Supervisors and teachers’ influence on expectations on empowering leadership among students in vocational education and training
Grill et al. Empirical Res Voc Ed Train
Supervisors and teachers' influence on expectations on empowering leadership among students in vocational education and training
Martin Grill 1
Anders Pousette 1
Kent Nielsen 0
Regine Grytnes 0
Marianne Törner 1
0 Department of Occupational Medicine, Regional Hospital West Jutland-University Research Clinic and Danish Ramazzini Centre , Herning , Denmark
1 Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Sahlgrenska Acad- emy, University of Gothenburg , Box 414, 405 30 Gothenburg , Sweden
Background: Empowering leadership practise among leaders in the construction industry contributes to improve occupational safety, by stimulating participative safety behaviour among construction workers. Socialization into working life in the construction industry begins during vocational education and training (VET). It is therefore important to understand how VET influence young people's expectations on empowering leadership, i.e. their implicit leadership theories (ILT). The aim of the present study was to assess if empowering ILT of students change during VET, and if students' empowering ILT are influenced by the empowering leadership practice of teachers and workplace supervisors that the students interact with during VET. Methods: Questionnaire data were gathered from students (n = 1907) at seven construction VET-schools in Sweden and Denmark at two occasions, 1 year apart. Accelerated longitudinal design was employed and data were analysed using mixed method growth curve modelling. Results: The empowering ILT of the VET-students was found to increase during VET. The leadership of supervisors', but not of teachers', was found to be positively related to the empowering ILT of the VET-students. Conclusions: VET-students, in the beginning of their professional life, appear to alter their beliefs and assumptions about the characteristics of effective leaders. The ILT of VET-students may thus be regarded as dynamic and responsive, inclined to change as the students socialize into working life.
Implicit leadership theory; Empowering leadership; Safety leadership; Construction industry; VET; Socialization; Occupational safety
Empowering leadership and occupational safety
Globally, the number of fatal occupational accidents in 2003 were estimated to 360,000
(Hämäläinen et al. 2009). The construction industry is one of the worst affected
occupational sectors; among European construction workers 4.8% reported one or more
accidental injuries in 2007 (Eurostat 2010). Traditionally, occupational safety has
been managed through physical barriers and implementation of rules and regulations
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(Hudson 2007). However, a high level of safety is not only dependent on safety compliant
behaviours, but also on participative behaviours, where employees take own initiatives
to identify hazards, and improve workplace safety (Neal and Griffin 2006). Safety
leadership research indicates the central role of managers and the quality of leadership for the
development of participative safety behaviours of employees (Clarke 2013).
Empowering leadership is a type of leadership practice that has been found to develop
participative safety behaviours among employees (Grill et al. 2015; Shannon et al. 1997; Törner
and Pousette 2009). Empowering leadership involves contributing to the psychological
empowerment of employees by fostering opportunities for employees to participate
in decision-making (Thomas and Velthouse 1990). Psychologically empowered
individuals wish and feel able to shape their work role, context and performance (Conger
and Kanungo 1988; Spreitzer 1995). Empowering leadership may be defined as
“implementing conditions that increase employees’ feelings of self-efficacy and control (e.g.,
participative decision-making), and removing conditions that foster a sense of
powerlessness” (Arnold et al. 2000, p. 250). Empowering leadership can be distinguished from
other leadership practices as it involves a shift in the source of control from managers
to employees, by encouraging participation in decision-making processes (Arnold et al.
2000). Extensive research on empowering leadership describe how such leadership can
increase employees’ commitment (Hassan et al. 2013), motivation and innovation
(Spreitzer 1995; Zhang and Bartol 2010), organizational loyalty (Keller and Dansereaul 1995),
team learning (Burke et al. 2006), team performance (Seibert et al. 2011; Srivastava et al.
2006), as well as occupational safety (Grill et al. 2015; Shannon et al. 1997; Törner and
The reciprocal process of constructing empowering leadership
How empowering leadership can be fostered and developed is a concern for
practitioners and researchers alike (Labianca et al. 2000; Seibert et al. 2004; Spreitzer 2008; Yukl
and Becker 2006; Zhang and Bartol 2010). To understand the complexity of this
challenge, the relational and reciprocal character of leadership practice needs to be
acknowledged. Effective leadership is inherently relational, performed by managers in close
interaction with their employees, and managers are influenced by employees’ responses
to their leadership (Avolio 2007; Bligh 2011; Gerstner and Day 1997). Thus, both
managers and employees contribute to the construction of leadership, and ultimately, to leader
effectiveness (Ehrhart 2012; Keller 2003).
Lord and colleagues (Lord et al. 1999; Shondrick et al. 2010), describe leadership as a
result of group processes where leadership behaviours are negotiated between managers
and employees: “Leadership results from a dynamic and reciprocal interaction between
subordinates and superiors that involves leader behaviours, subordinate perceptions,
and resulting outcomes” (Lord et al. 1999, p. 197). In this reciprocal interaction,
managers and employees’ attitudes towards, theories about, and expectations on
leadership, appear to play a crucial role for the realization of leadership practice (Lord et al.
1999). Also in the construction of empowering leadership, these reciprocal interactions
are essential (Fausing et al. 2015; Grill et al. 2015; Keller and Dansereaul 1995; Labianca
et al. 2000).
Reproducing empowering leadership during vocational education and training
The collective reciprocal process of leadership construction is part of a vocational
socialization process (Buchanan 1974; Nonaka et al. 2006). Socialization begins when an
individual start to associate him-or herself with a new working group, an organisation, or
work in an industrial sector. The newcomers are subjected to, and gradually internalize,
salient social norms, values and customs (Allen and Meyer 1990).
Work, as a potent source of influence on individuals’ personalities and values (Heath
1977), may have its most significant socialization effect on a person during the
preparation for and initial period of work (Frese 1982). Frese describes socialization as the
transmission of systems of norms and social ideas, potent enough to affect individuals’
schemas, i.e. the cognitive categorisations of concepts that comprises individuals’
understanding of, and knowledge about, the concepts (Frese 1982). Individuals’ schemas on
leadership are commonly referred to as implicit leadership theories (ILT), and defined
as “beliefs and assumptions about the characteristics of effective leaders” (Yukl 2013,
p. 233). Lord et al. (1984) describe ILT as building stones that construct an individual’s
mental schema of leadership, i.e. a cognitive category containing information on what a
leader is in terms of traits, abilities and behaviours. The ILT of empowering leadership,
or empowering ILT, is the implicit theory that empowering behaviours is a
characteristic of effective leaders (cf. Yukl 2013). Social cognitive research has demonstrated how
schemas and implicit theories significantly influence judgements, choices, and
behaviours (Ayman and Chemers 1983; Engle and Lord 1997; Fiske and Taylor 2013;
Greenwald et al. 2009; Hunt et al. 1990; Lord et al. 2001; Nye and Forsyth 1991; Porr and Fields
2006; Rush and Russell 1988; Ajzen 1991).
The socialization into working life in an industrial sector normally begins with
industrial specific vocational education and training (VET) (Schaap et al. 2012). During VET,
young individuals socialize into professional life by receiving education and training to
become working members of a professional community. VET can be understood as a
socialization process into working life in general, and into work in a specific industrial
sector in particular. During construction industry VET, young individuals socialize into
working life in the construction industry, and an essential aspect of this socialization is
the transmission of implicit knowledge and understandings (Schaap et al. 2012).
The possible dynamic nature of ILT
Some ILT are universal and others display notable differences between cultures (Den
Hartog et al. 1999; Gerstner and Day 1994; House et al. 2004). Still, the how and when
ILT develop is a research area left largely unattended (Foti et al. 2014). Whether ILT are
developed during early childhood and stable thereafter, or responsive and dynamic,
continuing to develop as individual proceeds into adulthood, is still an unanswered question
since only few attempts have been made to assess this. Epitropaki and Martin’s (2004)
longitudinal study, assessing changes in ILT in an adult population, concluded that ILT
are stable mental structures that persist over time and resist change. This conclusion is
in line with the general understanding in schema research, that once schemas are formed
and established, they tend to endure and be resistant to change, even when
disconfirming information is presented (Fiske and Taylor 2013). On the other hand, Dorfman et al.
(2004) as well as Shondrick et al. (2010) suggest that ILT develop over time as part of
normal societal and organizational socialization processes. Empirical research exploring
the origin of ILT argues for the significance of childhood and the interaction with the
parents, our first leaders, as an important source for the development of individuals’ ILT
(Keller 2000, 2003; Popper and Amit 2009; Popper et al. 2000).
Individuals who undergo VET commonly do so during late adolescence or early
adulthood. To what extent ILT are stable and resistant to change or dynamic and responsive,
in adolescence and young adults during VET is unknown. Epitropaki and Martin (2004)
call for further research on what happens with individuals’ ILT as they first encounter
working life, suggesting that socialization into working life may be critical for the
development of individuals’ ILT. The first aim of the present study was therefore to investigate
if the empowering ILT of construction industry VET-students change during the
socialization process of becoming a working member of the construction industry, a process
that takes place during their time in VET.
Hypothesis 1 The empowering ILT of students changes during VET.
The influence of supervisors and teachers on the ILT of students’
Rush and Russell (1988) suggest that ILT may be formed and altered when individuals
perceive and/or interact with leaders. During VET, young individuals interact
extensively with leaders other than their parents. Research on socialization (Allen and Meyer
1990) and social cognition (Bandura and McDonald 1963) suggests that the formation of
attitudes and values in young individuals can be strongly affected by such role models.
Hence, leaders that the students interact with during VET may potentially be an
important source of influence on students’ ILT.
VET consists of two separate learning contexts: schools and training companies
(Schaap et al. 2012). This divide or boundary (Akkerman and Bakker 2011) constitutes
two parallel learning arenas in which VET-students encounter two different types of
leaders: teachers at the schools and supervisors at the training companies. Brockman
and Laurie (2016) describe how students enrolled in vocational education develop an
understanding of themselves as “academic learners” or as “practical learners”. The
knowledge and understandings of both types of learners where found to be primarily
influenced by the practical, vocational aspects of the education, characterised by workplace
learning. This indicates that supervisors at the workplace may be the prime role model
when it comes to possible changes in the ILT of VET-students. This concord with studies
that have identified supervisors at the training companies as a prime source of influence
for young individuals learning a trade (Fjellström 2014; Gherardi and Nicolini 2002).
However, the “academic learners” in Brockmann and Laurie’s study (2016) also
embraced the theoretical parts of the education. This indicates that also teachers may be
role models when it comes to possible changes in the ILT of VET-students. In order to
further develop VET there is thus a need for studies that elucidate the possible influence
of these two types of role models on the ILT of VET-students.
As described by Ford and colleagues (Ford et al. 2014), causal relations can be either
synchronous or lagged. Research on social cognition (Fiske and Taylor 2013), suggests
that individuals readily categorize themselves as part of a group and that this goal of
belonging instantaneously affects people’s interpretation of social stimuli. During VET,
students may experience contrasts between their ILT and the behaviours of the leaders
they encounter, and may instantly adjust their ILT according to this new stimulus. Such
processes of change suggest that any influence of supervisors and teachers on the ILT
of VET-students, would be instantaneous/synchronous. On the other hand, schemas
are commonly understood to be stable and resistant to change (Fiske and Taylor 2013).
Understanding ILT to be more stable over time suggests that changes would be frictional
and that hence any effects of supervisors and teachers’ leadership on the ILT of
VETstudents would be delayed/lagged. In order to investigate these relations, the following
hypotheses were formulated.
Hypothesis 2a Supervisors’ empowering leadership has synchronous influence on
students’ empowering ILT.
Hypothesis 2b Supervisors’ empowering leadership has lagged influence on students’
Hypothesis 3a Teachers’ empowering leadership has synchronous influence on
students’ empowering ILT.
Hypothesis 3b Teachers’ empowering leadership has lagged influence on students’
Seven construction VET schools were strategically selected to provide variation
regarding school size and location in major and minor communities. Since ILT may vary
depending on cultural context (House et al. 2004), both Swedish (n = 4) and Danish
(n = 3) schools were included, representing two similar countries with divergent
VETsystems (Grytnes et al. 2017). The inclusion of both Swedish and Danish VET-students
allowed for the assessment of the hypothesised dynamic nature of ILT in two
different cultural contexts. All students attending the schools February–June 2014 (T1) and
February–June 2015 (T2) were invited to participate in the study; the response rate was
80% at T1 and 83% at T2. Swedish construction VET is divided into three grades, each
of 1-year duration. Danish construction VET comprises up to 4 years. A questionnaire
study with accelerated longitudinal design (Duncan et al. 2006) was employed to assess
changes in empowering ILT over the whole VET-period using two measure points, one
year apart. One year is equivalent to the time lag used in the study by Epitropaki and
As shown in Table 1, the Swedish respondents (n = 643; aged m = 18.3 years,
SD = 1.4; 94% male) belonged to four cohorts, defined by how far into VET they had
reached. Since the first cohort had not yet started school at T1, they were only
represented at T2. The second cohort attended first year at T1 and second year at T2. The
third cohort attended second year at T1 and third year at T2. The fourth cohort is only
represented at T1 as they had finished school at T2. The Danish respondents (n = 1264;
aged m = 22.8 years, SD = 3.5; 93% male) belonged to five cohorts. Since the first cohort
had not yet started school at T1, they were only represented at T2. The second cohort
attended first year at T1 and second year at T2. The third cohort attended second year at
T1 and third year at T2. The fourth cohort attended third year at T1 and fourth year at T2.
The firth cohort is only represented at T1 as they had finished school at T2.
Table 1 Graphical representation of the accelerated time variable
T1 = 2014, T2 = 2015
Implicit leadership theories may reliably be measured using explicit questionnaire
items (Hofmann et al. 2005; Wittenbrink et al. 1997). To measure the empowering ILT
of the VET-students, the participative decision-making subscale in Arnold et al. (2000)
Empowering Leadership Questionnaire (ELQ) was adapted. Only one subscale of the
ELQ was used, based on the results from the confirmatory factor analyses in Arnold
et al. (2000), which suggest that five-factor models only marginally improves fit to
data compared to one-factor models. The participative decision-making subscale was
selected, as influence on decision-making may be considered fundamental for
empowering leadership practice (Arnold et al. 2000). In addition, this ELQ subscale displayed
almost complete overlap with two of the other four subscales in ELQ; factor
inter-correlation with coaching was r = 0.91, and with showing concern, r = 0.91.
The adaptation and reformulation of the ELQ-items was informed by the
formulation of the ILT-items in the global leadership and organizational behaviour effectiveness
project (House et al. 2004). The following three items were used to measure students
empowering ILT: (1) “An effective leader encourages team members to express ideas
and suggestions”; (2) “An effective leader uses team members’ suggestions to make
decisions”; and (3) “An effective leader considers team members’ ideas, even when he/
she disagrees with them”. Each item was rated on a six-point Likert-type scale,
ranging from completely disagree (1) to completely agree (6). To provide composite scale
scores average scores were calculated with each item assigned equal weight (Cronbach’s
alpha = 0.80).
The empowering leadership of school teachers and supervisors at the training
companies were measured with two single items on students’ experience of each source of
leadership. Leaders’ listening behaviours is a prerequisite for participative
decisionmaking and a core aspect of empowering leadership (Green 2016; Deter and Burris
2007). Hence, items focusing explicitly on teachers and supervisors’ listening behaviours
were formulated to measure students’ experience of teachers and supervisors’
empowering leadership: “My teachers at school are keen to listen to suggestions and ideas
from us students on how work can be improved” and “My supervisors at the training
company are keen to listen to suggestions and ideas from us students on how work can
be improved”. Both items were rated on a frequency scale, from always (1) to never (7).
The independent variables were reversely rated to reduce any common method variance
(Lindell and Whitney 2001).
Data analysis to assess changes in the empowering ILT of the VET-students
In accordance with Hertzog and Nesselroade (2003), change was evaluated by employing
mixed method growth curve modelling and comparing models with and without fixed
and random effects of time. Data were analysed in SPSS version 20. The time variable,
time in VET, was computed in accordance with accelerated longitudinal design (Duncan
et al. 2006; Table 1). Any changes in the empowering ILT of the students were assumed
to be linear. Time was centred at first year of VET.
To assess if the empowering ILT of the students changed, the log likelihood of empty
models and models with fixed effects of time were compared. Models were estimated
using maximum likelihood (ML), and compared on AIC-values and χ2-tests of the
differences in log likelihoods. The fixed effects of time were also estimated with Wald-tests.
To assess if there was any significant difference between individual students in how
their empowering ILT changed during VET, random effects of time were introduced to
the growth curve models to see if this significantly decreased the log likelihood of the
models. Models were estimated using restricted maximum log likelihood (REML), and
compared on AIC-values and χ2-tests of the differences in log likelihoods.
Data analysis to assess predictors for the empowering ILT of the VET-students
The students’ experiences of supervisors and teachers’ empowering leadership were
measured at T1 and the students’ empowering ILT was measures at T1 and T2.
Instantaneous/synchronous and delayed/lagged influences/effects of each source of leadership
on the students’ ILT were assessed by employing growth curve modelling and
comparing empty models with models that included the students’ experiences of each source of
leadership as predictors of the students’ ILT. In accordance with Ford et al. (2014), single
main effects of leadership were estimated to assess the synchronous effects, and
interaction effects between leadership and time were estimated to assess the lagged effects.
Both predictors were grand mean centred prior to analyses. Models were estimated
using maximum log likelihood (ML), and compared on AIC-values and χ2-tests of the
differences in log likelihoods. The fixed effect of time was also estimated with a
Waldtest. Only respondents who answered the questionnaire at both measurement points
where included in this analysis. To obtain sufficient statistical power for these analyses,
respondents from both countries were combined into a single dataset. Possible
confounders included in the analyses were gender and country.
Changes in the empowering ILT of the VET-students
Considering hypothesis 1, Tables 2 and 3 provide parameter estimates and standard
errors for growth curve models in which individuals’ empowering ILT were predicted
by ‘time’ (years) in Swedish and Danish VET respectively. The results are presented in
stepwise tests of models with increasing numbers of estimated parameters, starting with
Table 2 Growth curve models in which empowering ILT is predicted by time in Swedish
Table 3 Growth curve models in which empowering ILT is predicted by time in Danish VET
empty models. The level of students’ empowering ILT varied between individuals, as
indicated by ICC1-values of 0.43 (Sweden) and 0.26 (Denmark).
In Model 1, fixed effects of time were introduced. The empowering ILT of the
VETstudents were found to increase as an effect of time in VET, as indicated by significantly
lower log likelihoods and significant positive parameter estimates, in both samples. In
Model 2, random effects of time were introduced. The increase it the empowering ILT
of the VET-students was found to display a significant individual variation, as indicated
by significantly lower log likelihoods in both samples. Model 2 showed the best fit to
data, as indicated by the lowest AIC and log likelihood values, and provide parameter
estimates for the fixed effects of time (Sweden: p = 0.017, Denmark: p = 0.004) as well as
the random effects of intercept, time, and the co-variances between intercept and time.
The students differed in the level of their empowering ILT when they began VET, as
indicated by the random effect of intercept, in both samples. Students that started with a
lower level of empowering ILT tended to have a steeper increase in ILT during VET and
students that started with a higher level of empowering ILT tended to have less
development in ILT, as indicated by the negative co-variances between intercept and time in
both samples. Hypothesis 1 was thus supported.
Predictors for the empowering ILT of the VET-students
Table 4 provides parameter estimates and standard errors for growth curve models, in
which the empowering ILT of the VET-students was predicted by ‘time’ (years) in VET,
‘supervisors’ leadership’, and ‘teachers’ leadership’. The level of empowering ILT varied
between individuals (ICC1 = 0.41). In model 1, ‘country’ was introduced as a possible
confounder. The Swedish VET-students were found to have a higher level of
empowering ILT compared to the Danish students, as indicated by a significant positive
parameter estimate of the fixed effect of ‘country’. In Model 2, ‘time’ in VET was introduced as
a single main effect. The empowering ILT of the VET-students was found to increase as
an effect of time spent in VET, as indicated by a significant positive parameter estimate
of the fixed effect, confirming the results from the test of hypothesis 1.
In Model 3, ‘supervisors’ leadership’ was introduced, both as a simple main effect, and
as an interaction effect with time. Supervisors’ leadership was found to predict students’
empowering ILT, as indicated by a significant positive parameter estimate of the simple
main effect. However, supervisors’ leadership was found not to predict a lagged
development in the empowering ILT of the VET-students, as indicated by the lack of any
significant interaction effect between supervisors’ leadership and time.
In Model 4, ‘teachers’ leadership’ was introduced, both as a simple main effect, and as
an interaction effect with time. Teachers’ leadership was not found to predict students
empowering ILT, as indicated by the lack of any significant parameter estimates.
Model 3 showed the best fit to data and provide parameter estimates for the significant
fixed effects of ‘country’ (p < 0.001), ‘time’ in VET (p = 0.002), and ‘supervisors’
leadership’ (p = 0.001).
The results thus indicated that supervisors’ leadership had a synchronous, but no
lagged, effect on the empowering ILT of the VET-students. Hence, hypothesis 2a was
supported, and hypothesis 2b was rejected. Teachers’ leadership had neither a
synchronous nor a lagged effect on students’ empowering ILT. Hence, both hypotheses 3a and
hypothesis 3b were rejected.
The results of this study indicate that during construction VET, the empowering ILT of
students is dynamic and changeable. Empowering ILT was found not only to increase in
a systematic and directional way; the development also contained significant individual
variation. These results thus empirically support a dynamic nature of ILT: VET-students,
in the beginning of their professional life, appear to alter their beliefs and assumptions
about the characteristics of effective leaders.
The co-variance between intercept and time in the growth curve models suggests that
the students’ leadership schemas convergence during their time in VET. In the course of
the common socialisation process into working life in the construction industry that the
student undergo during VET, they seem to align their ILT with one another. This
interpretation is in line with research in social cognition that describe how perceptions and
cognitions typically are affected by the goal of belonging (Fiske and Taylor 2013), and
consequently that individuals’ cognitive processes (Postmes et al. 2005) and attitudes
(Kawakami et al. 2003) converge with those of other individuals within the same group.
Research on behavioural intentions by Ajzen (1991), provides a theoretical
framework for understanding how the increase in empowering ILT among the VET-students
found in the present study, may well have implications for leadership practices in the
construction industry. VET-students, embarking on leadership positions and
becoming supervisors, team leaders, and managers, can influence the leadership in the
construction industry to become more participative by conveying their empowering ILT in
manifest leadership behaviours (cf. attitude toward behaviour, in Ajzen 1991), as well as
conforming to the empowering ILT of colleagues, superiors, and subordinates (cf.
subjective norm, in Ajzen 1991). In addition, leadership is inherently relational, performed
by managers in close interaction with their employees (Gerstner and Day 1997; Avolio
2007; Bligh 2011), VET-students, qua future construction workers, may consequently
also influence leadership pracise in the construction industry to become more
participative, by expressing their expectations on the leadership of supervisors, team leaders,
and managers (cf. subjective norm, in Ajzen 1991). During construction VET, the future
construction managers and workers socialize into the leadership practices of the
construction industry, and as they become working members of the industry they may well
participate themselves in the reproduction of empowering leadership practice, by
conveying their empowering ILT in manifest behaviours. Hence, the increase in the
empowering ILT of the VET-students found in the present study, aligned with previous research
on the processes behind leadership construction, suggests that the participative
leadership culture in the construction industry (Grill et al. 2015) may be reproduced during
The results indicated that the leadership of supervisors, but not of teachers’, is
positively related to the empowering ILT of the VET-students. This is in line with previous
research underlining supervisors as central role models for students. The goal of
belonging is a driving force in perception and mental representation (Fiske and Taylor 2013),
and since VET is intended to prepare students for professional work and not for further
studies, the students’ goal of belonging may be more directed toward a future work
context, where supervisors at the training companies are prime role models for leadership,
than toward an educational context, where teachers at the schools are prime role models
However, the study revealed no lagged effect of supervisors’ leadership on students’
ILT from one year to the next. Here it should be noted that the students often changed
their training company during VET, with corresponding changes in supervisors. These
changes may have obscured the influence over time of discrete supervisors, as changes
in training company were not accounted for in the study design. The results of this study
thus provide a starting point for more fine-grained investigations of the influence of
supervisors’ leadership on the development in students’ ILT during VET. It also raises
research questions on how the teachers’ role may be developed to further reinforce a
positive influence of VET on the development of students’ ILT. Answers to such
questions may be of large practical importance to organizers of VET-programs.
The changes in the empowering ILT of the VET-students were found to be similar in
Sweden and Denmark. However, country did emerge as a significant predictor for the
level of empowering ILT. This finding indicates that empowering leadership may be more
highly valued in the Swedish construction industry than in the Danish ditto. This result
concord with previous research indicating that participative leadership is more prevalent
in Sweden than in Denmark (Grill et al. 2015; Holmberg and Åkerblom 2007; Isaksson
2008; Schramm-Nielsen et al. 2004). The difference between countries in empowering
ILT already at the start of VET, found in the present study, also indicates cultural
differences in ILT, which develop also during childhood.
There is an abundance of cross-sectional leadership research aiming at addressing the
subject of change (Hunter et al. 2007). Longitudinal research is generally called for.
However, longitudinal study designs are both time and money consuming. The
accelerated longitudinal design, employed in this study, demands less resource and
demonstrates that long-term changes may be studied in shorter time periods. However, an
accelerated design with only two measurement points assumes change to be linear. To
test this assumption, more than the two measurement points available in this study, are
Using the same method to collect data on dependent and independent variables
involves a risk that results may be influenced by common method bias. However, the
results indicated that the influence of leadership on the ILT of the VET-students was
attributable only to supervisors’, and not to teachers’ leadership. If the relation found
were due to common method bias, similar relational patterns would have been expected
for both categories.
Since the empirical base for this study was empowering ILT among adolescents and
young adults in construction VET, the results should not hastily be generalized to other
ILT, other periods in the life span of individuals, or to other industrial sectors.
Replication of this study with an extended number of ILT is called for to assess how different
ILT change in different contexts and in different age groups.
By providing an example of a time bound change in empowering ILT, this study
contributes to our understanding of implicit leadership theories. The findings support
a theoretical standpoint suggesting that ILT may be regarded as dynamic and
responsive mental structures, inclined to change if the psychosocial context of the individual
changes sufficiently, at least still during early adulthood.
The empowering ILT of the VET-students were found to be more related to the
students’ experiences of the leadership behaviours of supervisors that they encounter at the
training companies, than the leadership they experience from teachers at the schools.
Supervisors at the training companies seem to be important role models of leadership
for VET-students. It may benefit VET-supervisors to be aware of, and appreciate their
importance as such transmitters of leadership to young individuals learning the trade.
During construction VET, the future construction managers and workers socialize into
the leadership practices of the construction industry, and as they become working
members of the industry they may well participate themselves in the reproduction of
empowering leadership practice, by conveying their empowering ILT in manifest behaviours.
All authors have contributed substantially in the design, data collection and writing of this publication. Data analyses
were conducted by MG and AP. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Consent to participate
All research subjects consented to participate in the research.
Consent for publication
All participants were given full anonymity; no data relating to individual participants are included in the paper.
Ethics approval, number 547-14, was obtained from the Regional Ethics Committee in Gothenburg.
This work was part of the SveDan project, funded by the Danish Working Environment Research Fund under Grant
Number 01-2012-09; the Health Research Fund of Central Denmark Region; and AFA Insurance under Grant Number 120176.
None of the funding bodies participated in any part of the research.
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