SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

10 Tasks for Getting SMS Program Started (And In This Order)

Posted by Tyler Britton on Aug 14, 2017 5:44:00 AM

Most Important Items for Getting SMS Program Started

How to get SMS program startedGetting an SMS program started from ground zero may be confusing and difficult. There so much to do.

There SO much guidance (too much guidance perhaps). It’s no wonder new safety managers feel like they are drowning when a safety program gets dropped in their lap.

The questions essential and most important questions safety managers have to get their aviation SMS program started are:

  • What do I need to do to get started?
  • How do I get started?

These two separate questions are two sides of the same coin: what tasks are most needed to get the aviation SMS program started? Many safety managers fail to try and answer this question, and instead get lost in (misguided) SMS planning, such as with an SMS implementation plan.

The following tasks will provide the foundation you need to get clarity for:

  • Ascertaining what the most essential needs are of your SMS program;
  • Developing a realistic aviation SMS implementation plan;
  • Establishing most effective risk management process; and
  • Understanding how to create well-rounded safety policy/promotion.

Here are the 10 tasks you can follow for getting your aviation SMS program started. These tasks are in order – try to complete each task as fully as possible before moving on.

1 – Get Upper Management Support

First and foremost, it’s is absolutely, critically, SO important that your accountable executive (and upper management team if applicable) supports the safety program. Without upper management support, your safety program will:

  • Not be sustainable;
  • Lack needed resources; and
  • Not feature the kind of top-down behavior needed for success.

Getting upper management support means:

  • Accountable executive takes ownership and responsibility for SMS program; and
  • Upper management is willing to provide financial resources to program.

It should be clear whether or not you have upper management support. If you don’t have it see this article on how to get upper management support.

2 – Acquire Aviation SMS Tools FIRST

The biggest mistake safety management make when getting their new aviation SMS program started is they don’t acquire aviation SMS tools first. Why is this a mistake?

Consider the following scenario:

  • Safety manager completes the rest of the tasks without choosing aviation risk management tool;
  • Safety manager develops safety policy and risk management/safety assurance process;
  • Safety manager then chooses risk management tool; and
  • Risk management tool has many built-in SMS functionality that:
    • Would have saved much implementation time and headache
    • Conflicts with existing processes, requiring you to rewrite your processes

Get your tool FIRST, such as aviation SMS software, and you will have:

  • Many built in processes that satisfy compliance;
  • A road map for implementation; and
  • Built-in functionality for easily establishing safety policy, promotion, etc., that will save you considerable time.

3 – Identify and Organize Key Personnel (Plus Org Chart)

An important part of building your SMS foundation is organizing your SMS program by identifying key roles in your program. They key roles should:

  • Play an important role in safety operations;
  • Have distinct safety duties and responsibilities;
  • Have a distinct role in the flow of safety information; and
  • Be organized into a safety org chart.

The safety org chart will:

  • Reflect real-world flow of safety information;
  • Map out your safety hierarchy; and
  • Visually outline key personnel with which you can develop duties and responsibilities.

4 – Establish Safety Duties and Responsibilities of Roles in Your Company

Based on how you organized your SMS program by roles (previous task) you will need to list duties and responsibilities for each role in your organization.

The primary difference between a duty and responsibility is as follows:

  • Duty: Obligations, tasks, and actions required by the SMS role, such as:
    • Managing issues,
    • Reviewing safety policy, and
    • Classifying safety issues.
  • Responsibility: How that user is accountable for safety operations, such as:
    • Ensuring all assigned issues are brought to an acceptable level of safety,
    • Confirming that safety procedures reflect real world operations, and
    • Ensure complete analysis of safety issue for trend analysis.

In your SMS program, establishing duties and responsibilities includes:

  • Listing duties and responsibilities of ALL employees (such as “identify hazards”);
  • Listing what safety elements each role is responsible for (such as “Ensure that all exposure is successfully mitigated for assigned issues” for department head role);
  • Listing what the duties are for each role (such as “Manage corrective actions” for department heads; and
  • Communicating these duties and responsibilities on a regular basis.

5 – Create Key Hazard Reporting Policies

Creating key hazard reporting policies is an easy but important step in communicating what kind of hazard reporting culture you expect from employees. This includes:

These elements must be communicated to employees.

6 – Evaluate Existing Safety Culture

You need to understand the current state of Norms (Human Factor) in your safety program. This can easily be accomplished in two ways:

  • You should already have an idea how receptive company is to the risk management program, but can clarify this by talking to employees; and
  • Best-practice: create anonymous safety culture survey to distribute to employees and collect data.

The safety culture survey data will give you a starting point to understand current state of affairs and build upon it in the future. Make notes about areas of safety culture that need help, and add them to a list called: “SMS Elements That Need My Attention.” This list will be invaluable later.

7 – Review Historical Reporting Data (If Any)

In conjunction with understanding safety culture, you need to also understand the historical safety performance of your program. If you program is completely new, this task is not applicable. If you do have historical safety data, simply review it to see:

  • What implementation steps have been made;
  • The quality of hazard reporting culture; and
  • The high-level problems (such as risk controls, silos, etc.)

Add any major problem areas to your list, “SMS Elements That Need My Attention.” This list will be invaluable later.

8 – Perform Gap Analysis

Gap analysis will help you get a high level overview of how implemented your aviation SMS program is, including:

  • Where your safety program is now; and
  • Where you want it to be in the future.

See the following article on how to perform a gap analysis. Once done, take your negative findings and add them to your list of “SMS Elements That Need My Attention.”

9 – Create Goals and Objectives

Creating goals and objectives is a task which is where you embark on defining what safety performance means to your organization.

  • Goals are high level, qualitative elements of safety that you would like to achieve in your SMS program;
  • Objectives are directly tied to goals, and are specific, measurable ways of assessing your goals.

See these articles for more information on:

10 – Establish Key Performance Indicators

Based on your objectives, you should easily be able to choose your key performance indicators (KPIs).

Key performance indicators will be the baseline for performance in your safety program.  

Final Thought: Create Implementation Plan LATER

Now, once all of these tasks are complete, you can breathe a little. You have some of your afety management system foundations in place, and you can begin to plan.

Remember your list of “SMS Elements That Need My Attention”? Now it’s time to use this list.

  • Review it;
  • Establish which safety pillar and/or other major elements of your SMS program need the most work;
  • Acquire an SMS implementation plan checklist; and
  • Reorder the checklist to best fit the safety needs in your list.

Finally, it can be a great idea to simply understand how you manage your safety program. You need to make sure you safety management style reflects the safety needs of your organization. Take this awesome, free, 10 question safety management style quiz:

Safety Management Style Quiz

Topics: Aviation SMS Implementation

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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