Disparate Safety Enforcement: Curvilinear Effects, Mechanisms, and Boundary Conditions of Supervisor-Rated Leader–Member Exchange


Michael A. Leven School of Management, Entrepreneurship and Hospitality

Document Type


Publication Date



Across three studies, we integrate relational leadership theory with affective events theory to examine the leader perspective in dyadic relationships and how this perspective influences differential leader behaviors directed toward each subordinate in terms of safety enforcement. First, in two field studies with different high-risk contexts, we delineate a curvilinear relationship between supervisor-rated leader–member exchange (SLMX) and safety enforcement. In our second field study we also examine the moderating role of leaders’ safety commitment as well as the linkage between safety enforcement and accidents. Finally, in a fully randomized experiment, we explore three relational dynamics as mechanisms of the effect of SLMX on safety enforcement—trust, consideration, and liking. Through these efforts, we offer rare direct tests of the theoretical assertion that leader–member exchange includes differential treatment based on affective relationship cues within a leader-and-subordinate relationship. Our two field studies reveal that leaders are likely to monitor safety most closely for low- and high-SLMX subordinates, but mid-SLMX subordinates are most likely to be overlooked. This U-shaped relationship emerges only for less committed leaders, and safety enforcement translates these effects to actual accidents. Our experimental study reveals a similar U shape between liking and enforcement, but a positive relationship emerges between distrust and enforcement, as well as between consideration on enforcement. These results shed insight into theoretical and practical implications for how leaders can foster a safer workplace for all.

Journal Title

Journal of Management

Journal ISSN


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)