Investigating the challenges to senior leadership in complex, high-risk technologies

Richard N. Osborn, Blake E. Ashforth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Studies of accidents involving complex, high-risk technologies point to the critical role of senior managers in balancing the dynamics among the determinants of safe operations. However, the prevailing though implicit assumptions underlying current leadership theory inhibit the systematic study of senior leadership in such technologies. We critique the prevailing view of leadership as context free, selfless, and centered on interpersonal influence, arguing that leadership can instead be viewed as constrained, self-interested, and indirect. We conclude that leaders in high-risk technologies in particular are self-interested within institutional boundaries and tend to become captured by the very myths and institutionalized structures and processes that they use to pattern the attention of their subordinates. Key challenges to leadership research are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-163
Number of pages17
JournalThe Leadership Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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