, School of Psychology

Email: l.fruhen@abdn.ac.uk

The term "chronic unease" describes a state of constant wariness towards hazards and risks in organisations.  It is suggested that this state is characteristic of high reliability organisations and it has been alternatively labelled as "requisite imagination", or "mindfulness".  This project, investigates the ways in which chronic unease might be reflected in the attributes and actions of senior managers and how this might relate to organisational safety. 

This project is sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell (2012 – 2014).

Safety intelligence of senior managers

Laura Fruhen, School of Psychology

Email: l.fruhen@abdn.ac.uk

The Safety Intelligence project explored the relevance of traits and skills of senior managers for their influence on organisational safety.  The project involved senior managers, who work in ATM, a highly reliable industry.  The academic literature, as well as accident investigation reports, highlight senior managers as crucially determining organisational safety.  Because safety commitment is emphasised as an important mechanism of this group's influence on safety it was specifically investigated in what ways traits, skills and knowledge support this attitude in senior managers.  The project involved interview and questionnaire studies with the aim of identifying the role of traits, such as personality or motivation as well as skills such as safety knowledge, social competence and problem solving.  Insights into the relevance of these traits and skills for senior managers' influence on organisational safety can promote training and selection criteria that specifically address these aspects. 

This project was sponsored by EUROCONTROL (2009 – 2012).


Fruhen, L.S., Mearns, K.J., Flin, R. & Kirwan, B. (2013). From the surface to the underlying meaning – an analysis of senior managers' safety culture perceptions. Safety Science, 57, 326–334.

Fruhen, L.S., Mearns, K.J., Flin, R. & Kirwan, B. (under review). Skills, knowledge and senior managers' demonstrations of safety commitment.

Fruhen, L.S., Mearns, K.J., Flin, R. & Kirwan, B. (in prep.) Safety Intelligence: CEOs' characteristics and organisational safety

White paper published by EUROCONTROL, providing guidance on senior managerial 'safety intelligence' (2013)

Completed Projects

Safety managers and safety leadership

Isabella Roger, School of Psychology

This PhD aims to examine the influence of senior/executive managers' leadership on organisational safety, with a primary focus on companies within the energy industry e.g., oil, gas and nuclear.  Senior managers have been shown to significantly influence organisational outcomes and play a pivotal role in shaping organisational culture. The specific focus of this research is on the mechanisms by which senior managers can effectively promote organisational safety, including a proactive safety culture.  All work will be informed through close collaboration with operating companies, contract/service companies and health and safety regulators.  A key aim is to develop an evidence-based tool designed to help senior managers assess their safety leadership strengths and weaknesses.

This PhD project was funded by the Energy Institute (2008 - 2011).


Conference papers

Roger, I., Flin, R. & Mearns, K. (2010). Leading safely: Development of a safety leadership tool for senior managers. Proceedings of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, SPE International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, Brazil.


Leadership and safety in operating theatres

Sarah Henrickson Parker, School of Psychology

Research from the United States and the UK indicates that between 3 and 17% of patients will experience one or more adverse events during a hospital stay.  An area of particular high risk, in terms of patient safety, is the operating theatre (OR).  The OR has many of the characteristics of a high-risk workplace, including the level of complexity, a constantly changing environment and a multi-professional team.  Within this environment, the surgeon is the nominated leader of the surgical team and as such, must demonstrate leadership skills, together with technical excellence, in order to maximise patient safety.  The focus of this research was on surgeons' leadership behaviours within the OR during the intra-operative period and the impact that these behaviours and skills could have on team and patient outcomes.

This PhD was funded by the Scottish Funding Council (2008 - 2011).


Henrickson Parker, S., Yule, S., Flin, R. & McKinley, A. (2011a).Towards a model of surgeons' leadership in the operating room. BMJ Quality and Safety, doi:10.1136/bmjqs.2010.040295


Henrickson Parker, S., Yule, S., Flin, R. & McKinley, A. (2011b). Surgeons' leadership in the operating room: an observational study. American Journal of Surgery, doi.org/10.1016/amjsurg.2011.03.009.


Henrickson Parker, S. (2011). Surgeons' leadership in the operating theatre. PhD thesis. University of Aberdeen.

Leadership behaviours of senior charge nurses

Dr Cakil Agnew, Prof Rhona Flin, School of Psychology

E-mail: r.flin@abdn.ac.uk

The NHS Confederation published a series of papers to stimulate the discussion on NHS leadership. The key points highlighted the long standing focus on senior managers and called for a shift to leaders at all levels of the organizations. Especially, the need to establish leadership development as a core part of the line managers' role was emphasized.  However, the recent patient safety literature has not drawn specific attention to the leadership behaviours of senior charge nurses and safety-related outcomes. Consequently, the focus of this project is on ward leaders and safety. The principal aim of this study is to identify the leadership behaviours of the front-line leaders (senior charge nurses) at the unit level (i.e. ward) and the secondary aim is to describe these behaviours and if possible to determine the extent to which they relate to the wards' safety and other performance metrics (e.g. safety-related behaviours, incident reports, infection rates).


Agnew, C., Flin, R. & Reid, J. (2012). Nurse leadership and patient safety. British Medical Journal (editorial).

Agnew, C. & Flin, R. (under review). Nurses' safety leadership.

Safety leadership, safety climate and safe behaviour

Dr Shama Didla, School of Psychology

This project studied safety climate and safe behaviour in a major company. It was an investigation into the issues relating to safety leadership behaviour at supervisor level and its influence on the workers' perception and motivation to engage in safe versus high-risk behaviours. There was an emphasis on understanding the relationship between leadership style and workers' trust in the leaders in terms of perceptions of their ability, benevolence and integrity.

This PhD project (2005-2008) was sponsored by Expro, Centrica Energy and the University of Aberdeen.


Didla, S., Mearns, K. & Flin, R. (2009). Safety citizenship behaviour: a proactive approach to risk management. Journal of Risk Research, 12, 475 – 483.


Didla, S. (2009). Safety citizenship behaviour. PhD thesis. University of Aberdeen.

Modelling the relationship between safety climate, leadership and performance

Dr Catherine Hetherington, School of Psychology

Email: r.flin@abdn.ac.uk

Shipping is one of the world's most global industries and also one of the most dangerous. A high proportion of shipping incidents every year are attributed to human errors. The aim of the project was to further understand the multifaceted safety system through evaluating safety climate, then leadership in the context of its impact on safety climate and then finally the relationship of these constructs to safety performance.

This PhD project was sponsored by Stasco (Shell Shipping/2003-2006).


Hetherington, C. (2007). Evaluating the antecedents and consequences of safety climate. PhD thesis. University of Aberdeen.

Hetherington, C., Flin, R. & Mearns, K. (2006). Safety in shipping: the human element. Journal of Safety Research, 37, 401–411.


Email: r.flin@abdn.ac.uk