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‘Powerful CEOs seem to be better positioned to foster safe workplaces,’ researchers say

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Vaasa, Finland — Organizations with “structurally powerful” CEOs experience fewer workplace injuries and illnesses, Finnish researchers claim.

The researchers looked at OSHA injury and illness data, company financials, and four dimensions of CEO power: structural, ownership, expertise and prestige.

Structural power was defined as having a greater role beyond CEO, namely having a dual role as chair of the organization’s board of directors. Ownership power was associated with whether the CEO was the founder of the company. To measure expertise power, the researchers divided the number of words spoken by the CEO during conference calls by the number of words spoken by all executives. Prestige power was determined by whether the CEO attended an Ivy League school.

Organizations with CEOs who also served as chair of the board had 1.75 fewer injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time employees than those with CEOs who didn’t have that same “structural power.” In addition, establishments that were farther away from company headquarters tended to have more injuries and illnesses, but those with structurally powerful CEOs mitigated that effect.

Meanwhile, organizations with a CEO/founder tended to have more injuries and illnesses.

“Powerful CEOs seem to be better positioned to foster safe workplaces,” study co-author Dennis Sundvik, an associate professor of accounting at the Hanken School of Economics, said during a research presentation posted on YouTube. “Prior research and prior studies have mostly highlighted the dark sides of powerful leaders. … We inform practice of the bright side of power.”

The study was published online Feb. 4 in the Journal of Business Ethics.

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