This study aimed to investigate the factors that drive leaders to speak up or remain silent when witnessing workplace aggression and to develop scales to measure leader voice and leader silence. While research on employee voice and silence exists, leader voice and silence need more theoretical development. I used an exploratory sequential mixed-method design to address these gaps. Subjects: Study one included 26 graduate management students and 35 leaders across multiple industries in the United States who witnessed workplace aggression in their unit. Study 2 included 345 people who supervised others at work. Instruments: Seven open-ended questions asking respondents to describe workplace incidents, aggressor, and their motives to speak up or remain silent with the aggressor. Study 2 consisted of 47 exemplary statements from study one on voice and silent motives, and a 19 item BAS/BIS scale. Analysis: Exploratory qualitative research followed by Exploratory and Confirmatory Factor Analysis. Findings: Consistent with the findings of Sherf et al.’s work on employees’ voice and silence, the findings of study one indicated that leader voice and silence are distinct constructs with unique motives. Leaders who speak up against workplace aggression are motivated by the goal of maintaining a safe and productive work environment. The Behavioral Activation System (BAS) and the concept of perceived impact align well with explaining their behavior. In contrast, leaders who remain silent after observing an employee’s workplace aggression are motivated to avoid the aggressor due to fear and uncertainty. The Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) and the loss of psychological safety align well with explaining their behavior. Study 2 developed Leader Voice and Leader Scale items. Leader Voice Scale yielded three factors with 19 items. Leader Silence Scale yielded four factors with 14 items. All factors loaded strongly on their respective constructs. Limitations: subjectivity which is inherent in qualitative research, exclusive use of self-report data, and methodological limitations that make it impossible to infer causality. Future research could focus on narrowing the construct’s domain with regards to specific types of aggression incidents.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Leadership; Work environment; Confirmatory factor analysis

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Mark Allen