The Importance of an Aviation SMS Manual
ICAO requires an SMS manual for many aviation organizations required to abide by their SMS mandate. It is very tempting to gloss over your manual...to get it out of the way and never look at it again.
Manuals aren't sexy, and most of the time, they're boring at best. I've read a lot of manuals that were downright painful.
So, how do you make your SMS manual a tool that supports your SMS? Here are three best practices to put your manual to work today.
1. Write for Your Employees
Rather than writing with an audit in mind, write your manual for the employees who will use it.
Keep your sentences concise and to the point. This isn't marketing material, so don't use waffle words to describe your processes.
To keep things concise, avoid filler words such as very, just, only, really, and basically. They fill up space on the page, but add no value.
Also avoid using jargon whenever possible. If you would have to explain it to someone walking in off the street, it's jargon.
Make notes of necessary jargon and compile it into a glossary. Even if it's common jargon for your organization, there may be those who haven't heard it before.
2. Format Your Manual for Ease of Use
A glossary makes it easier for employees to parse the information in your manual. You can also add a table of contents and an index to make referencing the material easier.
Making it easy for employees to find the information they need makes the manual useful. It will also increase productivity as they need less time to find the answers they need.
It also helps to use consistent formatting throughout. Better yet, use formatting consistent with other manuals your organization already uses.
Consistent formatting makes your manual easier to read and simpler to reference. The easier a document is to read, the more likely it is that your employees will read it.
If at all possible, make your manual digital. A digital manual is easy to search and distribute. Both of these features make it easier to read.
Digital search is quick, easy, and productive. Ease of access reduces time and frustration in finding the manual when it's needed.
3. Keep Your Manual Relevant
Digital manuals offer advantages beyond search-ability. A digital manual is also easier to keep updated. An out of date manual doesn't do your employees much good.
Make sure to keep your manual up to date as things change. Establish a regular review schedule and communicate it to your team. When employees don't trust the information in your manual, they won't go to it for answers.
Training is also important. Make sure to train your employees on the manual and communicate any changes made to it. Having a manual available is one way to communicate the depth and breadth of your safety program.
Remember that not all employees will be visual learners. Supplement your manual with training. This way, auditory and kinesthetic (learn by doing) learners can also benefit.
Benefits of a Great SMS Manual
A good SMS manual adds tremendous value to your organization. It both communicates your values and the importance of safety to the corporate mission. These three best practices will help to get the most bang possible from your SMS manual.
The work you put into your SMS manual will pay off down the road. When you make your manual reliable and easy to use, it will help to foster your safety culture.
Beyond the benefit to your safety culture, a good manual will help streamline audits. It will improve productivity by making safety-related processes and general information easier to find.
Finally, it will help secure management buy-in. Manuals are part of management's language. A good manual will go a long way to getting top management behind your SMS. Need more reasons? Here are 5 benefits of writing out your procedures.
What lessons have you learned in writing your SMS manuals? Share them in the comments below!
Published September 2018. Last updated December 2019.