USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Chapter 2 Leadership, Collaboration, and Communication

Successful SHSP development and implementation requires leadership, collaboration, and communication. The interaction or synergy of these elements results in an outcome greater than would be accomplished by focusing efforts on just one element. In the complex, multidisciplinary world of the SHSP, leaders bring together the diverse interests and concerns of engineers, planners, law enforcement officers, education officials, emergency medical services personnel, and others.

Inherent in the word “leader” is the idea of followers, i.e., a leader is someone capable of motivating others to follow. The word leader also implies direction, i.e., leaders inspire others to action or to do things differently. Some leaders hold formal positions of authority, but not all. All leaders have the ability to set direction and inspire others to follow them. Leaders are risk takers, problems solvers, and creative thinkers, committed to doing what is necessary to advance the cause, which sometimes means breaking traditional institutional barriers. These attributes are essential for SHSP implementation.

Leaders are needed at the top and throughout all levels of the SHSP implementation effort. As noted in Chapter 1, at least three leadership roles are involved in SHSP implementation: leaders who have access to resources and “position power;” champions or individuals who inspire others to take action; and managers who focus on the nuts and bolts of day-to-day SHSP implementation.

Leaders communicate the SHSP vision, goals, and objectives and support a collaborative framework that enables safety stakeholders to actively participate in implementation programs and activities.

The essence of SHSP development and implementation lies in its multidisciplinary character. In their book, Quality or Else: The Revolution in the Business World, Lloyd Dobyns and Clare Crawford-Mason say, “It is not a question of how well each process works, the question is how well they all work together.” SHSP implementation is not about how well planners conceptualize the transportation system, engineers design the roadway, police officers enforce the law, drivers are educated about proper driving behavior, or emergency medical services personnel respond to crashes; it is about how well these groups work together to improve safety.

The diversity of the safety field, the importance of coordination among disciplines, and the need to advance safety among a host of competing public sector priorities all contribute to the need for strong SHSP leadership. Leaders are important in every phase of the SHSP, but especially during implementation when maintaining momentum and interest is more difficult.

SHSP implementation is a long-term process designed to change how safety partners conduct business, interact with each other, and manage safety programs – a tall order for any plan, but particularly in the safety arena where groups have traditionally worked together only in limited instances. These challenges can be met through effective leadership, a collaborative framework, and clear communication about expectations.

SHSP implementation requires the effective application of the fundamental elements of leadership, collaboration, and communication. These elements, incorporated to some degree during the SHSP development process, should continue and be strengthened during the implementation process.

Ensure Strong Leadership

Leadership can be applied through an executive committee that meets periodically to solve problems, remove barriers, track progress, and recommend further action. Many States established this type of committee during the SHSP development process, and continue to utilize it during implementation. The role of the executive committee is to decide which projects or strategies are funded based on input from the emphasis area teams, and to prioritize them based on benefit/cost analysis, expected fatality reductions, and the extent to which they address SHSP goals and objectives.

A working group or steering committee comprised of technical staff is often formed to support the executive committee and manage day-to-day implementation efforts. With the full support of the executive committee, the working group provides leadership by overseeing the implementation of SHSP strategies and action plans. The membership of the working group often includes leaders of the various SHSP emphasis area teams (see Chapter 4). These leaders represent the various disciplines within the transportation safety field and their participation in the working group expresses the multidisciplinary nature of the SHSP process.

As with any committee or group, maintaining interest and activity is a challenge. Leaders want to feel their input is valued. They are decision-makers with an understanding of larger contexts, so the focus of executive committee and working group meetings should be on problem solving and on seeking advice and guidance. At least one State found that encouraging the various stakeholders to periodically chair executive committee or working group meetings raised the level of involvement and motivation among all committee members.

SHSP champions provide leadership through their enthusiastic support of the SHSP and its implementation. Effective champions are credible, accountable, and have excellent interpersonal and organizational skills. They encourage commitment and participation from a diverse range of safety partners and may be appointed by the DOT leadership or by the primary sponsoring agency. To enhance leadership focus on improving transportation safety, consider incorporating transportation safety-related performance objectives into the position descriptions of champions, engineers, planners, and others involved in SHSP implementation.

All agencies and organizations undergo staff changes, and it is essential to train the leaders of tomorrow to ensure that the focus on safety continues into the future. This can be done by assigning leadership responsibilities for program implementation to newer staff and by ensuring that all staff have opportunities to engage and lead during meetings and other activities.

Establish a Collaborative Process

Dramatic improvements in roadway safety are more likely to result from a collaborative effort among the 4E’s of safety (engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency medical services) than from efforts within a single discipline. The need for multidisciplinary solutions necessitates collaboration. Research suggests that the results of interdisciplinary team efforts are greater in scope and value than results from individual professionals working in isolation.

SHSP partners typically include the DOT; the SHSO; departments of public safety (State police or patrol); emergency medical services; health and education; Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) managers; Federal partners (FHWA, FMCSA, and the NHTSA); MPOs; local agencies; Tribal governments; special interest groups; and others.

To ensure continuity when an individual SHSP champion or committee member retires, takes a position in another organization, or moves out of State, a systematic approach to identifying their replacement is necessary. The selection process should be based both on individual skills and leadership traits as well as the position held within a stakeholder organization. One way to institutionalize the selection of safety committee members is to link their selection to the position they hold within the stakeholder organization, i.e., whoever assumes the previous safety champion or committee member’s position should also become the new SHSP committee member. Institutionalizing partnerships at the local and regional level helps to extend the reach of the SHSP to all public roads, which is mandated by SAFETEA-LU. MPOs are key partners at the regional level while associations representing county/city governments can provide support from the local level. Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP), which support local highway agencies by transferring highway technology from FHWA, the State DOT, and universities through workshops and other training mechanisms, can be particularly effective at providing safety education to individuals within local governments.

The various agencies and organizations involved in the SHSP bring unique and valuable perspectives to bear on the roadway safety problem. Their competing philosophies, worldviews, and problem solving approaches, however, can make collaboration difficult. Creating a basic foundation for effective collaboration and establishing a process to support collaborative efforts are two ways to overcome these barriers. Incorporating SHSP goals, mission statements, and safety targets into the priorities of each stakeholder agency is one way to create a foundation for collaboration. This basic foundation can be further strengthened by identifying which agencies or organizations are responsible for implementing each of the strategies and action steps in the plan. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a useful tool for institutionalizing the process. States with existing MOUs should review them periodically to determine if updates or changes are required. MOUs also help build sustainability. As stakeholders change and new partners come on board, commitment on the part of all agencies can be reaffirmed by updating the MOU.

Finally, establishing collaborative relationships with other State DOTs through peer exchanges, conferences, meetings, and/or webinars can provide helpful insights. Learning from the experiences of others helps to identify and remove obstacles before they begin to hinder SHSP implementation efforts.

Create Communications Mechanisms

Collaboration is enabled when the vision, mission, and goals of the SHSP are clearly and continually communicated to all partners and stakeholders. Formal communication methods include meeting reports, media events, newsletters, presentations at safety conferences, etc.

Communication can also be informal and involve blogs, listservs, chat rooms, web sites, and periodic e mail blasts to encourage greater interaction, provide progress updates, distribute information on recent research, or request assistance from fellow partners and stakeholders. The communication need not be lengthy or complicated, but regular updates remind all stakeholders of the SHSP effort and their role in ensuring success.

Key Leadership, Collaboration, and Communication Strategies:

  • Assign leaders who are credible, accountable, and have excellent interpersonal and organizational skills.
  • Meet with new leaders to brief them on their role in supporting the SHSP and to persuade them to get involved.
  • Establish multidisciplinary collaborative efforts involving the 4E’s of safety.
  • Clearly and broadly communicate the SHSP vision, mission, and goals to all partners and stakeholders.
  • Use peer exchanges to learn from the experiences of other States.
  • Incorporate safety collaboration performance objectives into the position descriptions of those involved in SHSP implementation.
  • Establish a regime where the chairperson for the regularly scheduled high-level safety meetings rotates among the various stakeholder groups.


Answering these questions will help stakeholders assess their SHSP leadership, collaboration, and communication processes and identify opportunities for improvement.

  • Does your implementation process have a clearly defined leader with the commitment, ability, and institutional authority to move forward? Do the Governor, the DOT Director/Secretary/Commissioner, and the State Police Director/Commissioner support or facilitate SHSP implementation?
  • Does your implementation process have an organizational structure to oversee the process and measure performance?
  • Have formal agreements (e.g., MOUs) been established among agencies with respect to SHSP implementation?
  • Do senior management and technical staff communicate and coordinate on SHSP implementation?
  • Does your State hold regularly scheduled meetings on SHSP implementation and related safety programs?
  • Are the DOT, the SHSO, and other safety stakeholders collaborating and sharing resources to implement the SHSP?
  • Are MPOs and other regional and local agencies involved in SHSP implementation?
  • Is SHSP implementation coordinated with both transportation and nontransportation agencies?